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.
I spend a fair amount of time registering my disinterest in sundry conspiracy theories and scare-mongering and private revelation-chasing. I think Medjugorje has all the earmarks of a load of bushwah, I don’t care about the bogus revelations in Conyers or Bayside, and I’m skeptical of the majority of nine-day wonders involving Our Lady on grilled cheese sandwiches or freeway underpasses. I think the alleged “apparation” of Mary in an Anglican parish in Yankalilla, Australia (which I have seen with my own eyes) is a water stain that some extremely imaginative Aussies got too excited about.
So it’s easy, I suppose, to get the impression that I’m basically a hard-boiled skeptic about all private revelation and think it a waste of time and a distraction.
But in fact, I’m not. I think false and fake private revelation is a waste of time and a distraction and I am *highly* inclined to ignore most unconfirmed private revelations (unless, by some literal miracle, God should vouchsafe one to me and make it extremely clear to me that I should pay attention to it). I have no interest at all in claims of private revelation that the Church has either condemned (as with Bayside) or made very clear are not supernatural (as the bishop has done with Medjugorje). Should the Church change its mind with stuff like Medjugorje (which, I am morally certain, she won’t), I will, as is my custom, defer to the Church. But, as I say, she won’t change her mind, so I’m not bothering with it.
But that still leaves the matter of private revelations that the Church has affirmed are legit and worthy of devotion. My attitude toward these is quite different: namely, that if God goes to all the trouble of sending the Blessed Virgin to warn us of something, the smart money is on listening to the Blessed Virgin, not on ignoring her. So, for instance, as the history of the 20th century has borne out in an ocean of blood, it would have been a good idea to listen to Our Lady of Fatima and her warnings of the rise of Communism and the Second World War. As with all private revelations, what she called us to was, in essence, being better Catholics by praying more (especially the Rosary), offering sacrifice, (you know, like we do in Lent anyway), seeking the salvation of sinners and frequenting the sacraments while living out the virtues and works of mercy. It wasn’t a backbreaking request. But ignoring it turns out to have been a very bad idea.
On the bright side, as the confluence of the Third Secret and the shooting of JPII shows, when warnings are heeded, the things that are warned of don’t have to happen. JPII took it for granted that the prayers offered in reparation for the sins of the world in obedience to Our Lady of Fatima were what saved his life on May 13 (note the date), 1981. That’s why he became such a Fatima zealot. He did not despise prophesying, just as Paul instructed (1 Thessalonians 5:20).
So: when I note that an approved apparition at Akita warns:
“If men do not repent and better themselves, God the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity,” Mary reportedly told Sr. Agnes. “It will be a punishment greater than the (biblical) flood, such as never seen before.”
“Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful,” she said. “The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church, in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops.”
“Churches and altars will be sacked. The Church will be full of those who accept compromises, and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.”
“Each day, recite the prayers of the Rosary,” she told Sr. Agnes. “With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the bishops and priests.”
Two years after the last message, the statue of the Virgin Mary in the chapel where the apparitions had occurred began to emit tears and drops of blood. The occurrence continued for more than six years.
... I don’t blow it off as one more piece of fear-mongering from over-caffeinated apparition chasers. I take it seriously—because Holy Church takes it seriously. But I also don’t regard it as a Nostradamus forecast of inexorable doom that nothing can prevent. Why? Because it’s a warning, not a film from a time machine telling us what certainly will happen. The point of a warning is to warn: to say, “Change and these things need not be.” The Third Secret warned of a Pope who would be shot and killed. JPII was not killed, thanks to the prayers and sacrifices of people who heeded the warning.
If you don’t think such things can happen, do read the very thorough documentation on the Third Secret and Sr. Lucia’s views of it in Fatima for Today, by Fr. Andrew Apostoli. Also, note the lesson of the book of Jonah, where Assyrians (a civilization as corrupt and blood-soaked as ours) repent in response to a divine warning:
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it. (Jonah 4:10)
And so, I take such warnings very seriously, because I hold out hope that the things they foretell can be averted. The prophets said exactly the same thing:
The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The LORD utters his voice before his army, for his host is exceedingly great; he that executes his word is powerful. For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; who can endure it? “Yet even now,” says the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. (Joel 2:10-13)
When an approved apparition speaks, I think it best not to despise it, but to pay attention. That’s why my family and I are going to start saying the Rosary in reparation daily (beginning with a special focus on the suffering people of Japan and then turning our thoughts wherever the Holy Spirit leads next). Doing so won’t kill us, but judging from the history of the 20th century (and the headlines today), ignoring the warning might. I invite you to join us.
One final point: I mean to make this a permanent practice, not just a Lenten thing. We are in dark times and we need all the help we can get. But the good news is that things stand for us as they stood for another sinner who realized the fearful brink upon which he stood:
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.”
The Spirit was immovable as ever.
Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE.
“Am I that man who lay upon the bed?” he cried, upon his knees.
The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again.
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!”
The finger still was there.
“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?”
Our Lady did not come to Akita because we are past all hope. But we have to respond. Lent seems like a fine time to start.
[Update: Three things. One: Do not, I implore you, turn the comboxes into yet another ocassion to advocate for the extremely dubious claims of Medjugorje. If you do, I will just delete your note.
Two: When I delete your note, do not whine about “censorship”. I do not owe partisans of quackery a forum. If you feel a burning need to advocate for Medjugore, it’s a big Internet. Go start your own blog. On this blog I want discussions to stay on topic.
Three: the very reliable Donal Foley corrects my misimpression that Akita is an approved revelation. It is apparently still disputed. In which case, well, I will continue praying the Rosary in obedience to custom and Our Lady of Fatima, in the trust that it couldn’t hurt. If Akita is ever definitively approved, then I trust God will sort it all out.
Meanwhile, perhaps you can see from this why I tend to be wary of being suckered by claims of private revelations.]