Opinion: Ordinary prophecy and our current discontent

Contemporary challenges show the need to develop a theology of ordinary prophecy in the life of the Church as it relates to her life, the lay apostolate, the priesthood, and the teachings of the Magisterium.

(Image: Patrick Fore/Unsplash.com)

Donald Trump and Pope Francis are two figures whose words and actions provoke a wide and intense range of reactions by people and Catholics around the world. The actions, inactions, and behaviors of both men, as well as other figures in government and the Church, have contributed to a growing amount of tension within their respective squares. Sources for this tension include various movements and ideologies that have gained traction within the Church and the culture. One can see their impact currently in the mainstream media and social media. If left unchecked, it can lead to social media mobs who attack their opponents relentlessly by placing them in a box of fringe thought, fake news, or fanciful conspiracies.i

Such friction can blind us to the presence of God and how he may happen to be speaking precisely through the varied voices crying out in our midst. How then do we cut through the present tension and polarization we find influencing the Church and the world? How do we deal genuinely and humbly with the factors leading to our current cultural and ecclesial decay through the eyes of faith?

When one looks at Sacred Scripture and the sinfulness of the people of Israel during the era of Kings, up to the collapse of the Kingdom of Judah and the Babylonian Captivity, one finds parallels to our current age. It was an era marked by decadence, idolatry, insular thinking, tribalism, and immorality within God’s chosen people. Those who called Israel out and urged her to return to the Lord were known as prophets.ii In light of these historical parallels, it is essential that we acknowledge the authentic prophetic voices manifest through holy pastors and the baptized who genuinely seek the integrity and sanctity of themselves and their leaders.

Contemporary challenges show the need to develop a theology of ordinary prophecy in the life of the Church as it relates to her life, the lay apostolate, the priesthood, and the teachings of the Magisterium. It is only by developing this understanding of the ordinary prophetic calling of the Church in conjunction with her priestly and kingly roles that she can truly live out her divine calling and mission that was given her by our Lord.

When we hear of prophecy, we may think of things such as visions, locutions, apparitions, dreams, warnings of future events, and other various mystical phenomena both approved and unapproved by the Church. Yet these are not the only aspects of the prophetic call, nor are they its essential aspects. Prophecy is deeply rooted in scripture from the Old Testament to its culmination in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God.

What is ordinary prophecy? Ordinary prophecy concerns the God-given call and the mission of the prophet through the graces of faith. God gives this prophetic calling and bestows on the individual believer a particular identity and mission in the life of faith. This role can often differ in application according to divine inspiration, personal or historical circumstances, or the intended audience that such a message is meant to address. The ordinary prophetic office of Christ is given to each believer, alongside participation in his priestly and kingly offices, through the grace of their baptism.iii

What are the hallmarks that define ordinary prophecy? First, prophets respond to the call of the Lord. They help people see his presence and respond to his grace working in the present moment of history.iv Secondly, Prophets remind us of the reality of God’s love for his people, that he desires that they know him, seek him, and return to him. Thirdly, prophets convict us in the realities of sin and divine justice. They remind of the call to conversion and vigorously warn of the consequences of not heeding this call. The Lord can give this prophetic conviction of conversion and repentance to the average believer and people with greater pastoral authority.v Finally, prophets call us back to the essential aspects of following the covenant, which is foundational to the faith.vi This call can be summarized as a call back to right belief (orthodoxy), the right living out of that belief (orthopraxy), and sanctity of life.vii

The ordinary prophetic dimension within the Church’s life manifests as her pastors counsel believers to conversion of heart. They are the ordinary and hierarchical ministers of prophecy who guide the faithful.viii The neglect of their paternal guidance permits a culture of sin to prevail and grow as the faithful are left to the guidance of their respective consciences, be they formed, malformed, or deformed. The ways in which poorly-formed consciences do harm to the Church are all too evident. But even a well-formed conscience can be employed in an overzealous, imprudent way that can then be counterproductive, leading to spiritual harm or scandal. This manifests through calumny, detraction, intellectual pride, excessive rigidity, or the sort of elite sectarianism seen in heretical groups including the Gnostics, Donatists, Montanists, or Jansenists. All these dangers risk distorting the truth of faith, undermining the unity of the Church, and hindering the salvation of souls.ix

It is of the utmost importance to the care of souls that the pastors guide the prophetic dimensions of the Church’s life in its authentic use and refine it. Authentic prophetic action may go against established worldly thinking, which tends to celebrate the role and primacy of conscience and the free speech of the individual. The voices of authentic prophetic inspirations within the life of the Church ought not to be suppressed. These are the voices of those who cry within the heart of the Church for justice and integrity, yet who do so always in a spirit which fosters communion. The pastors of the Church must “test the spirits” in this regard, holding onto what is good, acknowledging the action of grace in the life of believers, while rejecting and calling out the evils which truly do damage to the Body of Christ.x

This prophetic calling may at times lead the faithful, through the use of the general sense of faith (sensus fidei), to deny assent even to the teaching of appointed pastors if they do not recognize in that teaching the voice of Christ the Good Shepherd.xi This can happen when the life of the Church is under threat due to grave scandal, promotion of heresy, or incompetence in the leadership of such pastors. These prophetic figures look to the entire deposit of faith in its full context as the ultimate source of truth and authority through which the Lord still speaks to the Church. We can see a recent example of this in Mother Angelica respectfully yet firmly challenging Cardinal Mahoney for causing scandal, writing a pastoral letter that failed to remind of the perennial teaching of the Church on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.xii

Under the prophetic impulse of faith and guided by prudence, the believer ought to consider what might be the most appropriate way to give an authentic witness to the truth of Christ.xiii The lives of saints such as Catherine of Siena and Bridget of Sweden provide poignant examples. Both of these women challenged the pastors and even the popes of their day to live a more consistent Christian life with blunt, direct speech. However, even while reprimanding them, these saints did so both frankly and faithfully. In doing so, they maintained an attitude of respect to the successor of St. Peter and in full fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church.

Such fidelity is rooted in following the voice of Christ as spoken by our fathers of faith in every age of the Church’s life. It then fosters both faithful and unfailing stewardship of the mysteries of God that unites the church as the communion of saints beyond history and this life to Christ himself.xiv

Understanding the theology of the prophetic dimension of the life of the Church is critical in light of the polarization and corruption we face in our age of history. The Church is offered a path to live out her life and mission fully in grace and truth. Without the ordinary prophetic calling being rightly tempered and guided, any efforts of evangelization risk becoming a mere project geared toward building an earthly utopia of secular humanism. The prophecy of Sacred Scripture calls to embrace the true God who invites us to know the reality of his Trinitarian love, which alone has power over sin and failures.

Through the ordinary prophetic call, may the Church, as a whole, continue to be faithful and receptive to the voice of the Lord speaking anew in our peasant age and so continue to bear the fruits of salvation until His final coming.

Endnotes:

i Pope Francis, Fratelli TuttiOn Fraternity and Social Friendship (October 3, 2020) 21-28, 42-53; Message of His Holiness, Pope Francis for 2021 World Communications Day, (January 23, 2021); Bishop Robert Barron, On Social Media and the Catholic Culture of Contempt (July 7, 2020); Father Steve Grunow, The Monsters of Social Media (December 22, 2020); Matthew MacDonald, Social Media and Spiritual Dangers for Catholics Today, Catholic World Report (April 30, 2020).

ii CCC, 64; “Prophet” Taken from Catholic Bible Dictionary, edited by Scott Hahn (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2009) 733-736; Charles Journet, Theology of the Church (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2004) 55-58.

iii Order of Christian Baptism (New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing Co, 2020), n. 98; Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, (November 21, 1964) 12, 31, 35; Apostolicam Acutositatem – Decree on the Laity (November 18, 1965) 2 & 10; CCC, 783-386; John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (December 30, 1988) 14 & 23.

iv CCC 64 & 436; Joel 3:1-5; Acts 2:14-47; See also the calls of Abraham (Gen 20:7); Aaron (Exod 7:1); Miriam (Exod 15:20); Moses (Exod 2:23-3:22); Samuel (1 Sam 3:3-10, 19-20), Jeremiah (1:1-19); and Isaiah (6:1-5).

v Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Ezek 18:26-28.

vi “Prophet” Taken from Catholic Bible Dictionary, 735-736; Fernando Ocariz & Arturo Blanco, Fundamental Theology (Woodridge, IL: Midwest Theological Forum, 2009) 248-252, 353-354; CCC 799-801, 888-892, 904-905.

vii International Theological Commission, Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church (2014) 60-65, 72-80; Cf. Jn 15:5.

x Cf. 1 Jn 4:1-6; 1 Thess 5:21; International Theological Commission, Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church (2014)88-105, 113-129.

xi Cf. Jn 10:4-5.

xii John L. Allen, Jr, “We shall not look upon the likes of Mother Angelica again.” Crux. (March 28, 2016).

xiii Lumen Gentium, 35; International Theological Commission, Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church (2014) 63-65; Thomas Aquinas, Scriptum, III, d 25. Q 2, qla 2, ad 3 & qla 4, ad 3; Questiones disputate de veritate, q. 14, a 11, ad 2.

xiv Cf. 1 Cor 4:1; Benedict XVI, “St. Bridget of Sweden,” General Audience (October 27, 2010); Ibid, “St. Catherine of Siena,” General Audience (November 24, 2010); Journet, Theology of the Church, 75-76.


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About Fr. Matthew MacDonald 8 Articles
Fr. Matthew MacDonald is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. Ordained in 2014, he has an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, as well as a Bachelors in Sacred Theology, Masters in Divinity, and Masters of Arts in Theology from Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York. He is currently assigned as parochial vicar at Saint Mary’s Church in Washingtonville, New York.

22 Comments

  1. If you want to destroy a Community, put in a Casino.. The Pope never put in a casino, but Donald Trump did, as contribute to the Genocide of Yemen, very defiant to the Teachings of the Catholic faith.. As Unbridled Capitalism, a Pope recognized.

    The US is morally, financially, ethically, and religiously bankrupt… Religiously, as the Church is unchangeable, for it lives in the Spirit of the Gospel, under the one true God, that is denied today..
    The Catechism of the Catholic church is the single book and the Bible that needs to be relearned in the US Church…
    Its all a mere repeat of History, and the US has patterned itself after, Rome. Human life has no value, the poor are forgotten, ignored, and left to flounder. War is forever..

    • More meaningless repetition from Lyle. There is no genocide taking place in Yemen – I’m not sure why you keep repeating that. Do you think that if you say it enough times it will become true? Reality generally doesn’t work that way. There is also no such thing as unbridled capitalism. If you took the time to educate yourself prior to posting here, you would understand that US businesses are regulated in various ways. You also cannot justify the false assertion that human life has no value in America – millions of pro-life citizens would disagree with you on that point. And the research consistently confirms that Americans are some of the most generous people on earth, so the poor are actually not forgotten. We are also not currently engaged in any “wars.”

    • Indian tribes put in casinos all the time & have been pretty successful at it from what I hear. We have three within an easy drive. Covid’s probably taken a toll on the profits temporarily though.

  2. Sounds to me like there is a need for the reformation of our clergy if they are to be the guides of one’s baptismal calling of “prophet.”

    The whole thing is a just a mess. It’s difficult to say where to begin. Sure, “the heart” is one place, but whose? Also, who goes first: laity or clergy? Who leads who?

  3. Reading through Fr MacDonald’s essay I [initially] found it well rounded and a well defined “ordinary prophecy”. Example, “excessive rigidity” triggered a red flag, many priests gun shy from constant Papal recrimination. After all, what is sorely lacking among presbyters [not to exclude bishops] is precisely rigidity regarding doctrine, and the courage to prophetically witness it. Flag lowered when MacDonald gave us a mini essay on Catherine of Siena and Bridget of Sweden and how they showed respect while critical. “Such fidelity is rooted in following the voice of Christ as spoken by our fathers of faith in every age of the Church’s life. Critical in light of the polarization and corruption we face in our age of history”. Although the article is basically commendable, what troubles is that the problem of corruption and polarization is not primarily due to brazen, imprudent accusation. Fr MacDonald may inadvertently be creating a strawman because the disrespect that exists is minor compared to the immensity of the polarization and corruption that is owned by this pontificate. There I’ve said it. We can’t, we cannot make nice during this crisis that affects the souls of so many, the reason for my hyperbole in Kozinski’s article Modernity as Apocalypse. I would assume Fr MacDonald has similar sentiment, although the message is more ‘tone down the vitriol’ rather than speak out, rather than witness to Christ with faith and courage, with heroic compassion for his sheep who are being slaughtered mercilessly.

    • I think, Fr. Morello, that MacDonald is trying to pick his battles wisely. I’ll bet you $5 that he is trying to be a witness to toning down the rhetoric as well as not do stupid and brazen things like what Fr. Zuhlsdorf did with the exorcism prayer and livestreaming it.

      If you understand MacDonald in that light, he’ll read better.

      • Sinners in the Church appear to be absolutely proud and evangelical about their sins. Shout your sin. How many people are really children of the serpent, intent on turning the Church of Christ into the Church of Satan? If he came back from the dead the Good Thief on the Cross would probably die of loneliness from the lack of repentant sinners.

    • Thank you, Fr Morello, for your comments. Agree this is not the time to make nice. Sadly, however, I read a online Catholic Herald comment in the last few days from the editor of Crux magazine who predicted that this is exactly what Pope Francis and the Vatican will do with Biden. Afraid that he is right at a time when Pope Francis should be directing Biden to remove the photo of the two of them now reportedly hanging in the White House because of Biden’s extreme and craven promotion of aggressive abortion policies.

  4. I enjoyed this article…we need more biblical prophecy to call the church back to repentance and truth…but to be tested by leadership…my only concern would be which leadership… th he hierarchy of the church is definitely not in unity hence the need for truthful prophecy…hence the conundrum…

  5. OK. So another article I’ll skip. (I read the first line of each paragraph – my usual practice when I have doubts – and the comments thus far). Listening to my Bible podcast instead.

    • I’m curious as to why you went through the effort to leave a comment on an article you admit you haven’t and won’t read. Smacks of either self-importance or worse.

  6. Respect has to work both ways. There comes a time – way past I believe – when a too formal or excessive courtesy or ‘niceness’ demanded, drowns a very grave charge.

    Bernardin often used that demand tactic to silence the Pro-Life cause in Chicago.

  7. This essay does not help Catholics in Chicago under Cupich, or in San Diego under McElroy, or in Rome under Francis. When the highest authorities in the Church promote sexual deviancy as normal, dismiss infanticide as peripheral, and bow down to false idols, we are long past worrying about etiquette and showing proper respect. Christ knew when to take up the whip and drive miscreants out of the sanctuary. It is time for righteous anger and forthright denunciations, not courtesies.

  8. The Holy Family and many of Christ’s disciples and apostles were of the same socio-economic class as the Trump deplorables. They were people who got dirty and worked with their hands. When Peter and John appeared before the Council they were described as being uneducated, common men. They were the kind of people that the establishment lampoons as being bitter clingers whose religious views have to change. Michael Bloomberg was very sarcastic about farmers.
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    Trump voters love Trump because he gives them a voice and is willing to go to bat for them. He didn’t sell them out for a position and perks as had been going on for decades with establishment politicians. Before the pandemic hit he was building a pro-worker economy.
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    Currently Catholic Social Teaching advocates appear to have a love affair with government and governmental solutions, to the point of being idolatrous. They pretty much act as if the government is all seeing, all knowing, and all powerful. The government as god. A government without limits or moral constraint. A modern Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel was the Great Reset of its time.

    • Very well put…Ive seen this for the last 10 years that the Church acts now like Government is akin to the voice of God Himself and we must obey as though it were God. Very troubling. Then I realized all the immigrants and poor are directed to government for help and sustenance, that frees the Catholic Church from huge expense. Hence, the Bishops and Churches love and must obey the government.

  9. “When one looks at Sacred Scripture and the sinfulness of the people of Israel during the era of Kings, up to the collapse of the Kingdom of Judah and the Babylonian Captivity, one finds parallels to our current age. It was an era marked by decadence, idolatry, insular thinking, tribalism, and immorality within God’s chosen people.”

    The “tribalism” was just a manifestation of the apostasy/infidelity of certain tribes, leading to their refusal to submit to the House of David and division. Not the same as the phenomena to which the word tribalism is applied now.

  10. The Bible has two immigration stories the illustrate good immigration and bad immigration. The good immigration is found in the Book of Ruth. Ruth 1:15-18:
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    15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; 17 where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you.” 18 And when Na’omi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
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    Ruth was King David’s great-grandmother.
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    The bad immigration was in the same family. It is the story of King Solomon and his foreign wives. 1 Kings 11:1-6:
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    Now King Solomon loved many foreign women: the daughter of Pharaoh, and Moabite, Ammonite, E’domite, Sido’nian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods”; Solomon clung to these in love. 3 He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. 4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ash’toreth the goddess of the Sido’nians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.
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    This led to the division of King Solomon’s kingdom. The point of this is that a people need to have a shared culture to avoid falling into factions. With all the bad mouthing of American history and culture in the open borders camp the only thing that the open borders advocates appear to love is America’s money.

  11. Two more days and we have Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes , that bring us to the truth as to how a young , uneducated girl is called in His Providence , to take in the truth of The Immaculate Conception ..The Father , in His Goodness , desiring The Church to be well prepared for the battles of our times ..The sun , as His creation pouring forth new light and power , into our lives every day . The Father , already having prepared for us ‘Sunday ‘ , as the 8th day , to assure us of pouring forth new holiness and love into our lives and relationships, through The Son ..yet , our hearts so used to the lie from The Garden , that The Father is not all that good and trustworthy , esp. when it comes to providing in the aspects related to conceptions ..such as in seeing chastity as a means to take in the Love, in embracing the wounds of the scourging , of the crowning with thorns , to undo every lying thought related to promoting fearful efforts ,denying God as the primary source of new love and holiness in marriages ..similar denial and ? its related unjust / excessive accusations against Father figures as well , thus the Sacraments too often not seen as the occasions that bring forth the oceans of New Life and holiness .. the gratitude owed to those whom The Lord has chosen from all eternity , to be the ministers of the Sacraments , into whose lives too He pours forth the New Love and holiness , which in turn are to help us to thank Him , in the Oneness with all , in the Divine Will ..

    Thank God that Mother Church ever tries to direct us to the truth of the ever fresh spring of the Goodness in God , even as our focus might be taken away many a times into the torrents of the enemy lies and its effects all around !

    This would be the 8th year anniv. of the resignation of Pope Emer . Benedict , who very likely trusted that The Mother desired to pour forth the New Love , through another gentle loving son of hers and his prophetic voice – we too can thank God for same with all .

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