Apparitions, Locutions, and Ecstasies

Some two and a half decades ago I began to recover my faith after a dozen or so years of depriving myself of the sacraments. As part of this process of faith recovery I was led to an elderly widow who was regarded as 'holy and pious'. She was surrounded by a circle of friends who gathered regularly at her home in prayer. I will call her 'Mrs. M'. I was new in my 'reversion' and had accompanied a friend who was seriously ill at the time; he was looking for healing. Here's an extract from the epilogue to an earlier post when I spoke of this period:

We began to pray for healing and in doing so we reached out to people who were truly devout and walking in the ways of the Lord. We visited the home of one poor elderly widow, who I was told, had a 'bleeding stature of St. Theresa of Liseux'. I saw the small statue of pewter with dried blood but never saw a bleeding event. But the bleeding mystery became moot as the genuine Christian love and concern of the widow and her companions for desperate pilgrims spoke more powerfully than any statue could. These were the earthly communion of saints who filled this holy widow's home - who truly believed in the love of God - and they prayed for my friend – and they prayed for me.

We went a number of times and I was shown another article of devotion; it was a copy of an image or painting as depicting our Lord's tortured body at his crucifixion. It showed the horribly scourged body of Jesus as seen in a private revelation by a mystic. The picture was not like any artwork I had seen and might have resembled the later depiction given in Mel Gibson's movie 'The Passion of the Christ'. Mrs. M took the image to be a true reflection of what our Savior's body looked like at that dreadful moment. No one could look upon the image without a sobering realization of what that sorrowful day involved. I had no reason to doubt any of this and I accepted them on her testimony and faith.

As I re-read my own comment I am struck by my trouble-free acceptance of the bleeding statue. I simply did not have any desire to challenge such a claim. The mystical picture could be easily explained either as a true supernatural gift of revelation or a devout meditation that supplanted true reality with a pious imagination. Either way it wasn't harmful to anyone's faith. But the issue of the statue was another matter; here I was dealing with a claim of the supernatural with physical manifestation. I did see what appeared as dried blood that had streamed down the small pewter figure. Yet I felt that the statue was almost reserved for those non-curious souls who weren't threatened or upset by such things.

Besides this, the statue's 'owner' appeared clearly well balanced and she herself continued to strive for sanctity and a holy life. Finally I noticed that my faith life grew steadily and in a healthy fashion; something which I always associated with this initial encounter of intercessory prayer and devotion. So if my faith was growing, why should I question the validity of supernatural claims, especially since they seemed almost irrelevant? None of this is isolated; indeed it's quite common in Catholic circles: apparitions, locutions, ecstasies, and bleeding or weeping statues.

All of this came to a head recently as I offered to re-do new brochures that are used to promote The Fatima devotion: Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. As I was researching and updating the brochure I stumbled across one particular author's claim, that some of the recent apparitions (Garabandal and Medjugorje in particular), were not authentic apparitions. The woman who leads our First Saturday devotion was highly attuned to most of the Marian devotions and gently told me that she was very much drawn to Garabandal and loaned me some books to investigate. Meanwhile I mentioned this also to my wife's aunt who has traveled to Medjugorje. To my surprise she told how she and others had seen the Blessed Virgin surrounded by a rainbow of colors while looking up at the sun. She insisted that this was not some vague image or shape but a very clear image seen by her and others while staring directly at the sun with no pain or damage to her eyes. This was more than a decade ago and each and every day she looks to the sky hoping to see the Blessed Virgin again.

I have generally accepted private revelations with little resistance as long as they contain nothing contrary to the Faith. I have often had my own faith in 'public revelation' (which is what we call 'the deposit of faith') bolstered by a new or renewed understanding. Beyond that, these revelations, locutions or ecstasies bring out the reality of having to put one's faith into practice NOW, rather than treating it as some intellectual musing. Since belief in 'private revelation' is not binding (even those apparitions declared authentic by the Church) it is sometimes viewed as unimportant to our faith. In my humble opinion, this is a mistake. We have to ask the obvious question: If God does allow for such prophetic communication, should it be ignored?

I'd like to take another post to reflect on that very question.

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