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.
The Catholic Church, faced with the same evidence confronting Alexis Carrel, Emile Zola, and the owners of the “Blessed Quietness” website, takes a different approach to claims of the supernatural that continually pop up across the world. A wry quip originally applied to laboratory animals by scientists at Harvard can be adapted to the basic Catholic principle governing the possibility of miracles in our own time:
Under carefully controlled experimental conditions, God will behave however he likes.
If God wills it, he can send the Blessed Virgin Mary to appear to children at Fatima or Lourdes; heal a dying person right in front of Alexis Carrel’s or Emile Zola’s eyes; cause a consecrated Host to turn to human cardiac tissue bleeding type AB blood at Lanciano; guide a woman to a crash site via dreams; or do whatever else he likes. He’s God, after all. And he’s already shown himself ready, willing, and able to permit apparitions of saints in glory such as Moses and Elijah, who appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28–36). So there’s no particular reason he can’t or won’t do the same with Mary or some other saint. If our theories about how the universe is supposed to work are outraged by that, then we had better adapt our theories to reality.
At the same time, of course, the Church recognizes that God’s penchant for doing whatever he feels like without asking our opinion makes life complicated for us. She also recognizes that not only human beings but fallen angels are liars. Finally, she recognizes that there is, between the two poles of “genuine private revelation from heaven” and “demonic deception from the pit of hell,” a huge cast of decent, well-meaning, saintly, loopy, devious, malicious, dumb, mentally ill, and gullible characters in the world. So the Church has applied considerable thought to this problem and created a number of tools for dealing with claims of the supernatural, including the phenomenon known as Marian apparitions.
Of which more next time.