Many are those unfamiliar with the Bible's admonitions on prophecy. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God," says 1 John 4:1-3, "because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

"Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances," adds 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22. "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil."

And so we are to be cautious at the same time that we are open. In most of mysticism, there are gray areas. We are told to take from an alleged phenomenon or "revelation" what is right -- and leave the rest (whether because it is deceptive or a result of the subconscious). But we are told to consider it, because God and His angels do speak to us.

So it is that we approach the constant stream of dreams, visions, and images from common folks who feel they are being spoken to. The main question of late is whether the high number is due to angst about the state of the world (natural disasters, and now the economy) or the Spirit moving.

There are all kinds of phenomena. Even in the "mainstream" secular media are stories about mysterious lights, especially "orbs," which we have addressed before. They are now all the rage, reported almost continuously -- most recently by way of a thus-far unexplained oval light caught floating through a gym in Kansas by security cameras (which made mention in newspapers from the U.S. to Australia, along with a video on Fox News).

Many are not convincing. Some are very mysterious. There are many gray areas ("take what is good, and leave the rest"). Some are "just" reflections (though God, of course, can speak through nature). The two key questions: do orbs of light represent the vehicle of a spirit, and if so, is the spirit good or the opposite? Are some real and good while others are not?

That such a luminous construct could carry an apparition hearkens to the famous Church-approved apparition at LaSalette -- where two children saw a "beautiful light shining more brightly than the sun," described as circular, which opened up to reveal the Blessed Mother. At Fatima, the first supernatural encounter was with a light or cloud that appeared "whiter than the driven snow," hovered over trees, and took the form of a young man (identified as an angel).

At the left is a photograph of an orb taken on July 25 at a church in Kentucky, and below it is a close-up of the orange light. The color made it unusual (most orbs are simply white, which is often a refraction in the lens), and  it became more mysterious when a bluish form (as you can see to the right) appeared where the orb had been (below a vague circle of light). Just the lens? Perhaps. Are such phenomena so prevalent due to the internet and the explosive use of digital and cell-phone cameras?

That's one issue: luminous phenomena. What about prophecy? Like luminous phenomena, these too are prevalent -- and hard to discern.

There are, of course, controversies surrounding many folks who "receive" messages ("take only what is good"). And there is naturally special interest, right now, at ones pertaining to the economy.

"You may have heard of Fr. Tom DiLorenzo, a charismatic priest from Boston who has been on the radio for over 20 years," comes an e-mail from Massachusetts. "He has a real prophetic gift as well as the gift of healing. As I listened this morning, Father Tom preached from Ezekiel 33 about the 'watchman on the wall.' He warned us of a vision he had in 1995, that he has already been preaching about for several years, which happened as follows:

"He had just been on a pilgrimage in France and went into a restaurant. He was very tired and closed his eyes for a minute and then described what he said was something like 'Venetian blinds opening in front of me.' What he saw next was the Titanic sinking, and the lifeboats were coming to try to rescue the people, but they couldn't get the people into the boats. He interpreted that as 'the world economic system going into the drink.' The lifeboats represented the Church, and they didn't know how to get the people into the boats. He said he could be wrong, of course, but he believed that this will happen. It may not be in 'the next few months,' but it is 'on the horizon.' He also believes this crisis is preparing the way for the coming of the Antichrist, and that one of the two politicians': who will be elected is not the Antichrist, but may be the puppet of the Antichrist. That wasn't part of the prophecy, just his take on what's going on now. His point was this: the Church in America isn't ready for what's coming. We don't know how to do without; we're too soft. We need to get on our knees and pray and fast, or we won't be able to help the people when things really start to go sour."

"I  received the following future vision during my near-death experience on July 2, 1984," maintains a former nightclub owner, Ned Dougherty, from Long Island. "The excerpt is from my book, Fast Lane to Heaven, published in March 2001: 'Shadowy and publicly unknown world figures will attempt to establish a new world order by creating a worldwide government supposedly for the benefit of humanity. As a group, they will attempt to reorganize the world’s financial and banking institutions in a manner that will permit these unelected leaders to manipulate and control the future of the world for their own personal benefit and gain. Their own personal greed and lust for material wealth and power will motivate them. They will attempt to create a secular and materialistic world devoid of individual freedoms."

He also was told: ""The time will come soon when all of this madness will be brought to a halt. There will be great changes for you during a great shaking up that will affect your economies and your resources. Those who have manipulated and controlled the economies for their own benefit will be stripped bare of their resources and exposed for their past sins. As a result, many will suffer from great losses to your economies and to your material assets of which many of you pride so dearly."

Perhaps most disarmingly, on Sunday "hundreds of thousands" honored the twenty-fifth anniversary of apparition in San Nicolas, Argentina -- led by Bishop Héctor Cardelli who in his homily clearly endortsed the messages when he stressed that "when Mary calls us together, the family is reinforced, because the Mother is bringing her children together. How much she told us and how little we recall!" 

That was interesting because the messages were often apocalyptic, as on March 21, 1988, when the seer, Gladys Quiroga reported: "I have a vision:  I see the earth divided into two parts.  One part represents two-thirds and the other one-third, in which I see the Blessed Virgin. She is with the Child and from her breast rays of light go towards the part that represents two-thirds of the earth.  Immediately she says to me:  'Gladys, you are seeing the world half-destroyed. These rays of light are sent from my heart that wants to save as many hearts as it can. My heart is all-powerful, but it can do nothing if hearts are unwilling. The means to save souls are prayer and conversion.  Every soul must prepare so as not to be imprisoned eternally by darkness. Amen, Amen.'"

Signs in the sky? They seem to have graduated from the early 1980s through the 1990s and certainly now explode in this new decade and new century and new millennium. Are we just looking for things?

Or do the unusual events now occurring in the world speak volumes?

"I have been telling this awesome story to many people for years," says Christine Bailey of Yukon, Oklahoma.

"It was a clear night in May 1980. My then husband and I were traveling by car to California, and we were driving through the desert at this time. I was looking out the passenger window and thinking how people see angels and religious figures in the sky, and how I would love to see that. At just that moment, my husband said, in an awestruck voice, to look out his window. There in the sky was the crucified face of Christ. Every detail was very clear -- the crown of thorns, his hair, beard, facial features. Christ's face stayed intact in the sky for a couple of minutes. Then a change occurred. His crown of thorns formed into a pair of horns. That was the only change until his face left the sky. Signs that the Anti-Christ was coming soon, or already here?  I felt very blessed and grateful for this grace. I also strongly felt that time is short for mankind to repent and turn back to God."

[resources: The Day Will Come and The God of Miracles]

[Retreat, Michael H. Brown, Florida: hope in a tumultuous time]

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