At the beginning of a new year, the internet is flooded with articles offering forecasts and predictions about our future. Among them there are quite a few websites treating the calculations and expectations of experts from all possible fields.
But even more popular are the predictions and “prophecies” of clairvoyants and visionaries of various provenance. Among these we come across interpretations of more or less obvious omens and signs of heaven and earth, on the basis of which these seers of the future tell us what to expect in the new year. People turn to the Cicer cum caule (Latin: “pea with cabbage”), Jackowski and Nostradamus, a host of “prophets,” the Mayan calendar, astrology, or even the blood of St. Januarius.
These predictions are carried out in an atmosphere of anxiety and trepidation, if not an “apocalyptic” mood. Disasters and wars, pestilences and crises, catastrophes and conflicts — some more terrible and global than others. Our future appears in these sorts of communiqués most often in gloomy colors and dramatic tones.
Curiosity, the first step…
Maybe there wouldn’t even be anything special to talk about if it weren’t for the fact that in our society, which prides itself on its rationality, the kinds of predictions mentioned above seem to enjoy surprising popularity. This is evidenced by the number of clicks on the articles that refer to them. Why such interest and “clickability”? And how do they relate to faith?
I would venture to say that the main reasons for the popularity of these predictions is boredom and curiosity. The end of the year, the post-Christmas period, the declining phase of our celebrations make us look for easy entertainment. We don’t necessarily feel like dealing with serious matters (there will be a whole year for that). So we “entertain” ourselves with “silly things” and “curiosities.” After all, the vast majority of us are ready to stubbornly claim that we do not believe in all these visions and prophecies. We “click” just like that, to kill boredom, out of some kind of innocent curiosity.
Anxiety as old as man
The second reason is probably the anxiety that breakthrough moments almost naturally generate in us. The old ends (symbolically, but still) and the new comes. The old was not fantastic, but the new is unknown. And we, armed with technological advances, credit cards, and health certificates, continue to experience ordinary human anxiety about the future. And for fears (especially unconscious fears or fears that we don’t want to admit even to ourselves) any “cure” is good. Despite the fact that we don’t really believe them and we know that all these prophecies are constructed on the basis of a folk weather forecast, the desire to “look into God’s cards” is rooted deep within us.
Added to this is our massive cultural information confusion. Our now 30-year friendship with the internet has done its job. We have created (and are still creating) a huge library, to which everyone can add another volume. But also everyone can “take out” from it whatever he or she feels like. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know how to navigate it. Signs with the names of the sections are almost illegible, and most visitors (or rather: library residents) do not distinguish between a collection of ancient fairy tales and a medieval treatise or a modern encyclopedia. Successive generations of users have not been taught to think critically and to sort sources into the reliable and the unreliable. This often results in the belief that “since it’s written, there must be something to it.”
Each of us has our fair share of troubles and frustrations. Only on Instagram and Facebook do we sometimes try to pretend that everything is always fine, in order, documented, of course, with a wide smile. All the while, we experience all sorts of difficulties.
Prophecies (as gloomy as they may be), as well as “knowledge for the initiated” of various sorts, helps us cope with the unpleasantness. Not only because they are a diversion, e.g., “what’s up with my leaky faucet” when here comes a deadly virus. But also because they offer a discreet “justification” and a kind of “release” from worrying about my own actions and quality of life. What do my failures and mistakes mean, if the world is inexorably heading towards destruction anyway, and they (any “them,” preferably quite elusive — after all, they are so cunning) are plotting mightily against people of good will like me. Why should I bother to work on myself and improve what I failed at in past “seasons”? After all, aliens and a worldwide conspiracy of cyclists led by the Old Man of the Plains are coming!
Looking forward with the eyes of faith
It might seem that the Savior Himself was also part of the stream of chilling predictions about the future. After all, three of the four Evangelists refer to His “apocalyptic” speech concerning the future of the Holy City and the rest of the world (cf. Mt 24, Mk 13, Lk 21). But note that Christ emphasizes that His disciples are not to focus on what exactly will happen and when. He even seems to imply that these difficult and unpleasant events will take place in every generation. Rather, he invites us to “lift up our heads” and see that we are waiting for something completely different. Not for floods, earthquakes, pestilences, and wars, which of course have happened and may continue to happen. The object of our waiting is His coming, which will be what the coming of summer is to the earth and its inhabitants year after year:
He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.(Luke 21:29-22)
During this anxious waiting, the Lord gives us his Word. He is capable of illuminating the darkness of our existence and explaining to us from God’s perspective what we are experiencing. He gives us the sacraments, through which he is constantly present with us in all our experiences. And he gives us countless opportunities to practice love. These we are to attend to in whatever circumstances come our way, provided, of course, we are (and want to be) His disciples. For if we are not, then it may indeed be worthwhile to take an interest in divination and soothsaying concerning the coming year. And whether they will be fortune-telling, or from the entrails of a backyard cat, the predictions of Baba Yaga or Padre Pio, it makes little difference.