WADE ST. ONGE

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Medjugorje: III. Weak Arguments For Authenticity


Just as there are a number of reasons given against the veracity of the apparitions that I believe are either weak arguments or even neutral, so too do I believe a number of reasons given for the apparitions and in favour of their authenticity are either weak or neutral – many of them because they cut like double-edged swords and could just as easily prove the opposite, at least as seen as part of a larger whole.

Among all the arguments which are either quite common or are considered strong by proponents, I would identify eight of them as belonging to this category. These include (1) the “good fruits” of healing and conversion; (2) the orthodoxy of the message; (3) the mystical phenomenon, such as solar miracles and rosaries turning to gold; (4) the belief of John Paul II in the apparitions; (5) the fact that pastoral support has been provided for by the Vatican; (6) Pope Urban’s alleged statement that we should err on the side of believing purported apparitions; (7) the fact that those who go have become believers so that those who do not are in a deficient position to judge them; (8) the fact that many Saints and seers who were held in suspicion by Church authorities originally were later exonerated, and that Medjugorje is just another example of this. Let us address these in turn.

1. The “Good Fruits”. (Conversions and Healings)

This argument can be summed up very well by quoting a recent article from Our Sunday Visitor and by quoting an interview of Dr. Miravalle:

“To date, more than 30 million men and women have visited Medjugorje, with countless conversions and vocations to the priesthood and religious life resulting from those visits. … ‘There seems to be an undeniable explosion of supernatural graces in Medjugorje,’ [Dr. Mark] Miravalle [Professor of Theology and Mariology at Franciscan University of Steubenville] said. (http://www.osv.com/tabid/7621/itemid/6229/A-look-at-unprecedented-Medjugorje-commission.aspx) “The Church examines the spiritual fruits based on the words of Jesus, ‘You know the tree by its fruits’. The Church looks for lasting spiritual fruits … Look at the confessions lines! How many bishops and priests and religious have pilgrimaged to this place! A convicted return to the prayer and sacramental life of the Church, and this, like no other apparition in the present era, has been manifested in Medjugorje. The confession lines, Mass attendance, Rosaries are ubiquities. That is a rock solid Scripture based testimony to the fact that indeed it is Jesus who sends his Mother to Medjugorje. As one author said, ‘If Satan is behind Medjugorje, he has made the greatest mistake of his existence’”. (http://www.medjugorje.ws/en/articles/mark-miravalle/) In short, the fact that thousands have been converted (some later becoming priests and religious) and miraculously healed (not only physically but also mentally and emotionally) at Medjugorje proves that Mary is truly appearing there.

However, there are at least four reasons or considerations as to why this does not give us any assurance that the apparitions are authentic.

A. First, there has certainly been good fruit, but there has been a considerable amount of bad fruit as well. This is something that often either gets overlooked or minimized by Medjugorje believers. (a) Now, it must be said there will always be a mix of fruits. However, at authentic apparitions, there is always a much larger gap between the two than at ones which have been condemned. (b) Furthermore, one cannot simply place the bad fruits on one end and the good fruits on the other and judge based on those fruits alone as to whether or not God is behind it or not behind it. By that scale, we would have to conclude that God the Father was directly responsible for Christ being crucified, because more good came out of the Crucifixion than evil. Thus, we must look at other criteria, and not just whether or not there has been more good fruit than bad fruit. (c) Finally, when judging whether or not the fruit is good or bad, we have to ask if the fruit came directly from the apparitions themselves, or events or people that are loosely affiliated or have later attached themselves to the apparitions. In other words, we must ask, “would this ‘fruit’ have still come about had phenomenon Medjugorje not occurred?” For instance, the “bad fruit” of certain con-artists setting up tours or shops to “cash in” on Medjugorje cannot be blamed on the apparitions themselves, because those con-artists have no connection to the seers and are not encouraged by them, and would have just set up different businesses to “cheat” people out of money elsewhere had there been no prospect of success in Medjugorje. It must be called to mind that similar things have happened in places where authentic apparitions have taken place.

B. Second, the devil tolerates some good if he can bring about evil. (a) The devil, in his activities, always has a goal in mind. He will tolerate good fruit if in the end he knows he will be able to achieve his goal of inflicting a great deal of damage in this or that particular area or manner of his choosing. (b) In fact, he has to tolerate good fruit, because without some good fruit, the devil knows he will be able to deceive no one. (c) It should be called to mind at this point that there is a lengthy history of false apparitions and false mystics in our Church’s history. This is a continuation of the “false prophets” of the Scriptures. We must remember the warning of Christ: “False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect”. (Matthew 24:24) [It is worth calling to mind here that the magicians in the time of Moses also performed some of his miraculous works. (Exodus 7:11, 8:3)]. If these works are so great that even the elect could be deceived, how can we be so certain that the works at Medjugorje do not come from such a source? There is only one way to know – the teaching authority of the Church, which has been given the charism of properly discerning these “spirits”. However, since the Church has not yet definitively spoken, since the Vatican has not yet issued a judgment, there is no way any of us can know for certain whether these “signs and wonders” are from above or below, and whether or not we are being deceived by the devil.

C. Third, we must ask exactly what tree the good fruit is coming from? (a) When you have that many Masses, rosaries, and prayers being offered there every day, you are going to as a consequence have conversions and miraculous healings. (i) Dr. Miravalle spoke about the long confession lines, the high Mass attendance, the numerous rosaries, and the large number of priests and religious who have come (and continue to come). His evaluation is that this is “a rock solid Scripture based testimony to the fact that indeed it is Jesus who sends his Mother to Medjugorje”. However, could it also be true that this is “a rock solid Scripture based testimony to the fact that indeed it is Jesus who sacrifices Himself for us at Mass and offers Himself to us in the Eucharist”, or “who opens up the floodgates of His grace when His mother’s children pray her rosary”, or “who absolves us of sin and pours out His grace into our souls”? In other words, what we have here is a “chicken or egg” problem. A blog commenter said this: “Where Mary is ... the devil will be, too, to muddy up the waters. ... Instead of convincing me that Mary isn’t there, it convinces me that the devil is working hard to mess it up”. (http://patrickmadrid.blogspot.com/2010/01/medjugorje-fact-sheet-is-devil-in.html) My question is, “Who was there first – the Devil or Mary?” Yes, where Mary appears, the devil will too in order to “mess things up”. But the opposite is also true – where the devil appears and is working, God will appear to thwart Satan’s plans and bring light and salvation! (ii) Speaking of trees, let us speak about another tree for a moment – namely, the tree of life, the Cross of Christ, because it is a parallel. Who was responsible for the Crucifixion? When we look at Scripture, we can see Satan perpetrated the whole affair. But God allowed it so that He could turn it to good. Where Satan is active, God will come to fight him and bring good out of his evil – and this is especially true when people of faith flock there and pray and make acts of faith and love. Every pilgrimage site will have its share of conversions and miracles – it has always been that way. In fact, Medjugorje was a pilgrimage site for over a century before the apparitions began. Conversions and miracles had been reported there for decades leading up to 1981. That they have increased in proportion to the increase in the number of pilgrims (and thus the number of rosaries, prayers, and Masses) is to be expected.

D. Fourth, it must also be remembered that the Church examines the messages of an apparition before She examines the fruits. (a) That is very telling, because the Church is tacitly teaching that a false apparition site may yield great fruits, and for the reasons listed immediately above. The Church’s first order of business is to determine two things: 1. Are the messages in harmony with the teachings of the Church, or are there any contradictions? 2. Are the seers completely obedient to Church authorities, or are they disobedient, and does the apparition support, counsel, or advocate their disobedience? If the latter is true of either of these, the Church condemns the apparition and declares it to be not authentic, to be not of God. One might ask how we could possibly disregard all the good fruits as an argument for authenticity in the face of one act of disobedience? The answer is that we can do so because the Church does. If there have been millions of miraculous healings and tens of millions of conversions, the Church will not even look at those fruits if any of the messages are heretical or any of the seers disobedient. To the Church, it is enough to discount all the evidence to the contrary. (b) If the messages have been examined and found to be orthodox, and if the seers have been examined and found to be obedient, only then are the fruits examined. However, as we said before, the fruits must be shown to be in connection with and flowing from the apparitions themselves and not through Christian prayer and devotion.

2. Orthodoxy. (a) Dr. Miravalle’s book The Message of Medjugorje was an abridged and more popular version of his doctoral dissertation, in which he set out to show how the message of Medjugorje has a solid basis in both Scripture and Tradition, and that what is called for is nothing different than what Christ called for in the Gospel, and what has been practiced by generations of Christians. Dr. Miravalle interprets this as proof of the authenticity of the apparitions. Once again, I disagree with his interpretation. Of course, if there is a “false apparition”, for it to achieve success and a Catholic following, it must harmonize with Scripture and Tradition. (i) If the apparitions are of human origin, any orchestrated effort to promote and convince others of their authenticity must consist of an “orthodox” message, otherwise Catholics will see through it from the start, and few will believe it, let alone make it so central to their spiritual lives. (ii) If the apparitions are of demonic origin, this would be even make more sense. His modus operandi is to counterfeit, to make evil things seem as close to the true good as possible, or to use things that are truly good to eventually lure us into evil. In fact, if the apparition turns out to be of demonic origin, I would argue that Dr. Miravalle’s book and dissertation is the most dangerous book on Medjugorje to date, because by showing how “Biblical” it is, he is actually making the devil’s case for him, and making his job easier. If it is not authentic, Dr. Miravalle is demonstrating what a good counterfeit Medjugorje is. (b) It must also be remembered that many other false apparitions sites and false mystics avoided teaching heresy as well.

3. Mystical Phenomena. (a) All of the “phenomena” observed in Medjugorje has been at most “preternatural”, which is within the power of Satan. Nothing observed has been supernatural. (b) Also, nothing that has been observed and studied in the seers of Medjugorje is anything that the false sixteenth century mystic, Magdalen of the Cross, did not experience. In fact, she had even more extraordinary gifts than the Medjugorje seers. (c) Furthermore, as has already been mentioned, Medjugorje had been a pilgrimage site since the nineteenth century. From that time until 1981, many “signs” and strange lights and other phenomena had been observed.

4. John Paul II. (a) Whether or not John Paul II believed in the apparitions is unclear. (b) However, let us grant that he was a believer in Medjugorje. Does it strengthen the case for Medjugorje? No. (i) First of all, John Paul II merely expressed, as a believer and not in his role as Supreme Pontiff, his own opinion that Medjugorje was authentic. Granted, his opinion is weighty since he is a future saint and possibly doctor of the Church. However, even Saints and Doctors had their share of erroneous judgments, and Popes, as the annals of ecclesial history shown, most certainly have. (ii) But the main reason this is a weak argument is because John Paul II also “believed in” Fr. Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ. If he could have misjudged one, he could have just as easily misjudged the other – especially since he actually had more familiarity with Fr. Maciel than with Medjugorje. (c) This is an argument from authority, which is generally considered a fallacy. The problem with it being used in this case is that “both sides” can claim their fair share of bishops and cardinals (and perhaps even popes, as Benedict XVI seems to be sceptical of Medjugorje). Dr. Miravalle, for instance, enjoys telling the story of how he spoke personally to Mother Teresa (a fact he frequently mentions in his classes and in interviews) who told him she believes in the apparitions. (http://medjugorje.wordpress.com/2008/06/29/is-medjugorje-real/) But there are very competent and respected clerics and theologians as well as holy men and women in both “camps”. (d) Every Pope has his strengths and his weaknesses – and usually his strengths are his weaknesses. John Paul II was pastoral and saw the good in everything, often to the minimization or exclusion of the bad. That is what made him a great Pope and helped him to reach out to the modern world – but it is also what made him oblivious to the many wolves in sheep’s clothing within the Church.

5. Pastoral Support provided for. The fact that Medjugorje was a pilgrimage site long before the apparitions began is what makes things difficult. For even if the Church were to definitively rule against the authenticity of the apparitions, how can She determine if any one pilgrim is going there because it has long been a holy place apart from any apparitions, or because he believes in the apparitions? That is why the Zadar Declaration (which the Vatican has tacitly approved) states that although it cannot be confirmed the apparitions are of supernatural origin, the bishops wanted to see to it that the many faithful who make pilgrimages to Medjugorje are provided with pastoral care and the sacraments, which is why provisions have been made for this. (http://medjugorjedocuments.blogspot.com/2008/09/zadar-declaration-1991.html)

6. Pope Urban’s alleged and oft-quoted statement was this: "In cases which concern private revelations, it is better to believe than not to believe, for, if you believe, and it is proven true, you will be happy that you have believed, because our Holy Mother asked it. If you believe, and it should be proven false, you will receive all blessings as if it had been true, because you believed it to be true." Medjugorje believers say this means they are not only justified in believing in the apparitions, but that sceptics would be wise to believe until they find out otherwise. There are two problems with this. (a) First of all, considering the five points of the message consist in that which the Gospel and the Church is already calling us to, even Christians who are sceptical of Medjugorje should already be living the messages. Thus, they are not “missing out on graces” by not believing in the apparitions. (i) For instance, fasting twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, is an ancient practice, one that dates back to the first century, according to the Didache. Many serious Christians were doing this long before 1981 – some of them even doing so three or more times a week. (ii) And on the other side of the coin, it must be said that many believers in Medjugorje are not strictly living the messages as outlined, but are tailoring them to their own abilities (as they should). So many believers only fast Fridays, and not on bread and water, but in the way the Church proscribes for Good Friday (one full meal and two meals that together do not equal a full one). (b) Secondly, although what Pope Urban said is true, there are numerous qualifications that must be mentioned along with it. For instance, if a certain private revelation is becoming too central to one’s spirituality (far beyond what is appropriate), and if in the face of a negative judgment the believer will embrace the apparition rather than the decision of the Church, then it is better not to believe! This statement is presupposing an adherence to everything else the Church has taught previously about the subject, just like John XXIII said in his opening speech of the council that Vatican II would not teach much of what is found in Trent and Vatican I, because it has already been taught and is presumed to be known by all. These include numerous other qualifications, some of which can be gleaned from this article. (c) Personally, I believe that unapproved apparitions usually do more harm than good, in consideration of man’s fallen nature. Almost all visions and apparitions are intended and meant for particular individuals, but we often want to make them all our own. For support, I would cite St. John of the Cross, who warned believers about the dangers of visions and advised that we actually strive to avoid them. (http://www.theotokos.org.uk/pages/appdisce/smasters.html)

7. “If you go ...”. The perspective of many Medjugorje believers – which often comes out in debates on this subject – is this: “If you have not gone to Medjugorje for yourself, you should not condemn it, because if you go there, you will experience conversion and peace or see others experience it and thus you will know that the apparitions are authentic and this will prove Mary is really appearing.” (a) However, this argument is trying to “prove” what sceptics of Medjugorje have already granted – namely, that there are “good fruits” such as conversions and miracles, because God is at work there, and Mary is present and active there (just as she is every time one prays the rosary). If I went there, I probably would experience all the good things that believers in Medjugorje have experienced and that they say others would experience. (b) This argument is also a double-edged sword, and this for two reasons. (i) Some who have gone have come to believe that the apparitions are not authentic. They had bad experiences, or encountered things that had them doubting in the apparitions when before they were either neutral or even believers. (ii) Partly because of this, if the Medjugorje sceptic who has not gone on pilgrimage there has no place to speak or form an opinion against it, Medjugorje believers who have not gone on pilgrimage also have no place to speak or form an opinion for it. An example of one such believer was John Paul II. (c) The other difficulty with this argument is that the pilgrimage to Medjugorje often leads people to form an opinion based on feelings, without submitting those movements of the heart to a rational examination of the intellect [I refer any readers at this point who might disagree with this statement on the basis that they grant a primacy to the “heart” over the “head” to John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio as well as what Benedict XVI has repeatedly said about Christianity as a rational religion]. No doubt, a place like Medjugorje – with its Catholic atmosphere, its conversions, its Masses, its charismatic prayer groups and meetings, etc. – will do this. Here are a couple comments on various blogs from believers: “As for evidence, all I can say is that it was not due to any argument or evidence produced by anyone, for or against Medjugorje, that persuaded me to the truth of what is happening at Medjugorje. My own personal encounter with the Holy Spirit and Our Lady was more than enough to reveal the truth to me when I visited Medjugorje in 2000. This happens frequently to many who visit.” (http://patrickmadrid.blogspot.com/2010/01/medjugorje-fact-sheet-is-devil-in.html) ; “Call it what you want but something in my gut is telling me that this is real. It played a role in my conversion.” (Ibid) These are problematic statements. Feelings are very misleading in the spiritual life, which is why the intellect is so key in discernment. It is not enough just to “feel” something is true.

8. Padre Pio was exhonerated. Some will say, “Many authentic apparitions, such as Fatima, were at first the object of suspicion by many and even condemnation by the Church authorities. So too, many of the Saints, like Padre Pio, were fully exonerated after years of being under a cloud of suspicion”. The implication here is that since Medjugorje has faced the same opposition as Fatima and Padre Pio, we should not be concerned since it will only be a matter of time before Medjugorje is declared authentic by the Church. However, this argument again becomes a double-edged sword. After all, many false apparitions were rightly the object of suspicion, and that suspicion was eventually confirmed by a negative judgment from the proper authorities. Likewise, many false mystics and “saints” were definitively denounced after rightly being under a cloud of suspicion. Lourdes and Fatima indeed had many enemies. But so did Bayside and Necedah. Padre Pio had his critics. But so did Magdalen of the Cross. It is hard to say under which category Medjugorje will ultimately fall.

x. As has been mentioned, the Church, in discerning the authenticity of apparitions, begins with the messages and with the seers. As was stated, the messages are examined for their orthodoxy. As for the seers, they are examined to see if perhaps there are other explanations for what is going on. For instance, is the person claiming the apparitions mentally ill, or is he making extended vigils or undertaking extreme fasts? If so, the apparitions could be delusions. St. John of the Cross warns that most visions and apparitions are false, and St. Teresa adds that this often occurs when one engages in excessive vigils and fasts. (Dark Night of the Soul, 2.2.3; Interior Castle, IV.3) What is the person involved with? If he has experimented with practices associated with the occult, he may be seeing the devil, who can “disguise himself as an angel of light” (2Corinthians 11:14). Or, perhaps the person is making it all up for some unknown reason? We will explore the examination of seers next.