Monday, October 26, 2009

On Unapproved Private Revelations

Periodically, as happened this weekend, someone will ask me what I think of some particular devotion or private revelation.  I was asked about "Holy Love" which I had heard of perhaps once or twice before, but never bothered to look into.  More on that in a minute....first a few words about such unapproved private revelations.

What's it mean, "Unapproved"?
Usually, people do not ask about time-tested devotions, such as Divine Mercy, or the prayers of St. Bridget.  These are examples of prayers based on approved private revelations.

"Unapproved" means a private revelation has not received recognition as being worthy of belief by the Church.  It could be involved in an ongoing investigation.  In many cases there is no investigation at all (the bishop simply does not have time to investigate the "apparition" in everyone's latte foam).  Some private revelations are condemned by the Church and this will most often come through the local bishop who has jurisdiction over such matters in his diocese.  Cautions or judgments can sometimes be found on diocesan websites (most likely when they are getting many inquiries).

What does the bishop think?
First of all, is it approved, unapproved, or outright condemned?  There should always be caution because it is easy to get attached to something which may eventually prove false (see some of the links below to read what St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila have said on private revelations).

When people ask me about an unapproved private revelation, I often ask: What does the bishop think?  Has he spoken on it? Is there something on the diocesan website?  It doesn't take much to find if you know the city.  Google "diocese",  with the city name, and the alleged apparition, for example.

Many private revelations are claimed, but the bishop does not investigate every claim.  He becomes interested when there are many inquiries, or it is receiving widespread attention.  If there are dangers associated with it, then he wants to know so he can communicate this to the people.  If, in judging the events, he sees nothing contrary to the faith, he will allow a "cultus" to develop as he continues to study it over time.  This would allow for a certain level of veneration.  Concern for "fruits" comes only after a judgment of the actual events.  And, it is the fruits seen in the alleged visionaries and their associates which are of greatest interest to the Church from a discernment standpoint.  Fruits in the followers are important, but are secondary.  Positive fruits are not weighed to the exlusion of bad fruits.  They are judged together.  Certain bad fruits, such as disobedience to a bishop by an alleged seer, or calumny, can outweigh many good fruits.

When the bishop speaks
People should be prudent about cautionary notes and condemnations found on diocesan websites by humbly accepting them and moving on to that which is approved.  Casual dismissal of a bishop's caution or condemnation is spiritually dangerous and can involve the sin of pride which can lead to other sins, like calumny (i.e., Who is the bishop to tell me what to believe? I know what I feel. He didn't follow this process, or that. He is anti-Marian.  He didn't investigate or visit the place).   Contempt in the heart for the bishop over disapproval, and moreso if it manifests itself in disobedience and lack of filial reverence for the bishop, should prompt a thorough examination of conscience.   If such contempt is widespread among followers it should be considered a negative fruit of that private revelation, especially if it is fueled by alleged visionaries or their associates.  These attacks against an apostolic successor are often cloaked with a friendliness.  In reality, they are an attack against the Church.

Understanding the Church's judgment is not a prerequisite for humble submission and obedience. Faith seeks understanding, not the other way around. It is an act of faith to accept something you do not understand. It is not the inability to think for oneself. Rather it requires a free act of the will. Giving up one's will on these kinds of things, is second only to giving up one's life. Our Lord sacrificed His will in submission to the Father before he sacrificed His Body. Obedience is like a gateway through which only the Holy Spirit and Holy Angels may pass, and it is a barrier to the Angel of Darkness. When we do not accept the Church's negative judgment or cautions, we open the door to Satan.

Do positive experiences and good feelings validate authenticity?
People will sometimes assume that positive feelings and experiences somehow validate authenticity of an unapproved private revelation.  First, a good feeling can come about as a result of using the Sacraments, through grace.  Secondly, the Angel of Darkness can make us feel so good about such a thing in order to get us to turn against the Church when, and if, a condemnation comes. Thirdly, consolations can be a gift from God, but these consolations are withdrawn in order to test us, and to strengthen us.  Will we still go to adoration or pray a Rosary, or continue going to daily Mass when it no longer "feels good" to do so?  Hence, one can feel absolutely no consolations, no positive feelings or experiences even at very holy places like Lourdes, Fatima, or the Holy Land, but these do not invalidate the authenticity of events that occured in those places.  Nor are the lack of consolations a measure of anything we are or aren't doing.  They are graces from God, given at His discretion for  our spiritual development. More often than not, consolations are stronger in the early stages of development. Think of them as "training wheels".  We can experience a good ride without much threat of falling, but most people do not use them forever. 

Can final judgment come while an alleged vision is current?
Approval is unlikely as long as the manifestations are ongoing.  However, a condemnation can come any time if something is found which is contrary to faith and morals.  A bishop, or other body responsible for discernment, has a duty to protect the faithful from fraud or preternatural (in this case, satanic) happenings. 

If there are many conversions and confessions, why would the Church stop such a thing if there is evidence of fraud or satanic involvement? In a word: Consequentialism.  The Church is not going to engage in justifying evil for the sake of good.  On the surface things may appear to be well and good, but we have to take careful note of the negative things to which the Church points, and not dismiss them.

Back to the case of "Holy Love"
In less than five minutes, I found a caution on the Diocese of Cleveland website, written originally in 1999 and updated in 2005. 

Further Reading on Private Revelations:
Updated 10/27/2009
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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!