Thursday, November 14, 2013

Commentary: Pope Francis says Mary is not a "postmaster"

Photo: Lauren Cater/CNA

This report comes from Vatican Radio and it is pretty apparent that Pope Francis is targeting the "apparition" business, or at least the lambs involved with it.

I'm skipping the first few paragraphs, which you should read at Vatican Radio for context, but here is the heart of what Pope Francis said:

In the Gospel, the Pope underlined, “we find ourselves before another spirit, contrary to the wisdom of God: the spirit of curiosity”.  

“And when we want to be the masters of the projects of God, of the future, of things, to know everything, to have everything in hand… the Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘When will the Kingdom of God come?’ Curious! They wanted to know the date, the day… The spirit of curiosity distances us from the Spirit of wisdom because all that interests us is the details, the news, the little stories of the day. Oh, how will this come about? It is the how: it is the spirit of the how! And the spirit of curiosity is not a good spirit. It is the spirit of dispersion, of distancing oneself from God, the spirit of talking too much. And Jesus also tells us something interesting: this spirit of curiosity, which is worldly, leads us to confusion.”

He has a point.  Since social media has taken off, I end up with information overload at the end of the day and am often too tired for more wholesome spiritual reading.  Even if most of it is news about the faith or of concern to Catholics, the constant curiosity about what is going on is nothing more than spiritual "junk food".  But, finding that balance and moderating it, can be difficult, more so these days because of multi-media.  

He goes on:
Curiosity, the Pope continued, impels us to want to feel that the Lord is here or rather there, or leads us to say: “But I know a visionary, who receives letters from Our Lady, messages from Our Lady”. And the Pope commented: “But, look, Our Lady is the Mother of everyone! And she loves all of us. She is not a postmaster, sending messages every day.” 

Such responses to these situations, he affirmed, “distance us from the Gospel, from the Holy Spirit, from peace and wisdom, from the glory of God, from the beauty of God.”
“Jesus says that the Kingdom of God does not come in a way that attracts attention: it comes by wisdom.”

“ ‘The Kingdom of God is among you,’ said Jesus, and it is this action of the Holy Spirit, which gives us wisdom and peace. The Kingdom of God does not come in (a state of) confusion, just as God did not speak to the prophet Elijah in the wind, in the storm (but) he spoke in the soft breeze, the breeze of wisdom.”

He then turns his reflection to the idle talk that curiosity can lead to when the information is about other people.  I wonder what St. Teresa would say with what we do on social media these days.
“Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus would say that she had always to stop herself before the spirit of curiosity," he said. "When she spoke with another sister and this sister was telling a story about the family, about people, sometimes the subject would change, and she would want to know the end of the story. But she felt that this was not the spirit of God, because it was a spirit of dispersion, of curiosity. 

He then comes back to his main point.

“The Kingdom of God is among us: do not seek strange things, do not seek novelties with this worldly curiosity. Let us allow the Spirit to lead us forward in that wisdom, which is like a soft breeze," he said. "This is the Spirit of the Kingdom of God, of which Jesus speaks. So be it.”

Text from page of the Vatican Radio website 

While Pope Francis did not mention Medjugorje in this report, it's hard for the average person not to make that connection when reading his words.  Those "messages" have been going on frequently for over 30 years now.  

How alleged apparitions have been treated before & after Medjugorje began

There is a dividing line in time: PM and AM (Prior to Medjugorje; After Medjugorje).

Prior to Medjugorje, there were only a few cases of unapproved apparitions heard about here and there that never gained much traction outside of a particular diocese, other than some notables like Bayside and Necedah, which were soundly denounced as not authentic.  Alleged visionaries were never permitted to do their thing on Church property, and other bishops were careful not to give credibility to something happening in another diocese if that bishop did not approve.  Just speaking about spiritual experiences was something to be taken up with spiritual director or confessor, not at the kitchen table, much less the public square.  It is wrought with dangers as many of the great mystics of the Church contend (see the quote by St. John of the Cross in my sidebar).  There was no greater test of an alleged visionary than to have a long period of silence imposed on them to see if they would humbly comply.

After Medjugorje began, private revelations, locutions, and apparitions became a cottage industry with no shortage of followers to spawn more "seers."  There may be thousands out there discussing their own "private revelations" after a trip to Medjugorje.  It starts with, "Our Lady told me…"  Some have become renowned themselves, with their own followings.  Add to this, supporting industries like tourism, publishing (online and print), and conferences.  You can walk into many parishes, even diocesan cathedrals, and find various alleged (and often suspect) private revelations and unapproved apparitions being promoted as if authentic (and almost an absence of material from Lourdes and Fatima, for example).  Often times, a spiritual director or pastor will simply make sure there is nothing in the alleged private revelations that is contrary to the faith without really testing the supposed spirit involved, for example, with a long period of silence.

Medjugorje has basically been a poster child for these kinds of unapproved activities.  Good and well-meaning bishops and priests, happy to see Marian and Eucharistic devotion, basically let Mejugorje get away from the Church (at the expense of collegiality with their brother bishop in Mostar who is persona non grata within global network of supporters).  The worst thing I've seen has been the calumnious stories about the deceased Bishop Zanic, casting him as one who collaborated with the communists to take down Medjugorje.

Allowing an unapproved apparition to attempt to foster faith and vocations from a parish or diocesan level is much like a parent who lets the television rear the children; it's easier to let the [unapproved] "apparition" do it.

I've seen a diocesan bishop pack his cathedral with people if a popular visionary was coming to pray a rosary, and have "apparitions."  Would people come and pack the cathedral if the same bishop were to lead the rosary, offer Adoration, and make confession available in an evening of prayer?  This latter question focuses more on the faithful than it does the diocesan bishop.  What greater miracle is there than God becoming bread for us to consume and to adore? And, is it more efficacious if I pray a rosary next to an alleged visionary, or if I pray it in other places and with other people?  Mary, I feel, has been objectified, or used, to give people the thrill of the moment of being with someone having "visions."

True love is when we do something for someone expecting nothing in return.  When we pray a Rosary at the most dry times, when we have no good feelings or experiences, is when it is most precious to God.  The same is true of Adoration or going to Mass.  As our faith grows, God turns off the good feelings we needed in the beginning and he tests us to see if we are still willing to give when we feel there is nothing in us to offer, or when we get nothing in return.  What parent isn't moved the most when a child gives or does something for no reason at all, than out of love?

Devotion - the right kind

Cardinal Bertone, back in 2007 was concerned we were becoming a "church of apparitions":

With regard to the content of the "messages": there is a risk of judging such phenomena as authentic for the sole reason that the messages contain no doctrinal errors against the faith since they are exhortations and invitations to prayer and conversion. These presumed apparitions are often a vehicle for "apocalyptic" messages and this trend is increasing. Publications (books, periodicals) that specialize in supernatural phenomena are attracting considerable interest. These publications make a special impact, particularly when they are written by an ecclesiastic or a theologian. 
Furthermore, the fact that "seers" are attracting considerable attention can be seen as characteristic of our time. New "Movements" or Associations of the faithful frequently form round a specific phenomenon, which requires discernment so as to forestall problems arising with communion or with ecclesial life in the country or local Church. 
Even if at times the behaviour of diocesan Bishops and their collaborators may be wanting, it is essential to steer clear of the risk of a "Church of apparitions", diffident of the Hierarchy of the Church, as a variant of the well-known opposition of "charismatic Church - institutional Church". In this case, of course, we find that rather than facing a definite ideological position we are up against an attitude lived out and influenced by a somewhat superficial religiosity, a weakened ecclesial communion and a rather shallow faith in need of miraculous signs.

The Holy Father, whose devotion to Mary cannot be questioned, appears to have the same concerns as did Cardinal Bertone.  Pope Francis seems to be trying to get the marbles back into the leaning jar and get it upright again.  These little catechetical moments are good, but I believe he knows the matter must be addressed more directly.

With Italy being so close to Medjugorje, there is no shortage of publicity given to the "seers" and what they do.  The Holy Father, being a man who read the local secular paper in Argentina daily,  must see what people are saying.  At the same time, I'm sure he has been getting briefed by the commission on Medugorje.

I suspect soon enough something more formal will be said about Medjugorje itself.  Hopefully, it will include much catechesis to help everyone from lay people to bishops to have a healthy devotion to Mary - the kind that leads us to a deeper relationship with Christ.

Further Reading:


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