Private Revelations: Handle With Care
BY Ellen Wilson Fielding
August 30-September 5, 1998 Issue | Posted 8/30/98 at 2:00 PM
Digest of Father Mark Slatter's article on private revelations in the June 1998 issue of This Rock magazine
The June 1998 issue of This Rock magazine carries an article by Father Mark Slatter on judging the validity of private revelations. Father Slatter reminds us that, “Though the Church is never without false mystics, she also recognizes the role that private revelation has played in history…. These revelations have sparked faith in countless lives. I've lost count of the number of people who've attested to significant religious conversions at these apparitions.”
Besides producing powerful positive effects, however, a hankering for special access to God “has its share of pitfalls. Some Catholics are unknowingly damaging their faith and that of others for want of discernment of the authenticity of the ‘messages.’Others are taking fairly harmless messages — even those considered respectable — and bringing harm upon themselves because of the way they take them to heart….”
“To keep a sane view of private revelations, you must know first and above all that you do not have to accept any private revelation whatsoever…. The public or universal call to faith for all and for all time is Jesus Christ, the love of our lives. It's not belief in a message, however credible it might be, that will save you.”
And we have to consider not just the message, but the messenger.
“Even the exceptionally gifted will not receive every revelation perfectly from the Holy Spirit…. To see the truth of this, we should note the many examples of ‘erroneous revelation’ in the lives of the great saints. It is thought that Catherine of Siena believed the Lord told her that the Immaculate Conception did not happen. Joan of Arc had an interior locution concerning her death, but misinterpreted both the date and the manner…. Now, if these giants knew error, can others among us refrain from slipping into the same?”
“Spiritual experiences are still human experiences…. [Those who] were closer to the Lord than any of us are … were sufficiently wise and humble to know that it was murky and potentially hazardous in that Cloud of Unknowing, and one could easily get lost in it.”
In addition to verifying the revelation's “alignment with the Gospel and Church teaching, the lifestyle, and integrity of the seer … submission to ecclesial authorities,” Father Slatter recommends these six criteria:
“1. Syncretism. Some sources are a hybrid of pagan, secular, and Christian ideas….
“2. Hidden agenda. Other messages are strongly ideological, promoting an agenda that reflects the anger and dissatisfaction of certain interest groups in today's Church….
“3. Anti-hierarchy. Other messages are not only critical of the Church hierarchy … but actually deny Church authorities their delegated responsibility of shepherding God's people….
It's not belief in a message, however credible it might be, that will save you.
“4. Common sense…. I can't recall the exact details, but somewhere out there there's a set of messages detailing a future disaster for Canada. To survive, one is required to have a piece of paper upon which these or similar words are written: ‘Christ, save me’….
“5. Freedom to respond. Some … ‘revelations,’on the other hand, resort to emotional blackmail. I have in mind a pamphlet that put into the mouth of Christ these words: ‘These people, who brawl against my religion and cast slurs on this sacred letter, shall be forsaken by me’….
“6. The messenger…. Sister Faustina's authenticity and the beautiful devotions begotten by her life are watertight, almost beyond question. On the other hand, there is the case of Maria Valtorta, author of The Poem of the Man-God … in the words of Father Benedict Groeschel, who happens to be a trained psychologist: ‘Miss Valtorta was a very devout and intelligent person. She spent the last 10 years of her life in complete cata-tonic schizophrenia, unable to speak to anyone. This disease came on her gradually. It's important to realize that the progress of a disease like that may take years before the acute symptoms occur….’
“Some might object that they've experienced an inspiration from God through The Poem of the Man God. Yet anything can inspire faith…. Ultimately the question is not one of inspiration but of credibility and authority….”
Finally, Father Slatter considers contemporary apocalyptic messages: “There is great danger here, for, however sincere the desire to inspire or strengthen faith by an apocalyptic message, it's possible that the end effect will be a weakening of faith … the possibility for sin with private revelation is trust not in the Lord but in a supposed knowledge of a future event. The only difference between this and consulting the horoscope is that one harvests knowledge from the stars and the other from a mystic.”
Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidsonville, Maryland.
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