“Reading the Signs of the Times” – Part 2: 

Prepare for Trials, but Also for Glory


by Bernhard Stock

Under this headline, “Reading the Signs of the Times”, we want to sporadically publish articles, book reviews and other material which have a prophetic orientation: reading the signs of the times and trying to understand what the Lord is telling us, or has already told us as the Sword of the Spirit. He has called us to be a prophetic people and to “build a bulwark against the tide of evil” – for this, we should learn to understand what the evil tides are and how we can be equipped to counter them.

The following article was written by Bruce Yocum for a Catholic audience and was first published in “Good News” November 2012 Issue, the magazine for Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) in Britain and Ireland. Used with permission.

As the Sword of the Spirit, we are an Ecumenical Community of Communities, but precisely because of that, the things happening in the Catholic Church of today cannot leave us untouched. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). And what is described in the article is, of course, something happening with all Christian Churches and denominations, and not only with Catholics.

Prophetic words from Joseph Ratzinger

“And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals”

Joseph Ratzinger1 

Whether Joseph Ratzinger would have considered these words prophetic when he wrote them in 1969, or whether he viewed them as merely a prediction I do not know. My guess is that Joseph Ratzinger was predicting, but predicting confidently and on theological and sociological grounds. He says “One may predict that all of this (the changes he describes) will take time” and he opposes that prediction to “the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith.”

Whatever the theologian Joseph Ratzinger thought he was doing at the time, I believe that we can now confidently say that these words were prophetic. Probably no one would have been bold enough in 1969 to predict, or prophesy, that Joseph Ratzinger would one day be Pope, and be Pope in a time of profound crisis in the Church. But he is2, and his words from 1969 have thus received a sort of second life, and can be found in scores, perhaps hundreds of places on the internet. He may not have been self-consciously prophesying in 1969, but events have made clear that these words were prophetic.

A few years later the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a thoroughly unexpected, rapidly growing phenomenon in the Church, held an international Conference in Rome. The surprising culmination of the Conference was the address of Pope Paul VI after the celebration of the closing Mass of the Conference on Monday 19th May, 1975. The Pope’s address signaled a cautious but very genuine acceptance of the charismatic renewal by the highest leadership of the Church. That this new phenomenon in the Church should have received such encouragement a bare eight years after its first appearance was remarkable.

Permission to exercise prophetic gifts at a papal Mass

The Mass which preceded this address by Paul VI also brought surprises. Cardinal Suenens celebrated, by exception, on the Papal Altar above the tomb of St. Peter, with over 10,000 Conference participants present. Not only was it a typically noisy and enthusiastic charismatic assembly, but we were given permission to have a time after communion for the exercise of prophetic gifts. The time after communion, or in fact as the distribution of communion was taking place, was somewhat chaotic. Paul urges us in his letter to the Corinthians to do everything in the assembly “decently and in order” but with ten thousand highly charged charismatics surging around, well, the “order” aspect was a bit of a challenge. Furthermore, just at the moment when it was needed, the sound system failed. A quick assessment revealed that the only microphone which worked was that on the Papal Altar itself.

At that very moment Ralph Martin told me that he believed he had a somewhat urgent prophetic message. As there appeared to be no alternative, I told Ralph to use the microphone on the papal altar. Thus it was that his prophecy had a dramatic setting. What Ralph prophesied was equally dramatic:

“Because I love you, I want to show you what I am doing in the world today. I want to prepare you for what is to come. Days of darkness are coming on the world, days of tribulation … Buildings that are now standing will not be standing. Supports that are there for my people now will not be there. I want you to be prepared, my people, to know only me and to cleave to me and to have me in a way deeper than ever before. I will lead you into the desert … I will strip you of everything that you are depending on now, so you depend just on me. A time of darkness is coming on the world, but a time of glory is coming for my Church, a time of glory is coming for my people. I will pour out on you all the gifts of my Spirit. I will prepare you for spiritual combat; I will prepare you for a time of evangelism that the world has never seen …”

The minor chaos going on around the altar prevented me from hearing what Ralph said, but I, like Ralph, felt a strong and urgent sense that I should prophesy. As soon as Ralph had finished I went to the microphone and prophesied:

“I speak to you of the dawn of a ‘new age’ for my Church. I speak to you of a day that has not been seen before … Prepare yourselves for the action that I begin now, because things that you see around you will change; the combat that you must enter now is different; it is new … You need wisdom from me that you do not yet have. Open your eyes, open your hearts to prepare yourselves for me and for the day that I have now begun. My Church will be different; my people will be different; difficulties and trials will come upon you. The comfort that you know now will be far from you, but the comfort that you will have is the comfort of my Holy Spirit. They will send for you, to take your life, but I will support you. Come to me. Band yourselves together, around me. Prepare, for I proclaim a new day, a day of victory and of triumph for your God. Behold, it is begun.”

In the years that followed the 1975 Conference those prophecies were much discussed. “Days of darkness” and “hard times” became common terms in discussions of what the Lord was saying and doing in the Church and in the world.

What do the Days of Darkness and Hard Times mean?

These prophetic words were not universally accepted. I recall a conversation with a university chaplain in Dublin, just before the Charismatic Conference held there in 1978. He was brimming with confidence over the future of the Church in Ireland. “Our Masses are full of young people, many of them serving enthusiastically in the parish.” “But do you not think,” I asked, “that there are signs that may not continue? In many places – France, Belgium, the United States – there has been a serious decline in recent years, and there are few signs of any improvement.” His confidence was undiminished. “Perhaps in those countries, yes. But here in Ireland the faith is deep, and I do not see any reason to believe that we will experience such a decline.”

Twenty years later that same priest approached me at another conference and told me that he recalled our earlier conversation. The recent, and for him shocking changes in the condition of the Church in Ireland had opened his eyes. “Perhaps,” I ventured, “the change was not in the condition, but in the appearance of the Church.” Probably that priest had never heard Ratzinger’s words, or if he had would have considered them, like the 1975 prophecies, applicable somewhere else. But if he had listened well he would have been warned, for Ratzinger said “We will have to count on terrific upheavals.”

Ratzinger’s prediction for the Church

We certainly have seen “terrific upheavals” and doubtless will see many more. Ratzinger’s description of what will soon happen is startlingly accurate, and if we take it seriously, it should help us see what we can expect as the “upheavals” continue.

“The Church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes … she will lose many of her social privileges. … As a small society. [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members….”

Yet it would be wrong to view either Joseph Ratzinger’s prediction or the 1975 prophecies as “pessimistic.” First of all, Ratzinger describes a “process” through which the Church must pass, a process that is difficult, but by no means bad.

“It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek … The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution – when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain … But when the trial of this sifting is past. a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.”

This description of the “process of crystallization and clarification” bears striking resemblance to the prophecies of 1975. These are indeed words of warning, calls to be ready for suffering. to be ready to endure a “process … long and wearisome.” But this process has a purpose, it is a “trial of … sifting” which God brings about so that “… a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.” Thousands of years ago the Lord told Israel, 

“The former things I declared of old, they went forth from my mouth and I made them known: then suddenly I did them and they came to pass … I declared them to you from of old. before they came to pass I announced them to you… You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it?”

Isaiah 48:3-7

Joseph Ratzinger – Pope Benedict XVI – has given us not only a warning, but a description of what to expect. We need not be unprepared or shocked or taken by surprise.

Prepare for trials but also for glory

Nor need we be discouraged. The prophecies of 1975 tell us to prepare, to prepare not only for trials, but to 

“prepare, for I proclaim a new day, a day of victory and of triumph for your God.” 

They tell us that a time of darkness is Coming, but 

“… a time of glory is coming for my Church, a time of glory is coming for my people. I will pour out on you all the gifts of my Spirit … I will prepare you for a time of evangelism that the world has never seen.”

Benedict XVI has also told us that his conviction is not only that the Church will face trials, but that those trials will lead to a renewed Church.

“But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.”

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Faith and the Future. first published in 1969 and re-published by Ignatius Press in 2009.
[2] This article was first published in 2012.

Top image credit: Illustration of a Shield of Faith and a Cross at www.sermonview.com, © by Narrow Gate Media. Used with permission.

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