Tuesday, September 29, 2009
"[Evil spirits] have at times recommended that which is good in order to hinder a greater good, and have encouraged persons to do a particular act of virtue that they may the more easily deceive the unwary..." Pope Benedict XIV, Servorum Dei beatifactione et Beatorum canonizatione.
I used to believe in Medjugorje; I believed it with my whole heart. As an agnostic turned Catholic, who turned to Catholicism after being touched by Our Lady of Lourdes, France, I was ripe to believe that Medjugorje was another divine intervention in the modern world. Moreover, I believed that those who did not believe in Medjugorje had hardened their hearts, in a sense, against God.
So what is “Medjugorje” to those who do not know what this phenomenon is? Medjugorje is a town in the former Yugoslavia where six mostly teenage “visionaries” are reputed to have begun seeing Our Lady, a receiving messages from her, beginning
in the summer of 1981, while frequenting their favorite smoking hide-out.
Millions of souls flock to Medjugorje; good souls, holy Catholic souls, searching for greater meaning; searching for a touch of grace—a ray of meaning in this difficult life. The souls who go there are almost without exception good Catholics: They pray there, they go to confession, they attend daily mass, and many of them return home extolling the “fruits” of Medjugorje.
We hear of a millionaire stockbroker who became a priest; drug addicts who renounce their habits; those who have been away from the Church for decades returning to the fold. James Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion, is a friend of one of the “visionaries.”
Despite such inflated hyperbole, one cannot deny that many fruits from Medjugorje have been good: A woman, Rita Klaus, was apparently healed of multiple sclerosis after reading about Medjugorje; the divorced and remarried Protestant journalist Wayne Weible was so overcome by Medjugorje that he wrote several books on the subject and converted to Catholicism. Most interestingly, a former editor at Rolling Stone magazine, Randall Sullivan, experienced such “phenomena” at Medjugorje that he wrote a book largely devoted to the phenomena, The Miracle Detective, had his kids baptized Catholic, but still—to my knowledge—has not converted to the Faith himself.
However, my wife, myself, and, just recently, my eighty-four year old grandmother converted to Catholicism without ever having heard of Medjugorje, and so I doubt it is, or ever has been, the great converter of the unconverted that some claim it to be. The Catholic missionaries used the Traditional Latin Mass and steely resolve to convert millions to the faith. Still, there are, seemingly, good fruits coming out of Medjugorje. Early scientific and psychological testing of the “visionaries” did not show signs of duplicity. It’s likely that the visionaries believe in what they see; I don’t think they conspired with each other to make a buck. The visionaries are basically good, and honest people trapped in a, possibly, diabolical deception. The devil parades as an angle of light. 95% of what is said and happening at Medjugorje seems good, it is the 5% of strange unorthodoxy that is troublesome. The air of legitimacy and good fruits coupled with messages out of whack with the deposit of faith is what makes Medjugorje phenomena to be treated with caution. On the one hand, we Catholics love Our Lady, but we should be cautious in the milieu of today’s Marian apparitions for just that reason: We need to love Our Lady for who she really is, and not a deception. One need only look to Bayside, New York, where a delusional woman claimed to see Our Lady, to see how strange Marian “apparitions” can become. Bayside had a huge cult following; it had reputed miracles to support it, including silver rosaries turning gold, miraculous healings and seemingly unlimited financial resources—these things also happen at Medjugorje. Bayside was declared invalid by the local Bishop, as has Medjugorje by every local Bishop since the phenomena started.
But I am not the ultimate arbiter on Medjugorje, the Church is. I accept her judgment either way. Perhaps the strange behavior of some of the seers at Medjugorje are similar to the way one of the seers acted in later life at the nineteenth-century Church-approved apparition site of La Salette, in France. It is possible to distinguish an apparition from its visionary. However, one can look at the two most recent examples of Church-approved apparitions, and see a great contrast with Medjugorje: At Lourdes, France, the one visionary, Bernadette Soubirous, became a nun. Similarly, the one surviving visionary from Fatima, Portugal, became a nun. On the other hand, the seers at Medjugorje have become hotel owners, jet setters, and live on the newly created “millionaires-row” in the once extremely humble hamlet of Medjugorje. One of them, Vicka, has even claimed that Mary wanted a hotel built in 1995 (Mary the contractor)! Some of the seers split their time between Medjugorje and other locations. One seer married “Ms. Massachusetts,” has driven a Mercedes and BMW, and splits his time between Medjugorje and Boston, where two years ago he sold his condo for $640,000 because. He is also known to take a smoking break during mass.
Not to say wealth is bad, per se: King Saint Louis IX was “wealthy” (though swore it off, and wore sack cloth before he died on Crusade). The great Saint Therese of Liseux had parents of means, but St. Therese swore-off wealth and died a poor nun. Jesus was born in a manger, and his earthly father was a carpenter, and his other an extremely humble servant of God. Therefore, one can assume, God does not favor the rich. If this is true, why would God, though Mary, set-up a situation where a group of seers, claiming Mary as their Visionary, would become wealthy hotel-owners?
But still, you might ask, why would I wish to disparage phenomena that is near and dear to the hearts of so many? Why would I write negatively of phenomena inspiring to millions of Catholics—phenomena which has produced good “fruits?” One need only look at the phenomena of Neale Donald Walsch’s “Conversations with God,” a heretical series of books followed by millions throughout the world, to see how easily millions of souls can be led astray by those claiming contact with the divine. Medjugorje has captured the hearts and minds of millions of Catholics throughout the world; Priests, Bishops, a few Cardinals, and even, possibly, Pope John Paul II believed in it. If it is false, it has the power of altering the Church away from her Divine mission.
The Church was built on the blood and bones of the martyrs. When Vicka says that Our Lady is not calling people to become Catholics, but that, “[T]he Blessed Mother says all religions are dear to her and her Son.” (“The Visions of the Children,” Janice T. Connell, St. Martin’s Press, 1992, pg. 119.) One is left with a feeling of indifferentism towards the Catholic faith. The martyrs' blood: Those who sacrificed all to teach the True Faith, and "convert all nations" becomes irrelevant. For the same reason, some of the greatest Saints' teachings become irrelevant. Also, the Bible becomes irrelevant because we are exhorted to spread the True Faith in it; but if God doesn't desire others to become Catholic, why bother? Catholicism, at least as understood in the non-modernistic sense, is not a "faith,” per se, but Truth itself. Medjugorje is diminishing that age-old understanding of our Faith. Dicey business, because the fruits, otherwise, seem good; I do believe people experience "signs and wonders" there, and there have been “conversions.”
In March 2007, I traveled to Paris with the express wish of visiting Our Lady of Chartres Cathedral; a ninety-minute train rides from Paris. Since it was still cold, I had the opportunity to experience Chartres away from the crowds, and in the off-season. This Cathedral holds mysteries that the average person cannot fathom. Christians worshipped at the very site where Chartres was built for a millennium and a half (one can still descend into the crypts and visit part of the church destroyed by the Normans in the ninth century.) In that span, the vapors of time have erased much of the history of that place, since the modern concept of written history is not available to us with respect to most of the history of Chartres, and we can only rely on oral history, conjecture, and the walls of the Cathedral itself to guide us.
Suffice it to say that Christians lived, died, and worshipped at Chartres for over a thousand years; long before it was turned into a “temple of enlightenment” during the Revolution in the eighteenth century, when local secularists even contemplated tearing it down! One can descend into the crypts of Chartres and pray where the earliest Christians prayed, over fifteen hundred years ago.
So how does Chartres tie-in to Medjugorje? Notre Dame de Chartres was dedicated to Our Lady, and held the shawl she wore when she gave birth to the Redeemer. In the crypts of Chartres I imagined Our Lady as the humble, selfless woman born without sin to St. Ann. Humbly giving birth to Our Lord in a stable, and raising Him as a child. I imagined the Catholics at Chartres praying to this humble Virgin century upon century. Chartres is a place of spiritual depth and meaning.
Medjugorje, on the other hand, has become the Disneyland of “mystical” phenomena. There is even an etymological term known as the “Medjugorje phenomena,” where there are those who stare at the sun for so long, expecting a miracle, that they damage their retinas.
On October 1, 1981 the seers asked Our Lady: "Are all religions the same?" to which the “Gospa” replied, "Members of all faiths are equal before God. God rules over each faith just like a sovereign over his kingdom. In the world, all religions are not the same because all people have not complied with the commandments of God. They reject and disparage them."
Interestingly, this quote cannot be found on the semi-official website for Medjugorje. Clearly, this quote is heretical. God cannot “rule over each faith like a sovereign over his kingdom,” for to do so would mean God gives credence and meaning to each faith, just like a sovereign does to his kingdom. Christ is King of just one Faith: The Roman Catholic Church. There are not multiple expressions of Truth, but a single Truth, contained in Christ, and expressed fully in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Deposit of Faith. The idea that Christ reigns over, say, the Moonies is absurd.
The “Gospa” has left tens of thousands of messages in Medjugorje, or, by extension, with the visionaries throughout the world, who seem to be able to conjure her wherever they may be, whether in the United States, Italy, or anyplace else. The famous “Mariologist,” Fr. Rene Laurentin, named one of the top 100 Catholic by “dailycatholic.org”—slightly behind Wayne Weible—is a major proponent of Medjugorje. Fr. Laurentin claims that Medjugorje is verified, in part, by the veracity of its visionaries. But are the visionaries really trustworthy? It is known that the “apparitions” started when the then teenage visionaries were smoking near a site where Croat Nazis slaughtered nearly a thousand people during World War II. The visionaries have been known to lie, or at least speak inconsistently, again and again. But the most troubling aspect with Medjugorje is the sense of syncretism inspired by it. It’s almost as if Medjugorje is inspiring a new faith within the Faith by very subtle means.
Fr. Rene Laurentin is also a huge proponent of a seer named Vassula Ryden, a Pan-Orthodox divorcee who claims that Jesus personally guides her hand in writing messages (http://www.tlig.org/en/background/handwriting/laurentin/). Ryden frequently speaks before the United Nations, where she espouses a syncrenistic understanding between protestants, Catholics and Orthodox. Fr. Laurentin cannot be relied upon as an authority on the veracity of Medjugorje since he has advanced a highly unorthodox seer. See, (http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDFRYDN1.HTM.)
Vassula Ryden and Medjugorje both espouse a syncrenistic and indifferent understanding of the Church. This is opposed to the tradition of our Church. It is opposed to the great Saints and Martyrs who gave their live to advance the truth that Christ died to forgive us our sins, and created one Church to advance His mission on earth, and in that Church created the unbloodly Sacrifice of the Mass, as a mode whereby He would remain with us until the end of time.
E. Michael Jones wrote a book called "The Medjugorje Deception," Fidelity Press, 1998--it is a counterbalance to the superabundance of pro-Medjugorje books circulating and making millions out there (Michael Davies also wrote a book countering the Medjugorje phenomena.) As an aside, Jones was physically threatened by devotees of Medjugorje, do they not know that Christ's revelation ended around 2,000 years ago? One can believe or disbelieve in church-approved apparitions as one pleases (no less non-church approved ones, such as Medjugorje), and still be a good Catholic.
Generally well researched, here are a few nuggets from Jones' book: Bishop Peric, who was Bishop of Medjugorje at the time, was actually man-handled--his pectoral cross ripped off--by devotees of the "Gospa" of Medjugorje, who whisked him away to a chapel run by the Franciscans, and he actually had to be rescued by the Mayor of Mostar with U.N. troops in tow! [pg. xvii, from the introduction] Jones provides a nice quote regarding those who are constantly seeking a "high"-- a fix-- from ever-changing "mystical" phenomena, especially those in the charismatic movement, who the devotees of Medjugorje seem to be in abundance: "Either one grows into a mature faith--i.e. one not based on signs and wonders--or one looks for signs and wonders in ever-increadsing doess in order to maintain the spiritual high one remembers from the past." [pg. 37]
Quoting Father Jean Galot, Jones rightly points out that, "The frequency of an apparition, for example, is an argument against its authenticity because, '...it would arouse the image of a Christian religion that was nourished much more by actual visions than by the revelation brought in the past by the coming of Christ on earth. Piety would develop more as a function of constant apparitions than by the leap of faith...'" [pg. 66] Indeed! Although certainly Our Lady's coming to Fatima was necessarily predicated on our modern times, and scientific materialism.
Here is a passage that has long troubled me about Medjugorje, "The visionaries made virtually no show of devotion to the Eucharist and spent their time during mass talking and walking around [based on the impressions of Bishop Zanic]" [pg. 92] Whereas Fatima began and ended with the Eucharist, and the approved apparition of Akita was Eucharistically-based (and even Garabandal, which I'm not giving my opinion to one way or the other, was Eucharistically based) all Medjugorje could muster-up was a message by the Gospa that the children should prepare for the Eucharist for an hour "at least," before mass. [Messages, 1985] And then there are reports of Ivan, even in recent years, taking smoke breaks during mass; one is left with the impression of, "why would God create such a circus of irreverence towards his only Son?" Granted, the Gospa is given plenty of piety, but Mary herself would agree that her central role is to lead to Christ-God. Medjugorje seems to leave Christ in the periphery, all too often me thinks.
In the "visionary" Vicka's diary [9/4/1981] is a story about a bloody "handkerchief" soaked in blood, given to a "conductor." He was told to throw it into a river (by an unknown persona). He held-off, and met a woman, who turned out to be the Gopa. She asked for a handkerchief, and when he offered his own instead, she asked for the bloody one! He gave it to her, and she stated that if he had thrown the bloody one into a river, as instructed, the world would have ended. "The Gospa confirmed that this was the truth." [pg. 94]
Priests at Medjugorje also have a penchant for getting nuns pregnant. The recent story of Fr. Vlasic getting a nun pregnant and getting erstwhile with the Vatican is only one such story (although the biggest, since he was THE "spiritual advisor" to the "visionaries" and the major early proponent of their messages for some time), there is also the story of Fr. Ivica Vego, who also got a nun pregnant! This is a priest which the Gospa defended in his battle with the local Bishop previously. [pg. 147]
Then there is the fact that the Gospa can be transported from place to place to have messages broadcast, particularly if the person sponsoring the particular message-conduit-visionary has money! In one instance, the Gospa was amenable to having her apparition in a field in America at the base of a large tree, when thousands of pilgrims were too many to have it in a home. [pg. 153]
A Priest associated with Medjugorje for over ten years, who was a firm supporter, went to being a confirmed skeptic when he began to think that, indeed, the children were seeing a spiritual entity, but not the Virgin Mary. [pg. 352]
My eighty-four year old grand mother lives with the “Little Sisters” in Gallup, New Mexico. She became a Catholic at 84, after living with those holy sisters for a little over a year. Many of the nuns there hail from India and Southeast Asia. Those young, holy, and selfless nuns—giving their lives over to the care of the elderly—as well as my grandmother’s friends in Gallup, impressed upon her the Catholic faith the first weeks she was there. I stood next to my grandmother as she was baptized and confirmed into the Catholic faith. I also stood there while she took her First Holy Communion! It was a beautiful, and holy experience. And, for the record, I must say that Medjugorje had nothing to do with it. My grandmother, I’m sure, had never heard of Medjugorje when she became Catholic; I never heard of Medjugorje before I became Catholic. Part of the reason for my grandmother’s late-life conversion is no doubt due to the selfless labor of those holy—and habited, nuns—who give their all for those in the most need: the elderly. Medjugorje is not even a factor there.