Let me give two illustrations of what I mean by "private revelation", one obscure and one famous (and neither having anything to do with Mary, by the way). The first concerns a woman I worked with about twenty years ago. “Betty” was a lapsed Catholic who was diagnosed with diabetes and had to be hospitalized in Seattle. They got her blood sugar under control and kept her in for a day or so to make sure all was well. She was at that stage of recovery where she was well enough to be bored, but not quite well enough to be released. As she was laying around in her hospital bed one Sunday morning, she heard what she took to be a radio in the next room. She focused on the sound and realized she was hearing a Mass. She hadn’t been to Mass in years but, having nothing else to do, she listened. She heard the readings, the homily, the prayers of the people—(including a prayer for the repose of Fr. So and So’s soul, and, finally, a prayer for her own recovery.)
Betty’s mother was associated with St. Martin’s College, a Benedictine school about fifty miles south of Seattle, so Betty figured the Mass was being broadcast from there. The next day, Betty’s mom visited, and Betty thanked her, saying she’d heard the Mass and appreciated the prayers. Betty’s mom was confused. “What do you mean you heard the Mass?” she asked. Betty answered, “I heard it on the radio yesterday.” Her mother replied, “We don’t broadcast our Mass.” They checked with the priest who celebrated it. There had been no broadcast. Yet Betty was able to describe the homily, the prayers, and all the details of the Mass at St. Martin’s. The priest told her, “It would appear you were given a rather extraordinary gift!”
The second illustration involves one of the greatest saints in the history of Christianity, Augustine. Feeling great anguish over his lifelong struggle with his half-heartedness toward God, he cried out to God from the depths of his weakness and frustration at his own sinfulness—and God answered:
I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl—I know not which—coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.” Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.
So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.
What can we learn from these incidents? More on that next time.