When God speaks to people in extraordinary ways …
90. Popular piety has always been interested in extraordinary happenings and events that are not infrequently connected with private revelations. While not confined to Marian piety alone, this phenomenon is particularly involved with “apparitions” and “messages”. In this regard, it is useful to recall what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about private revelation: “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called private revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church” (n. 67)*.
*On this question see J. Ratzinger, Commento teologico, in CONGREGAZIONE PER LA DOTTRINA DELLA FEDE, Il messaggio di Fatima, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2000, pp. 32-44
What are we to make of the burgeoning instances of believers claiming special revelation? Medjugorje seeings, as a prominent example, have been going on for decades. They develop great enthusiasm that doesn’t ever seem to be matched by liturgy, or the ho-hum experiences of day-to-day Christianity. What sort of inspiration are people seeking? Why do these private revelations have such attraction? What is missing in the rest of the Christian spiritual and religious experience?
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.
“What sort of inspiration are people seeking? Why do these private revelations have such attraction? What is missing in the rest of the Christian spiritual and religious experience?”
When I first became a Christian I thought this was what *everyone* was seeking – a personal burning bush type of experience of God. That’s what I was hoping for. But the people I met at church seemed to be more interested in keeping God at a comfortable distance with public communal rituals. I didn’t understand this and I think that’s part of the reason I gave up on going to church. The retreat I participated in was the opposite – it seemed all about personal experience of God. I still don’t really understand how to integrate these two things.
I don’t get Medjugorge or really, any of the private visions. But I know people who swear that it changed their lives. At least one priest and one deacon of my acquaintance say that they were inspired to pursue their vocations because of a pilgrimage to Medjugorge. I can accept that God can use something like that to reach people, but personally I have problems with the revelations, or maybe it is interpretations of the revelations and visions. Fatima is maybe the one that sits most uneasily with me. The idea that Mary would show a little girl visions of sinners in the fiery lake of hell that frightened her into nightmares I just can’t accept.
These fantasies and hallucinations are found in all religions. That should be a clue they are not true. If someone is edified by them it should be a concern. The ‘hide-and-seek god’ is part of why it is unhealthy to believe this stuff.
I caution you on your lack of respect and your indulging of your personal feelings here, Max. You cannot prove “fantasies and hallucinations,” so I suggest you own the sense for yourself, and acknowledge it as a subjective judgment. Then criticize the experience from there.
Personally, I have deep suspicions about private experiences, but I’m willing to let people testify to them and be judged for their own fruitfulness.
Todd, I mean no disrespect to any person who believes Fatima is real. I respect people and care about them deeply.
A person who believes in Fatima is engaged in something which is meaningful to him or her – my beloved Catholic grandmother believed in Fatima (as did I when I was a Catholic) I would no sooner ‘disrespect’ Melody than I would my own grandmother.
But it is worth pointing out that personal feelings are exactly what you defend when you defend Fatima. As there is no other evidence we can point to.
Surely you must draw the line on a bad belief somewhere? Otherwise you are not respecting people at all – especially their intelligence.
One cannot accept every claim as true. What criteria can be brought to bear to determine what sorts of claims are ‘true’ if evidence is debatable?
I respect people enough to respect their minds.
I am grateful that someone respected me (and my mind) enough to help me think more carefully about these claims about Fatima – and that is not to disrespect the person who believes only the claims they are considering.
I agree with you that personal feelings should take a back seat to evidence – whatever the quality of that evidence should be. Private revelation is fine, but you must acknowledge there is no reason for anyone else to believe it.