Prophecy from the Holy Spirit–whether in private visions, locutions or from Scripture–is always a statement of God’s truths projected into the future. The prophet understands human nature and understands the working of the Holy Spirit and understands how the physical, historical and spiritual, psychic worlds inter relate. The prophet is therefore enable to “see into a possible future” in much the same way that many people can read current events and see where they are headed. Examples: if you smoke twenty packets of cigarettes a day you may die a horrible death of lung cancer. If you go more and more deeply into debt you will eventually be bankrupt. If a people kill their babies through abortion they will eventually die out.
The prophet/seer is given an expanded or enriched version of this same, natural gift to “see the future.” They are specially inspired by the Holy Spirit or they have a natural gift to see more profoundly the way things are going and to give the proper warnings. We must also remember that the prophecy (like the inspiration of Scripture) is always filtered through the seer’s own personal circumstances, life experiences, culture and time period. Their picture of the future is therefore better taken as a general warning rather than a specific glimpse into a pre-determined future.
This brings us to a Catholic understanding of time. The Catholic understanding is that the future is open ended. God’s providence rules over all, but the way it is worked out and decided through human free will. The prophet never foretells a specific event that is inevitable. That would be pagan and non-Christian. Instead the Christian prophet foretells a possible future or even a probable future, but the future is open-eneded. People have free will. They can choose one path or the other and the future will be different if they do. The reason prophecies are in dream visions and use cryptic language is because, while it is possible to see the general trend of the future, it is not possible to see specific events, times, people and places.
Finally, the proper response is: “Do not Fear!” God loves the human race and this frail, beautiful planet on which he has placed us. No matter what happens, God is in charge. He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Alpha and the Omega. He promises to be with always even to the end of time.