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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Tuesday, 30 May 2017

MEDJUGORJE: TRUE OR FALSE?


the scientists and Medjugorje

I went to Medjugorje in 1990 because an old boy of our school offered to pay, and I am still grateful for his generosity.   I was curious, quite open to the possibility that Our Lady was appearing, and also accepting the possibility of fraud.   We arrive late, due to a transport strike, spending a night in Belgrade with its beautiful modern Orthodox cathedral.   

My first experience of Medjugorje did not fill me with enthusiasm.   We walked to a field where we knelt in the rain to hear Our Lady urge us through Ivan to pray for peace.   "What was so special about Bosnia that we should be dragged half way round Europe to be told that!!"   However, I gradually came to give grudging consent to what was going on.   It was grudging because, among the ordinary pilgrims, I met nutcases, and people who would believe anything.   I was impressed with Ivan who answered my questions clearly and concisely.   I asked him what Our Lady's message is, in a nutshell.   He answered:
The world is in great need of peace, and peace can be obtained through prayer as a divine gift; but not just any prayer will do: it must be the prayer of people who are at peace themselves.   Not just any kind of peace will do, but the peace that is the fruit of prayer and penance.  What kind of prayer?   He said that Our Lady gave, as a suggestion, the whole rosary, then all fifteen decades; but, he said, the prayer could take other forms.   The important thing is to pray a lot, every day.   What kind of penance?   Again, it is a suggestion: the now well-known Medjugorje fast, as much bread and water as a person wants, but only bread and water, on Wednesdays and Fridays.   However, penance can take another form; but the important thing is to do it.

This seemed to me to be a pretty coherent bit of teaching.   I have since met Ivan twice, once several years later when he visited Belmont with Fr Slavko OFM and once two years ago in Pachacamac, Lima.  He has impressed me on all three occasions.   He told us in Pachacamac that Our Lady's central teaching is   the need for constant prayer and asceticism. The "secrets" are secret because we don't need to know them.  We DO need to live lives of constant prayer and asceticism; and the world needs us to take this message seriously because constant prayer and asceticism can change  the course of history. After all, this is also the message of Fatima.


That leads to other reasons why I believe in Medjugorje.   The huge number of conversions, of people going to confession and completely changing their lives.   This is not only true in Medjugorje itself.   I say Mass in a house of the Cenacle, where converted ex-drug addicts, alcoholics and others who were in trouble look after abandoned children.      Sister Elvira, their foundress, says that addiction is a disease of consumerism, and that, normally, the best cure is a life of prayer, fasting and living for others in Christ.  Some are now religious sisters, consecrated lay people and priests.   Their childrens' home is marvelous, and their way of life is inspired by Medjugorje.   The Community of the Beaititudes and many others draw much of their spirituality from Medjugorje.   The number of people whose faith is bound up with Medjugorje is impressive. 


 Finally, I have a personal reason to believe: I took to Medjugorje a number of crucifixes and medals, to have them blessed so that I could give them away when I returned to Peru.   I bought two identical crosses and chains of a silver-coloured base metal.   I bought them in the parish shop of our own parish in Abergavenny in South Wales.   On our last night, I put all the crosses and medals in my pocket so that they could be blessed at the end of the evening Mass.   Afterwards, I went for a meal and a beer, went up to my bedroom, put the crosses and medals in my case by my bed, and went to sleep, ready for a 4.30am rise.   The next day, I was back in my monastery at Belmont by 6.30pm, sat on my bed and began to unpack.   When I took the crosses and medals from my case, one thing absolutely stunned me.   One of the crosses and chains bought in Abergavenny, had turned gold, light gold on the chain and darker gold on the cross.   I didn't believe in that kind of thing and went weak at the knees.   It caused a big debate in the monastery.   The next day, I had the gold tested.   It was only 8 karat gold plate.   "There must be a bursar in heaven," said one monk sarcastically.   Another said, "If the cross had been changed into a banana, it would still be a miracle."  Its pair was unchanged.   The next day, the sister who sold me the crosses came to see, "We have never sold gold crosses like that!" she exclaimed.   I wan't the only one who went on that pilgrimage who had this experience.   A housewife from Cardiff had a solid silver rosary that had belonged to her grandmother.   We arrived on the Monday.   On the Wednesday, she said, "Look, Father!" and she showed me the rosary: two beads and the chain in between were shining gold.   By Friday, the whole rosary was gold.   It was enough proof for me!
Medjugorje 1981


SOLID REASONS TO DOUBT

Although it seems that the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Schornborn of Vienna, and even Pope John Paul II were in favour of the apparitions, the local bishop and the one who replaced him were against, and their opposition was endorsed by the local bishops' conference.



Local bishop says ‘no truth’ to alleged apparitions in Medjugorje

ROME- On the heels of the arrival of a papal delegate in the alleged Marian apparition site of Medjugorje, the local bishop has reiterated what he’s always affirmed: there is no truth to the claims from a group of purported visionaries that Our Lady of Peace appears today, or that she’s ever done so, in this otherwise unknown town of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“Considering everything that this chancery has so far researched and studied, including the first seven days of the alleged apparitions, it can peacefully be affirmed: The Madonna has not appeared in Medjugorje!” Bishop Ratko Peri of Mostar-Duvno wrote on his diocesan website.
“This is the truth that we support, and we believe in the words of Jesus: The truth will set us free,” he said in a message published Feb. 26 in Croatian and Italian.
According to the bishop, the alleged apparitions, which began in the early 1980s, are nothing more than a manipulation by the visionaries and priests who work in the Saint James church that doubles as a pilgrimage welcoming center.....

As the bishop notes in his statement, the “apparitions” have been studied by several commissions: in 1982-1984 and 1984-1986 at a diocesan level, and in 1987-1990 by the Croatian bishops’ conference. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith studied the phenomena from 2010-2014 and again from 2014-2016.
The local and national commissions arrived to the conclusion that there’s nothing supernatural to the apparitions.
Many devotees believe that the original apparitions were authentic, but that the purported visionaries made up the thousands that followed “for other reasons, most of which are not religious.”
Yet according to Peric, the transcript of the cassettes of the first week of the apparitions, including conversations held between the visionaries and church personnel, allows him to “with full conviction and responsibility, expose the reasons why the non-authenticity of the alleged phenomena is evident.”
He also notes that to this point 47,000 “apparitions” have been registered, with three of the visionaries still receiving messages daily.
As proof of the non-veracity of the messages, many of which have an apocalyptic undertone, Peric noted that the woman who “appears” in Medjugore is very different from that of the Gospel and the apparitions from the Virgin Mary that the Church believes to be true.
Peric writes: “[She] laughs in a strange way, when asked certain questions she disappears and then returns, and she obeyed the ‘seers’ and the pastor who made her come down from the hill into the church even against her will. She does not know with certainty how long she will appear, she allows some of those present to step on her veil which is on the ground, to touch her clothes and her body. This is not the Madonna of the Gospels.”
The fact that she allows herself to be touched, Peric writes, gives him “the feeling and conviction that this is something unworthy, inauthentic and outrageous.”
Then there’s the fact that the woman who appears takes different forms, changing the color of her tunic, sometimes holding a child and sometimes not. Another example he gives which he says proves there’s no supernatural event in Medjugorje is the fact that during the first days of the apparitions they asked the woman for a sign to prove she was who she claimed, to which she allegedly turned the hands of the clock of one of the visionaries, Mirjana Dragićević.
This, Peric writes, “is ridiculous.”
Of the six visionaries who still see her, three claim to see her daily, even after 37 years. Two of them receive messages “addressed to the world” once a month. The other three claim to see her once a year.
Never mind the fact that according to the recordings of the first seven days, in June 30, 1981, Mary had allegedly told them that she was going to appear only three more times.  ( my source: Crux )

THE COMMISSION SET UP BY POPE BENEDICT REPORTS

The commission reports that there is no evidence that the seers intended to commit fraud.
In spite of headlines screaming that Medjugorje has been "approved," the fact remains that only seven out of many thousands of alleged apparitions have received a majority positive vote. As the Ruini Report details, 13 Vatican commission members voted in favor of supernatural origin of the initial seven apparitions, while one voted against and one vote was suspended. The 30,000 or so apparitions following those — from 1982 onwards to the present day, 35 years' worth — received no votes in favor of supernatural origin, with 12 offering no opinion, while two voted against.  (my source: Church Militant)

MY SUGGESTIONS

Before my suggestions, I wish to make clear the context in which they make sense.    Ever since Protestants objected that, as only God can forgive sins, no priest has that power, and that Christ cannot be bodily in the Eucharist because he is in heaven, there has been a tendency to imagine a distance between God and human beings and between  heaven and earth.  This tendency has been strengthened by the Enlightenment in which  the created world was seen as a self-contained system, governed by scientific laws, while God looks after from without
Father Stephen Freeman calls it "a two-storey universe".  There is a clear difference between natural phenomenon and supernatural phenomenon, so that, if an action, however startling, has a "natural explanation" it cannot be, at he same time, a work of God.  It seems that we have a simple choice: to seek a natural explanation for everything and hence sink into unbelief, or to have faith and hence to expect miracles to take place all round us.   The worldly way to healing is by medicine, the Christian way is through prayer.

Nothing is further from Catholic Tradition, both western and eastern. Everything that exists only does so because God actively gives it being, so that He is  nearer to it than any created thing.  Everything that exists, as Julian of Norwich and Saint Isaac of Syria teach us, exists only because God loves it. The normal that follows ordinary scientific rules, and the miraculous in which the  scientific rules are broken are just as much results of God's creative activity: God is equally present in everything.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.     It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;     It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;     And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;     And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. 
And for all this, nature is never spent;     There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went     Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent     World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
(Gerald Manley Hopkins) 

This is certainly true that deep down in the depths of every human being, at the point where God's creative action and our human existence that rises out of it meet, there is what is called the heart, our inner tabernacle.   Thomas Merton wrote of  his mystical experience in Louisville:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . . 
This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”
The Nearness of the Kingdom by Meister Eckhart 


In the Christian life the heart is even more resplendent: heaven and earth are united in the Eucharist because they are united in Christ who is both God and man, and they are united in the heart of every Christian who abides in Christ because Christ actually lives in him.

55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.
St Peter Damian develops the idea:


Indeed, the Church of Christ is united in all her parts by such a bond of love that her several members form a single body and in each one the whole Church is mystically present; so that the whole Church universal may rightly be called the one bride of Christ, and on the other hand every single soul can, because of the mystical effect of the sacrament, be regarded as the whole Church... The cohesive force of mutual charity by which the Church is united is so great that she is not merely one in her many members but also, is some mysterious way, present in her entirety in each individual.....By reason of her unity of faith, she has not, in her many members, many parts, and yet through  the close-knit bond of charity and the varied charismatic gifts she shows many facets in her individual members.   Through the Holy Church is thus diversified in many individuals, she is none the less welded into one by the fire of the Holy Spirit. (On the Dominus Vobiscum) 
Welded into one by the fire of the Holy Spirit, those who celebrate the liturgy on earth are also participating in the liturgy of heaven with the angels and saints; and those who receive Christ's body and blood are also celebrating the liturgy within their hearts.  These are not three liturgies, but three dimensions of the same liturgy.

By the power of the same Spirit, when the Scriptures are read in church, Christ is proclaiming them through the readers and this sharing is extended into the individual life by lectio divina; when the eucharistic prayer is said, Christ is praying to the Father through the priest; and when the faithful pray and sing, Christ is intimately involved, as he is when we pray in the heart.  Liturgy is the source and goal of all ecclesial activity and the source of all the Church's powers, yet there is no suspension or modification of the laws of nature.  As the seers of Medjugorje made clear to pilgrims many years ago, near the beginning of it all, the liturgy is more important and essential than apparitions,and, in spite of the absence of miracles, more worthy of wonder.

As is implied whenever Catholics pray to Christ, Our Lady and and the saints, they must be present with us in order to listen to our prayer.  Their presence does not depend on apparitions but on the unity we have with them by the power of the Holy Spirit.    However, as I was taught by Peruvian peasants as well as by contact with the Orthodox, the effect of  blessing an icon by the Church is to bring it into service as a manifestation of that presence.   (For the purposes of this essay, I shall concentrate on icons of the Blessed Virgin.)  Eastern icons are specially designed to fulfil that role, with the perspective point in the heart of the observer rather than behind the depicted object as is normal.  

An icon of Our Lady manifests her present - not making her present but bringing our attention to her presence.  Its role, therefore, is very close to the function of an apparition.   The most glaring example is Our Lady of Guardelupe. Someone I  knew from Mexico went with a friend to Medjugorje in the early nineties and they were invited to the house of one of the female seers to be present at the apparition.  As they entered, they were greeted by the girl:
"Hello, my Mexican friends!  Why have you come over here?"
"Isn't it true that we are about to have an apparition?"
"Yes, we have apparitions here; but Our Lady lives in Mexico!"

After St Bernadette's apparitions had been officially approved by the French Episcopal Conference, the bishops employed a well-known sculptor to make a statue of "Our Lady of Lourdes" according to St Bernadette's specifications.   To that end, he went to her convent and took notes as she gave her description of Our Lady.   Having finished the statue, he took it to St Bernadette for her approval.
"That's not Our Lady!" she exclaimed in horror."But it is in accordance with your description!" said the poor sculptor."I know.  But it isn't Our Lady."The sculptor took out of his case a pile of holy pictures of the Mother of God under different titles and asked her to choose the one that most reminded her of  the apparitions.   She chose Our Lady of Perpetual Succour without any hesitation."That is Our Lady!" she said firmly."But that isn't anything like your description of her!" cried the sculptor."I know.  But this is Our Lady," said St Bernadette.
;, 
There must be an enormous difference between a statue and an apparition of the Mother of God; but, perhaps, not so much between an apparition and an icon designed to manifest Our Lady's real but invisible presence.
Pope John XXIII and the icon
of the Theotokos de Kazan


Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and the present Pope Francis have all accepted the Orthodox teaching on icons and have shown much devotion to them.  I think this may  help us to solve our problem.

A POSSIBLE SOLUTION
The story of the early years
by those who took part,
including the seers and the bishop

On the one hand, we have the courage of the kids, the consistency of their original message, the findings of the highly professional scientific teams who studied them, and - most of all - the enormous spiritual fruits in the village of Medjugorje and among the thousands and thousands of pilgrims, and including the strange phenomena like my cross changing to gold, the cross seen by a friend of mine in the sky etc; and, on the other hand, the way the all too human row between the Franciscans and the bishop became caught up in the messages, the prophecies that haven't come about, and the sometimes weird theological views that are supposedly held by Our Lady, as well as the banality of some of the messages.  How can all this be reconciled?

I hope that putting the question into the context of a realistic, "one-storey" universe may help to keep any suggested answer from being distorted by false but easy contrasts.  The world is not divided into a miraculous dimension of faith and a humdrum, ordinary, secular dimension, cut off from God: God is closer to everything that exists than things are to each other.  Moreover, because of all the prayer and penance that goes on there, it has become what my  Irish ancestors called a "thin" place where the presence of God to whom all things  are possible can be sensed everywhere you go in the ordinary, created world of restricted possibilities.   In a modern, secular world that suffers the superstition that it exists independently of God, this is Medjugorje's great achievement. Because of it, the Good News has been brought to the poor, liberty to captives, new sight to the blind, the downtrodden are set free, and the year of Lord's favour is being proclaimed.

That being the case, why have tares been sown among the wheat?

The first thing to realise is that, unlike Lourdes and Fatima, the young people involved were very ordinary and common or garden Catholic kids and not already candidates for sanctity.   This was stressed by the parish priest in the early interviews.  

This means that, unlike St Bernadette, they are not particularly pure in heart. Our Lady told them they were chosen because they were ordinary and average. As Croatian peasants, they are people of simple but deeply embedded Catholic faith; but they would also have been receptive to all kinds of ideas, prejudices, opinions, points of view and beliefs that were current in Yugoslavia at the time.  The apparitions made them very dependent on the Franciscan parish clergy; and, while these priests were brave and pious, and dedicated to their beloved people who had received pastoral care from Franciscans for hundreds of years, they were not saints either, and their feud with the local bishop who wanted to put his own secular priests into that and other parishes, became bitter.  All this would have been absorbed by the seers who hadn't the clarity of vision that sanctity could have given them.

For four hundred years, the Franciscans had looked after this region when it was part of the Ottoman Empire.   The story is told  in the video above.  Attempts by bishops to re-introduce secular clergy to replace the Franciscans have been met by opposition from both the friars and the people who identify with each other as they have done so through all the difficulties caused by an Islamic government.   Unfortunately, replies from the Virgin in support of the Franciscans have caused the original bishop and his successor to call into question the authenticity of the apparitions.   Perhaps that, and other mistakes are the reason why the commission wants only to support the first apparitions.

We have seen that God is very near to us and that there are many ways that he uses to speak to us, through his providence, through the readings in the Mass and in lectio divina, which is a conversation with God, by the sacraments, through superiors and even through neighbours: all we need is ears to hear.   There is nothing strange or miraculous about it.  There are also miraculous ways as I believe happened in Lourdes and Fatima, as well as Mejugorje.   However, there is no reason to believe that the miraculous ways are more real and authentic than the non-miraculous ways: they command our attention more strongly.

We who practise lectio divina, try to discern God's Providence, interpret God's word etc know how easy it is for self-will and temptation can so easily cause us to misinterpret God's voice, so that we must always interpret in humble obedience to the voice of the Church.  Having said that, I in no way wish to call in question the reality of God's communication, only our ability to listen; humble obedience is central, as is ecclesial charity which is the sign of the Holy Spirit's presence.  Situations like the bishop - Franciscan disagreement is  obviously very bitter; and, in that context, the voice of the Holy Spirit is difficult to discern, except, of course, the call of humble obedience. In the light of this, I think the question has to be formulated thus:
If the Blessed Virgin chooses to use as her instruments people because they are "ordinary and average" rather than children on the verge of sanctity, can her message be distorted by their average ordinariness, so that her truth could be mixed with views taken for truths by peasant children of Medjugorje?



Those to whom the Blessed Virgin appears are not the onnly ones to whom God speaks.   As we have seen, He speaks through the scripture read at Mass, and to individuals in the conversation which is lectio divina, and lets his will be known, through superiors and through circumstances.   However, we know that our ability to listen and to learn accurately what God wants to tell us is limited by our self-love, self will, by our lack of faith, hope and charity, above all by our lack of humility.   St Benedict in his Rule says that one of the indications that the Holy Spirit is speaking through a monk is his willingness to submit wo  his superiors decision because he is only too aware of these limitations.  In the same way,  it is questionable whether  those to whom the Virgin is speaking, once they  come down from their ecstasy, can distinguish between what Our Lady has told them and other things going on in their mind, their own prejudices etc about what God wills.  To do so may require a purity of heart that ordinary, average people possess.  The questions, prejudices and desires of those who surround them may influence their own interpretation of what Our Lady has said more than is intended.

Why would the Blessed Virgin do such a thing?   Perhaps because, if she chose saints, the apparitions would  not have had the tremendous effect on the people of Medjugorje itself, an effect that is truly surprising.  I don't suppose there are few villages in the world that pray as the Medjugorje people pray.  They can pray like that because the Virgin spoke to people no better than they are.  

Sanctity normally takes time.  I wonder what kind of gospel would have been written by St Peter if he had written it during those first years with Our Lord?

If  Pope Francis simply writes off these apparitions, what will the community of ex-drug addicts who are friends of mine say who live together inspired by the teaching of Medjugorje?  Also, how can I explain my cross and chain which turned to gold - the one thing I couldn't accept about Medjugorje before it happened to me?  It is alright speaking about Our Lady as the postman, but slides into insignificance once we participate in the prayer-life of a Medjugorje pilgrimage or hear confessions there.   On the other hand, the Franciscans and the seers, or some of them, have not always been devoid of self-deception.   I await a nuanced judgement, one that won't damage the work of grace that is Medjugorje.

I have met Ivan Ivankovic three times, once in Mejugorje in 1991 when he spoke to our group of pilgrims, once at Belmont Abbey when I was on holiday from Peru and he came to our monastery with Father Slavko in 1993 who celebrated Mass for people interested in the apparitions, and once two or three years ago when he visited Pachacamac at the invitation of a group of rich charismatic women.   I was impressed on all three occasions by his humility and his lack of ease in the role  that Our Lady had given him.  In  Pachacamac he told the Medjugorje story through an interpreter, though I was able to speak to him afterwards.  At a certain time, he slipped away in order to have his daily meeting with Our Lady and  returned without comment as though nothing had happened.   When asked what Our Lady said, he simply said that this was between him and Our Lady and wasn't for publication.   I wondered whether this was  different from our lectio divina in any important way, our little monastic conversation with God.  The outward form was different, one  miraculous and the other very humdrum and ordinary, but the same basic idea.   Sometimes, the messages  of Medsjugorje are also humdrum and ordinary, not worth publishing; and I wonder whether the seers have got themselves into a trap where they feel compelled to make public what really is designed to remain private.   Perhaps they need some authority to tell them to shut up!   Not because they are lying when they say they  meet with the Blessed Virgin, but because the nature  of the messages, much of the time, are not telling us anything new, but serve well as personal meditations.  Perhaps those who still pronounce messages to the whole world should submit them to someone prudent, appointed by the Church, who would give permission for them to make them public if he or she deems it necessary.








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