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Beware the Deception of False Prophets

July 31, 2016

Blog-07-31In today’s first reading (Monday of the 18th Week) the Prophet Jeremiah denounces the false prophets of his day, who promise all sorts grand visions for Israel despite its sin. Jeremiah says to the people, By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! (Jer 28:13) In other words, by failing to repent (breaking the wooden yoke) you shall know an iron yoke. (Think about the addiction to sin of many who do not show restraint earlier in life.) To the false prophets of his day Jeremiah said, The LORD has not sent you, and you have raised false confidence in this people (Jer 28:15). Confidence is a good thing, but false confidence is terrible in its deception.

False prophets deceive God’s people; their words are worse than silence. There are many false prophets today who tickle people’s ears, assuring them that what God calls sins is actually progressive and glamorous.

A great clarion call goes up quite often in Scripture: “Do not be deceived!” This call must go up as never before, because we live in times of great deception. So many have been deceived about marriage, sexuality, the existence of God, and what life is really all about. And while there is widespread deception in our current times, deceiving and being deceived are common human tendencies, especially given the fallen human condition. Scripture speaks often of this problem, and we do well to look to some of the texts and see what they have to teach us.

Perhaps it is good to look first to the Latin and Greek roots of the word deceive.

Latin: The Latin root of deceive is decipere, meaning to ensnare (de (of or up) + capere (to seize or take)). And thus the Latin emphasizes our tendency to be easily caught up or carried away, to be ensnared by error. It evokes the image of an animal being carried off as prey in the mouth of a lion. We are so easily carried away by the latest fashions, trends, and thinking of the world. And having been carried away, we are ensnared by error and to some degree cut off from the truth.

Greek: There are several words in the Greek New Testament that are translated as deceive in English. By far the most common is πλανάω (planao), meaning to go astray, to wander off course, to deviate from the correct path, to roam into error, to be misled. (Planao is the also the Greek root of the English word planet (literally, wandering body)). In the Greek New Testament, this term nearly always conveys the sin of roaming from the truth. And thus we see that the Greek emphasizes that we go astray or are led astray, that we wander off. Isaiah the prophet lamented, All we like sheep have gone astray; every one to his own way (Is 53:6). Yes, and if sheep are wayward animals, human beings are more so, for at least a sheep knows its master’s voice. Too many of us will listen to and follow anyone but the Lord.

We humans are involved in deception in three different ways.

I. We are sometimes the victim of deception. The Scriptures frequently warn, “Do not be deceived.” Jesus warned, At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many (Mat 24:11).

St. Paul also lamented false apostles and Judaizers who misled many. He warned, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:29-30). He also spoke of some who will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1).

St. John warned of the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world (1 John 4:3).

Thus to some degree we are victims of deceivers. The Scriptures warn us to be on our guard: Do not be deceived! We are not to allow these deceivers to lead us astray, to make us wander about in error and sin. We are to resist them and see them for the deceivers they are.

II. We can be among those who deceive (though hopefully this is less frequent). This refers to something deeper than the more common human foible of lying. The deception here involves misleading people in matters of the true faith.

God warns deceivers, Why do you boast of evil, you wicked man? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? You who practice deceit, your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor. You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth. You love every harmful word, you deceitful tongue! Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin (Psalm 52:1-5).

God declares a curse on those shepherds who mislead His flock: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore, thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds” (Jer 23:1-3).

Jesus declares, If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Mat 18:6).

St. Paul speaks of the lot of deceivers: But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim 3:13).

III. We can connive in deception. This final category is perhaps the most troubling of all. It is a kind of a middle ground between being a victim of deception and a perpetrator of deception. We allow deceivers to speak to us, and not only do we not rebuke them for their deception, we actually perk up our ears and say, in effect, “Please go on; tell me more!”

We do this because to some degree we want to be deceived. We want to be affirmed in our sin, in our weakness. Many want the truth to be watered down and are delighted to listen to those who call into question the demands of righteousness. Yes, many of us connive; we enter into partnership with the deceivers.

Many of the warnings that we “not be deceived” are not simply alerting us to the presence of deceivers; they are cautioning us to be wary our own tendency to enter into agreement with those would deceive us. In this context, the warning, “Do not be deceived,” takes on more of this tone:

“Don’t kid yourself; don’t tell lies to yourself; don’t go on playing the fool. You know better. The voice of God echoing in your conscience bears witness to the fact that you’re lying to yourself and you’re letting others lie to you.”

Premier among the “conniving” texts is St. Paul’s warning to Timothy: For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear, and will turn away from the truth (2 Tim 4:3).

What are some of the common things people “want” to be deceived into believing? A brief survey of Scripture reveals this. (I have boldfaced the various forms of the word deceive to illustrate that God is teaching us about the various forms of this sinful connivance.)

A. That our actions will not have consequences: Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life (Galatians 6:7-8).

B. That faith can be perfunctory, intellectual, or mere lip service; that good intentions are enough; that one can love the world: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves … If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:22-27).

Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe—safe to do all these detestable things?” Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord (Jeremiah 7:1-11).

C. That sexual sin is no big deal: Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

Be sure of this, no fornicator, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. For you were once darkness, but now you are light Therefore, do not be partners with them. in the Lord. Live as children of light … and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness (Eph 5:5-11).

When lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren (James 1:16).

D. That regular consort with sinners will not affect us: Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame (1 Cor 15:33).

But encourage each other daily, while it is still today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception (Heb 3:13).

E. That we can wholly avoid deception and error apart from Scripture and the teaching of the Church: Jesus answered them, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matt 22:29).

Wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the Truth and so be saved (1 Thess 2:10).

This, then, is a brief excursus on the lamentable human tendency to wander, to be carried off, to be deceived. And frankly, too many of us want to be deceived. Be alert to this deep drive rooted in sloth and pride; learn its moves and despise its lures.

Filed in: homilies

Comments (24)

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  1. James S. says:

    “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30)

    I read this passage and thought of Pope Francis and his latest comments on Islam and terrorism. I also thought of the confusion Pope Francis has sown regarding the indissolubility of marriage. Is Pope Francis a deceiver?

    • MaryZ. says:

      In my opinion, Pope Francis is not being deceptive. I think he is trying to bring God’s people together, after all, we are so varied. We also are called to really do our part. I might add that acting in love while doing the will of God. If everyone did the will of God in their lives, imagine the amazing world we would have. We are all a link in the chain of life.

    • Peter says:

      I would have to agree! His actions with the poor are very wonderful but his words are conflicting, vague and misleading at times. They are like a weather vane… They spin in all directions!

    • Michael Ross says:

      Let us not be fooled to connive and whisper about the head (Pope Francis) of the mother church, the rock that Jesus founded James. For it is the devil that whispers in our own ears to cause this dissolution.

      To obediently follow the church is what we are called to do and woe to those shepherds that mis-lead us. “God declares a curse on those shepherds who mislead His flock”

      If you follow in faith than fear not. Pray for us all that those that seek to truly follow Jesus are not swayed by the evil one.

      Peace

    • Olga Lucia Manrique says:

      Sadly, he is. False Prophet big time:( Lord have mercy on us and on the whole world, Immaculate Heart of Mary, be our Refuge!!!

      • Jay says:

        Jesus to Mankind Litany Prayer (1) Protection against the False Prophet

        Dearest Jesus save us from the deceit of the False Prophet.
        Jesus have Mercy on us.
        Jesus save us from the persecution.
        Jesus preserve us from the antichrist.
        Lord have Mercy.
        Christ have Mercy.
        Dearest Jesus, cover us with Your Precious Blood.
        Dearest Jesus, open our eyes to the lies of the False Prophet.
        Dearest Jesus unite Your Church.
        Jesus protect our Sacraments.
        Jesus don’t let the False Prophet divide Your Church.
        Dearest Jesus help us to reject lies presented to us as the truth.
        Jesus give us strength.
        Jesus give us hope.
        Jesus flood our souls with the Holy Spirit.
        Jesus protect us from the Beast.
        Jesus give us the gift of discernment so we can follow
        the path of Your True Church at all times forever and ever. Amen.

      • Willy mccabe says:

        Really? ShoW me one example where pope Francis has made a srate mentioned Ex Cathedra that contradicts official church doctrine. Just one. Cuz everything else is simply personal opinion. You’re free to reject or disagree. Be very careful who you label a false prophet. Jesus was accused of the same.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      He is a complex figure. Just today he denounced transgenderism, he has also called same sex marriage demonic. So despite his oft-times confusing remarks he remains clear on many key issues. Pray for him!

    • Jay says:

      That’s an interesting quotation, I’ll have to pray about it. These thoughts also agree with what the Book of Truth (Daniel 10:21) is saying (can find it out there in the internet somewhere). There is an ever encroaching error of humanism – putting man’s needs before God’s – that seems to be permeating the world. Then there’s also CCC paragraph 675 to consider.

      “Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.”

  2. Daniel Gallup says:

    I can’t recall ever hearing a homily of this quality and substance here in Los Angeles. I also fear any priest who gave it here would be run out of town. A most edifying homily, and many thanks for sharing it with us starved sheep out here.

  3. Kevin says:

    Monsignor Pope,

    The problem is the same today as in Jeremiah’s day when those “deceivers” are often those that should be leading the faithful in the truth.
    How often do we hear actual heresies from the pulpit when the actions of the ‘sheep’ are exonerated instead of being denounced or at least corrected. Then the ‘sheep’ walk away to spend their time blissfully thinking all is well.
    The difficulty for the ‘sheep’ who sense these errors being proclaimed, is how can they ‘call out’ these errors declared from the altar, when their own knowledge is lacking to combat them?
    The simplest action is just to walk away to find the truth elsewhere but this leaves the rest of the ‘sheep’ unaware of the deception being perpetrated on them and the responsibility then resting not only on the ‘deceiver’ but those who have walked away.
    Of course, the secondary problem is that the ‘deceivers’ are everywhere, and the ‘truth-speakers’ are reducing and being eliminated.
    As one priest said to me when I mentioned a similar topic said the church would be empty if he raised it and he would then be subjected to the wrath of the Diocese, (but he might save his own soul, of course).

    Thank you for all your profound insights to the truth.

  4. Steve Harrington says:

    I would say the real deception facing the Church right now is that you can be a nominal Catholic and believe that you are a follower of Jesus. A follower of Jesus knows Him in an experiential way; is open and receptive to the Holy Spirit and operates in His gifts of power; has a docile heart that is attentive, receptive, and malleable to the Spirit of Jesus; loves God and neighbor; and attentively waits upon the Father’s will; and is obedient to God’s will and the Catholic church.

    Ultimately our final judgement will not be about our talents, or gifts, or intellect, or anything God-given. We will be measured by our willingness to lay down our lives and hearts to the will of God.

    • Gallibus says:

      Your comment is right on the button!

      I find that the greatest deception among my fellow Catholics today is the refusal to entertain the notion that God is sending us true messages today.

      This delusion is justified in their view by the scriptural warning that we should be careful not be deceived. Nevertheless, the refusal to discern the work of the Holy Spirit is rooted in this deception – that God has said all He wants to say to us and all that is recorded in Scripture and so any further revelation is therefore false. Therein lies the greatest deception of our time.

      Where in the scriptures does it say the God will never speak to us again or send us messages to keep us on the right track? Nowhere! On the contrary! A failure to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit is the result of deception – probably rooted in fear based on an inadequate knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures and the Faith and backed up by a spiritual sloth and prideful self-satisfaction.

      As you so rightly said: ‘A follower of Jesus knows Him in an experiential way; is open and receptive to the Holy Spirit and operates in His gifts of power; has a docile heart that is attentive, receptive, and malleable to the Spirit of Jesus; loves God and neighbor; and attentively waits upon the Father’s will; and is obedient to God’s will and the Catholic church.’ It requires a sense of humility and obedience and the exercise of the gift of discernment.

      What sort of servant says to his master: ‘Don’t give me any new orders – I am happy in my current routine?’ How long would he remain in service?

      • Connie Owen says:

        As a theological student a few years ago, I remember well the words about the Holy Scriptures: In the Bible, all has been revealed. There are no new truths to discover about ourselves, the history of revelation, and God. That we need to know, love and serve our God has been discussed and revealed there.
        God speaks to us daily as we are reminded by Jesus’ own servitude. It is most likely that we are constantly disobeying God’s commands and challenging God, as your servant example shows. Those are times when we sin.
        No further revelation is necessary. God has said all He wants us to know, and the Holy Spirit continues to help us discern and believe. We should never be doubters of the completeness of Holy Scripture. Worldly deception is the reason we have been given the Holy Spirit, not to teach new truths, but to help us discern, to seek and find the Truth.

  5. Linda Daily says:

    Do you ever reflect on your own words and whether your online prophecy might be false and misleading?

  6. Mark Walsingham says:

    Good thoughts Monsignor! Have you seen this article on a similar topic?

    https://kevinsymonds.com/2016/08/05/leo-jesus-satan/

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Thanks for this. I too wonder of the exact timelines.

      • Mark Walsingham says:

        Indeed! Then again, was there even such a conversation, much less a request from the devil to Jesus? There does not appear to be an authentic record anywhere.

  7. Rev Dan hesko says:

    Bravo, This is a magnificent article, so clear and concise.
    More than ever Catholics must know what the Church has always taught from the beginning.
    The primary law of the Church is the salvation of souls. The Church has given us a clear road map through the centuries, our Blessed Lady in this Marian age has told us what we must do. May no one distract us with lies and false promises from the gift of Eternal life, given to those who love Christ.

  8. Fred says:

    Msgr. Pope- You are a blessing to the faithful. Your words are always filled with Truth and inspired by the Holy Spirit. God bless you. I know that your path in the Archdiocese of Washington is not an easy one, but thank you for walking it courageously. I will pray for you today.

  9. Patty says:

    I don’t know, but I have a grave concern about people who have died and “gone to heaven” or have experienced Jesus in the Near Death Experiences and then have not found Him in the Catholic Church…No matter what any other Catholic is doing, saying or manifesting, is it not the Fire of our Love for Him that brings us there? Does not the soul crave that object in which it has experienced Total Love as the witness of the NDEs state? The Pope does seem to be way off the focus of the New Testament and the Holy Wisdom of the Old Testament in order to propound a way of life. If Jesus is in your heart, that’s great, maybe you’ll make it to heaven – but being a loving, active, and obedient Catholic, you will find the Kingdom of Heaven is inside you now today – and I truly believe that is the True Communion Jesus desires as an effect of His Sacraments.