Today the Church honors this day as the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There can be no better occasion than to examine the following recent, if long overdue, development:
LONDON (CNS) -- The Vatican has authorized "severe cautionary and disciplinary measures" against a priest who served as spiritual director to the visionaries in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has written to Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, whose diocese covers Medjugorje, to inform him that they are investigating the case of Franciscan Father Tomislav Vlasic.
The congregation has asked the bishop, for the good of the faithful, to inform the community of the canonical status of the Bosnian priest, whose actions automatically provoked Vatican sanctions....
Years ago, I asked the eminent Mariologist, the late Dominican Father Frederick Jelly, what he thought of Medjugorje. He said, "I wish people got as excited over the Eucharist."
I cannot imagine that promoters of Medjugorje, indeed the whole Mariapolooza bandwagon around the world, will listen to the local bishop (usually the final arbiter in these situations), even after this latest development. They haven't listened to him up to now, nor did they listen to his predecessor. Instead, they have spent the last umpteen years saying, that without an explicit condemnation of the phenomenon, they had a Get Out Of Jail Free card to promote the bejeezus out of the apparition at Medjugorje. To maintain such a position at all, is to completely misunderstand where the burden lies. Am I to lend credence to every little old lady who has an apple fall on her head and starts hearing voices? I would be if I listened to these bozos.
Then again, here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about private revelations:
65 "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son."26 Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father's one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. St. John of the Cross, among others, commented strikingly on Hebrews 1:1-2:
In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty. (St John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel 2,22,3-5 in The Collected Works of St John of the Cross, tr K Kavanaugh, OCD, and O Rodriguez, OCD (Washington DC:Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979)
66 "The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ."28 Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.
67 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.
Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations".
73 God has revealed himself fully by sending his own Son, in whom he has established his covenant for ever. The Son is his Father's definitive Word; so there will be no further Revelation after him.
Now, boys and girls, this is what we grownups like to call "the old bottom line." Investigation of just a handful of appearances -- as was the case at Fatima -- can take years. The gang at Medjugorje has racked up over thirty thousand. And every single one of them has to be checked for moral or doctrinal error, among other things.
Of course, promoters of the "appearances" will dredge out assorted off-hand quotes from this Pope or that Cardinal, which suggest that a private opinion, or off-the-cuff observation, carries the same weight as an official pronouncement. These are the same pious pinheads who can't explain this:
In 1985 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the doctrinal congregation and now Pope Benedict XVI, banned official, diocesan or parish-sponsored pilgrimages to the shrine. However, individual Catholics are still free to visit and have a priest with them.
That "however" part is the loophole, you see. No one is stopping me from visiting on my own, so let's start up a Medjugoogoo Monthly Magazine and arrange for tours-that-none-dare-call-pilgrimages, complete with a priest with enough time on his hands, who will put on a good face for us.
Meanwhile, the original visionaries are doing quite well, thank you very much...
[T]he seers have grown wealthy as a result of their claims – and so has their town, which has boomed as a result of the ‘Madonna gold rush’.
Some today own smart executive houses with immaculate gardens, double garages and security gates, and one has a tennis court.
They also own expensive cars and have married – one of them, Ivan Dragicevic, to an American former beauty queen.
Why does the behavior of the visionaries matter? Well, when the Church examines phenomena such as this, it has always mattered. They judge the tree by its fruits. The promoters of Medjugorge are quick to call for that, citing the wealth of pious enthusiasm that surrounds the phenomenon. They tend to play down the other wealth. The result, when you add it all up, is more fruits than you can shake a stick at. How much more obvious can it be?
St John of the Cross said that every such report from a "visionary" should be presumed to be of diabolical origin, until proven otherwise. (Hey, isn't that him in the footnotes of the Catechism? You don't suppose...?) But the most that the Church will ever say about such visions, even Fatima, is that there is no reason to believe that the phenomenon is not of supernatural origin -- which is hedging quite a bit, actually -- and that it is worthy of veneration, and is to be exempt from public criticism from the faithful. Even then, the phenomenon does not require the belief of the faithful (that is, with the virtue of Faith).
If you really want to read something worthwhile on the subject, I do not recommend anything that remotely promotes Medjugorje, even if it is authored by a priest. I definitely recommend A Still Small Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations by Father Benedict Groeschel, published by Ignatius Press. One publisher of a Marian magazine has labeled this book "dangerous to the Marian movement."
Which is another way of saying "bad for business." That's good enough for me.