Investigating Supernatural Signs, Apparitions and Miracles in the Modern Age
By John Thavis
288 pages. $27.95
To order: penguin.com
John Thavis, a longtime Vatican journalist, has penned a wide-ranging work that chronicles the Church’s complex relationship with harmonizing rational faith with the world of miracles. Part investigation and part history, Thavis takes the reader from behind-the-scenes Roman Curia deliberations and landmark holy sites, such as Lourdes and Fatima, to the more controversial places like Medjugorje, as Church officials consider the validity of supernatural occurrences, apparitions, relics and causes for canonization.
During his very first homily as pope, Francis declared, “He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.” Since then, his homilies, public addresses and exhortations have all been peppered with references to the supernatural. For Francis, the spiritual realm is an active reality, not something of lore or legend. And like his predecessors, Francis is not afraid of tapping into it and even encouraging others to do the same, though he is quick to caution that we cannot become obsessed with signs and wonders.
Throughout Church history, this has proven to be a delicate balancing act, one that Thavis mirrors well in this work. His detailed analysis of the history and current investigations of the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje is both succinct and fair-minded. His chapter on the debate over the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin is riveting. And his exploration of modern miracles proves to be a pilgrimage in itself.
Over the centuries, the Church has evaluated thousands of supernatural signs — many of which have proven inauthentic and, at times, absurd. Yet Thavis is neither a skeptic nor a cynic. He writes with a respect for the deep tradition where, from the time of the earliest apostles, signs and wonders have proven to be faith-affirming and can still function in the same way today.
Faith and reason can and should go hand in hand. Modernity has often tried to squeeze out the enchanted things of this world. Yet, for Catholics, ours is a faith that is full of signs and symbols, with ongoing spiritual significance. In fact, for the faithful, it is our vocation to be in this world but not of it. Why, then, shouldn’t we expect to experience occasional glimpses of the world to come along the way? Thavis’ The Vatican Prophecies serves as a testament to this great tradition within the Church — cutting through some of the baggage and folklore so that we might not lose sight of the fundamentals of the faith.
Christopher White writes from New York.