Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader writes:.
I've read your article "A Reader Writes About Prophetic Tizzies", and it has been a source of fresh air for me lately. You see, for years (starting in high school and going on and off throughout college) I've had this tendency to obsessively research apparitions. I went to Catholic School for 13 years, and even if i heard things about prophecies I'd shake it off because we were never taught that kind of stuff. But peers started talking about the Malachy Prophecy when JPII passed away and I eventually found myself It started with the very very scary Divine Mercy messages, which eventually led me to Medjugorje/Garabandal (I know that those two aren't approved, so I would say they don't worry me anymore). I became so scared that I no longer went to Mass.
I'm 23 now, and starting this summer this all started up again (I think because I started working full-time and had a computer in front of me for 8 hours at a time). From the whole re-establishment of Israel/red heifer/third temple stuff to "bishop-approved" apparitions at Heede, Germany and Itapuranga, Brazil (via miraclehunter.com), which both have messages that also scare the crap out of me (though I read the bulk of Itapuranga messages at spiritdaily.com.... so I'm not sure how reliable anything involving that apparition even is). Your article says that when the apparitions are good, all they are really meant to do is guide us back to God, because people today truly need that, and I believe that Mary's ultimate goal of getting us back to God has worked for me. Three weeks ago, I finally started attending weekly Mass again and feel very comfortable and not scared at all while I'm at Church. But I still find myself very scared of apparitions and still sort of obsessed with looking them up and reading messages (how can Itapuranga be bishop-approved while the "seers" still receive what seems like 1000s of messages from Mary?). I almost can't even look at an image of Mary or of the Divine Mercy without freezing in my tracks and feeling scared. And that I know is the exact opposite of what should happen. Which is why I've come to you, since you seem to have a very good and healthy grasp on all this stuff. I've read the article many times imagining that you're speaking to me, but I think I have to start addressing this for real if I want to get better.
I've gone to confession twice to try and talk this over with my priests, but I've had to deal with language barriers and time constraints and therefore didn't have time to explain that I have become mentally and spiritually fragile (my priest told me what I've done is GOOD, but he didn't seem to understand how negatively this addiction has affected me).
IS something horrible going to happen like Mary says? Do you think the 3 days of darkness/illumination of conscience are real and would happen in our lifetime?
Trying not to be scared.
Our tradition speaks of two kinds of fear: Holy fear and servile fear. Holy fear is the healthy reverence for God that Jesus exemplified in his reverence for his Father. Servile fear—the paralyzing fear of a cringing slave before a brutal and capricious slave driver who might have him killed on a whim—is rejected by the Tradition. You are a beloved child of God, not a prisoner awaiting execution by a tyrant like Caligula. All that sort of fear is, as you understand, not from God but from hell. Basic rule of thumb: if it robs you of peace, distracts you from obedience, and pulls you from the sacraments, it’s best to walk away from it.
Sometimes it helps just to hear an outside voice remind us of that, which is why I’m doing it. You are absolutely right that this fear is not of God. This is not to render a judgment on particular private revelations themselves (which may or may not be supernatural in origin and which are not binding on us even if the Church approves them as worthy of belief). Rather, it is to say that, wherever they come from, they are manifestly not for you at this time and that something else—something that leads you to God and not to crippling fear—is. Leave even an approved private revelation behind if it is being used by the devil to inspire servile fear and drive you from God. If God wants you to pay attention to the private revelation, he will point you to it in time. But for now, the key is to keep in mind what all private revelation is really for—and that is to direct you to the public revelation and to ordinary daily obedience to Christ through things like the sacraments, love of God, love of neighbor, and the works of mercy.
The wise thing at this point is, I reckon, to bring your fear to spiritual direction and confession, and possibly to some form of therapy. Don’t be afraid of psychological therapy any more than of physiological therapy. We can suffer from illnesses of the mind just as we suffer from illnesses of the body. Just as nobody says you are morally culpable for having a bad back, so likewise these sorts of psychic lesions can often be due to wounds incurred in childhood through no fault of our own. The sort of fear you are describing sounds like it might benefit from having a chance to talk through the deep terror you seem to feel concerning the trustworthiness of the love of God. And that may go back to some other issues. I’m not saying it has to be so. I am neither a mind-reader, soul-soothsayer, nor a psychologist. But just as I would refer somebody to a doctor if he were to come to me complaining of chronic chest pains, so your chronic emotional and psychic pain also suggests that another kind of therapy would be of some benefit. I say that as somebody who himself benefited greatly from the combination of spiritual direction, therapy, and the sacrament of reconciliation.
As to all the scary predictions, here is how I look at them: they are not for somebody like you, even if there is something to them (which we don’t know since we are not, ourselves, prophets and have no way of verifying them). What we do know is this: Jesus commands us “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Those words, from the lips of God Almighty himself, trump whatever the devil’s voice of servile fear wants to whisper to you. The voice of servile fear, like all the other little earworms of hell, is like that annoying Kit Kat Bar ditty. It just keeps playing over and over in your head and tries to dominate your thoughts. The trick to defeating it is not to shout it down or “try not to think about it.” That’s the sure-fire formula for making sure it just keeps playing. Instead, the trick is listen to different music and let it fill your soul.
So if I were you, I would start cultivating time with healthier spiritual sources when you feel tempted to go read something terrifying on the web or perseverate on some scary private revelation claim of Doom. You’ve already begun this process by returning to Mass, which means that you are already responding to the real voice of the Holy Spirit. Well done, good and faithful!
In addition, start filling your mind and heart with such things as Scripture, lives of the saints, daily prayer such as the Rosary or the Magnificat, and works of charity and mercy. By doing this, you fill with something good the vacuum where currently buzz the unanswerable questions about what the future might hold. Will something bad happen in the future? Well, I see no reason the future should be any different than any other time in history, so my answer is “Sure. Something bad will happen in the future”. Jesus promises us that we will have tribulation in this world. That’s not prophecy. That’s just common sense. The big thing is not that something bad will happen (after all, we’re all going to die sooner or later); it’s that Jesus has overcome the world and that, in fact, the worst thing that could ever happen has already happened. God has already been murdered. Nothing could possibly be more horrible. And yet from that horror the greatest thing that could ever happen has happened: Christ is risen. That’s why John Paul II kept saying, “Be not afraid.” So instead of fearing the future, contemplate the crucified and risen Christ. He, not some rumor of days of darkness or prophecy of doom, is the final word. That is where you need to fix your eyes.
So: a reading suggestion: Try the “read through the Catechism in a year" thing that folks are doing for the Year of Faith. Or try working your way through the New Testament, all while asking God for the graces of faith, hope and love. Learn some psalms, hymn, or spiritual songs that lift your mind to God, light, love, and hope. He intends good for you, not evil. So marinate your mind and heart in that love and seek from him the guidance to know what he would have you do. The good news about attacks like this from hell is that they often happen because the devil is himself deeply afraid—of you. Because if you get past this distraction that keeps you from obedience, he knows that you pose a huge threat to him and can become a very effective instrument by which many other people will be given grace and salvation from the Lord who works in and through you. So resist the devil and he will flee from you. You resist him by pressing on, listening to God speaking through Holy Church, and taking the next practical step of obedience in holy, not servile, fear as the beloved child of God you are. Treat every temptation to focus on these fears as a reminder to instead read the catechism or Scripture or say the rosary or go to Mass. That will make Satan nuts. More important, it will bring you more deeply into the heart of God. In his will, your peace.