Resume in July

After taking a hard look at my schedule this past weekend, it became clear that I need to take an intentional 3 week break to attend to lots of large commitments I have coming up. I will resume in July.

Thank you for reading my work and, for those who do, responding to it. I never take that for granted.

Pray for me and I for thee. God bless you abundantly.

Sunset on June 10 near our home. #beautywins


Mother’s Day 2017

Statue at Castelpetroso.

To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war. — Pope Francis

Happy Mother’s Day!

For today’s reflection, I will not claim to pronounce my wisdom on motherhood but only share the witness of a few mothers I admire immensely.

I was sitting at lunch the other day at work and someone asked, “Who are the moms you admire most that you know personally?” Without hesitation I said, “My wife, my mom, my sister.” Later that night, I thought of a running list of others whom I have known over the years. Too many to recall. That night I wrote a rambling reflection in my journal:

+ + +

These women I think of here as I write — so many I have known! — are women with biological children, adopted children, foster moms and moms with ‘spiritual children’ whom they have taken into their care, their love, their attention, their heart, their prayer.These women, wildly diverse in so many ways, demonstrate the strength of tenderness and the ferocity of selfless love. They are each flawed and fall, grow weary and faint. No idealizing here. How many of them I have listened to share with me their own sense of failure and lament bitterly their own sins and failings. Suffer under the weight of inner trials and tortures of the mind. Yet each of them is, somehow, by indefinable grace, undaunted by their own fissures and fractures, making even of these channels of grace for others. Just like the song says: “I get knocked down, but I get up again; You are never gonna keep me down.”

Their very biorhythms are written in the language of life-giving sacrifice, of love that carries the weak, feeds the hungry, gives a home to the homeless. These women are nurturing and demanding, protective and encouraging. They inspire trust yet worry, demand their children get enough rest yet exhaust themselves, empty themselves out in order to fill, delay gratification to make sure needs get met. As with their bodies, their minds and hearts are always turned toward the well-being of their children. Circadian rhythms inscribed in waking love. They don’t seek accolades for the thousand duties they perform every day, but dole them out when appropriate to encourage their children in virtue. Their need to be liked by their children is superseded by their steely resolve to wade into the thickets of relentless resistance to raise virtuous children — the unsung martyrdom of tough love. Indeed, they undergo the trials and agony of gestation, labor and delivery throughout the entire span of each child’s life, and beyond.

Archbishop Romero’s words beautifully describe these women:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
When I was 4 years old, my mom tells me, she was pulling me in a wagon and when she turned back to me and smiled, I said to her: “I love to look at your face.” Mothers are living sacraments of God’s highest attribute — His tender compassion, raham. In her face, the primal vision of God after birth. In her face, God renounces invisibility, refuses to hide His beauty and discloses His most secret countenance. There we are meant to rest. Psalm 131:2:
A weaned child on its mother’s breast,
even so is my soul.

When Patti had her first miscarriage, she suffered in body and in spirit in ways I cannot even hope to express worthily in language. All women who have suffered this – or the death of a child at any age — know this well. 2 Cor. 2:12: “I heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” No facile words of piety can dull the pain of death in the womb, but can only make it redemptive. She cried out to God as she miscarried in a way, with a depth that I could never fathom. Only receive and echo. I know that this depth of prayer is reserved to mothers. Even Jesus, as New Adam, needed His Mother by the Cross, New Eve, to “fill out” His suffering and perfect His prayer of compassionate love crying out to the Father.

When Patti wailed aloud with heaving sobs, “Why?” … I could not speak, could not breathe, could not ease her pain, not fix. Could only accompany. I grabbed hold of the tassel of her prayer, I am saved in her childbirth. She labored our child into Life, the universe shook.

On her merits, womb of His merits, all my hope rests.

I asked four women I know to text me in a sentence or two what they love most about motherhood. I’ll let them have the last word:
Thank you for asking: To be not only an intimate witness to life unfolding, but to the Holy Spirit manifesting in a unique way in each child. It’s breathtaking, and incredibly humbling.
Purest joy.
Hmmmm. I could say it’s picking out the chocolate in their Halloween bags to save them from themselves… It’s hard to put into words; for me, it’s being given the ineffable gift of a human being who is part of yourself and at the same time completely other and God’s and witnessing them becoming the sons and daughters the Lord loved them in to being to become, because of my being their mother and in spite of that too!
Being a mother is empowering in a way that no other thing in my life has allowed, empowering in the sense of “tikkun olam” – fixing the world on a the physical ground level. It is like the individual transformation that includes training and intuition, to find a lost child in a store and gather them to restore them to their mother (not creepy but motherhood); to tell any teenager, mine or random, “what are you thinking, that will kill you?!?” (not a meddler, but a mother); to tell young college students “is that worth losing your integrity over?” (not a moralist but a mother); to fuss over tired men & women who show up in my home-with food and rest (not a seductress, but a mother). It is not to say that these things cannot be done by women who aren’t mothers, but I can get to the business quickly without explaining while someone else simply says, “no worries, she’s a mom.” And that says it all.
I suppose one of the best parts of being a mother for me is being able to love so completely such amazing human beings and know that I had a part in their creation and formation. I am in awe of my children! Such sweetness, such glimpses of God himself, is so beautiful to experience as a mother.

Extra Friday edition: Jane Elizabeth update and prayer request!

As you know, I rarely every use this blog to offer service announcements, prayer requests, and such. But last year I made this story an exception, and will do it again. Here is an update from my colleague, Dr. Jennifer Miller:

Thank you so much to all of you who have been praying for Jane Elizabeth and who have been asking me where we are in the process for her visit for medical care at Padre Pio’s hospital, Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza. Especially during these seasons of Lent and Easter, these prayers have been much appreciated!

I have just heard from Fr. Zachary Oburu in Uganda, and Archbishop Emmanuel Obbo of the Archdiocese of Tororo and a lawyer have gone over all of Jane Elizabeth’s documents for her travel visa. All of the necessary documents from Uganda are present! We need only letters from Padre Pio’s hospital to apply for the visa. These have not yet been sent out as Dr. Leonardo must wait upon authorization from the Puglia Region in Italy, which gives the necessary permission.

For some unknown reason, Dr. Leonardo has been awaiting this authorization for three months, both for Jane Elizabeth and for three other patients. He is going in person either tomorrow, April 28, or Tuesday, May 2, to seek this permission from the doctor in charge. Please pray that the authorization for Jane Elizabeth and for the three other patients will come quickly and without delay, so that we can proceed to obtain her visa and the tickets for Italy!

Thank you again for all of your prayers, and please know that we are also praying for you and for all of your families, especially for those who are sick.
God Bless you all!
Yours in Christ,
Jennifer E. Miller, STD
Professor of Moral Theology
Notre Dame Seminary


Intermittent appearances

Christ is risen!

I hope all have a joyful Easter Octave this week.

As I head into the end of the academic year I am entering into a very consuming stretch of work, so my posting here will be intermittent at best. Pray for me and I for thee.

If you wish to receive new posts, it’s best to sign up for emailed posts by entering your email address in the Email Subscriptions —>

I will leave you with one meditation for this stretch. Blessings!

The Octave has begun in earnest today, Monday, called both Bright Monday and the Day God laughed. It concludes next Sunday with the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, which is a fitting summation of the whole of God’s work, from the first instant creation sprang into being out of nothing, to the re-creation of all things in the Resurrection of Christ out of the nothingness of death.

Mercy is love creating, healing, forgiving, renewing all that it touches. Mercy is the substance of the new creation.

Christ is risen!

Jesus’ bodily resurrection is not resuscitation, as was the case with Lazarus or the son of the widow of Nain, precisely because Jesus’ coming to life again does not mean a return to life in this world. Rather, the resurrection of Christ is a second “Big Bang,” a re-creative event that inaugurated a new order of existence, a new creation governed by a new law: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). By His death of self-sacrificing love, Jesus split the nucleus of death and released in His risen sacred humanity the infinite energy of divine mercy that “makes all things new” (cf Rev. 21:5). Pentecost, which is a glorious coda at the end of the Easter season, opens that Big Bang up to all of humanity, allowing us who join in the re-creative energies of the risen and ascending Christ — by acts of faith, hope and charity — to extend His detonating mercy to absolutely everything.

By becoming saints.

Watch carefully what Jesus does over the next 40 days of appearances. The characteristic law and order of the Kingdom of God, the new heaven and new earth, can be discerned in the nature and activity of the Body of the risen Christ — in His resurrection appearances and in the members of His mystical Body, the Church. In fact, the Church, born at Pentecost, is meant and sent to reveal to all of creation (Mark 16:15) the inauguration of the Kingdom’s new law and order here and now, within this world.
What does that look like?

When the old creation, still under the power of death, says of the children of light, “See how they love one another,” we can be certain that the old order is passing over into the new. That what happens in Eucharistic transubstantiation is making its way out of the Chalice and off of the Paten out into the enslaved world that awaits the freedom of God’s children. Seen from this vantage, miracles — Eucharistic or otherwise — are not to be understood as the transgression or violation of creation’s natural laws, but rather as a revelation of the sacramental transfiguration of this world’s laws by the irruption of the new creation into the old. All of the Sacraments, but above all the Eucharist, effect this change. Transubstantiation is not some bizarre trick God plays, or a crazy logic puzzle, but rather is the premier sign of how the new creation transfigures the old — not violently replacing or destroying the old, but peacefully, gently, quietly, hiddenly transforming this world’s “substance” into a new order of existence that originates in Jesus’ risen Flesh and Blood.

A new order suffused with self-wasting, self-giving, healing, forgiving, patient, kind love. A new order that produces a St. Josephine Bakhita (1869–1947), whose body, marked with the scars of human cruelty, remains today a stunning sign of the incorrupt life of the new creation spoken into being by words of mercy: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). For she said, “If I met those slave traders who kidnapped me and treated me so cruelly, I would kneel to kiss their hands, because if that had not happened, I would not be a Christian and a religious today. Poor things, maybe they did not know they were hurting me so much: they were the masters, I was their slave. Just as we are used to doing good out of habit, so they did that by force of habit, not because they were wicked.”

Listen closely to the readings every day of this Easter season and be attentive to the characteristics of this newness; of what new things emerge in the risen, uncontainable Christ and in His Body, the Church. And then be exceptionally attentive to how He accomplishes this new creation in, with and through you at each moment, bit by bit, making all-things-you, new.

Omitting and texting sins

[re-post 2014, updated]

Recently, my wife and I watched a documentary with our children on texting and driving, From One Second To The Next, that told the heart-wrenching stories of victims and victimizers whose lives were turned upside down by one person’s decision to text while driving. It withered any temptation I may have had in me to text while I drive.

It reminded me of a Sunday homily I heard several years ago by a priest who spoke of what he called, “the sins I am surprised I never hear confessed.” It was a sobering homily.

He highlighted two sins that are, he said, “especially conspicuous for their absence from Confession.” Here’s some of what he said (as I wrote in my journal later):

… Yet it’s crucial that we also consider, as we examine our conscience, the ways we have failed to do what we can or what we ought when circumstances call for action. For example, sometimes we’re obliged to speak up for someone as others bad mouth them when they’re not there to defend themselves. We often sin in this way through cowardice — we are afraid to face the heat, to get criticized or shunned. Or maybe it’s just laziness, just too much energy expenditure for us to be confrontational. Or maybe we want others’ approval and can’t stomach the thought that they might not think well of us; and this might even compel us to join in their toxic speech.

As people of faith, we confess it is, in those cases, Christ whom we deny, whom we slander or fail to shield. He is always joined to the victim of every sin and injustice, present in every person unfairly maligned. He awaits us, the members of His Body, to come to His defense. Christ takes very personally what is done, or not done, for the least of His brethren. The implications of Matthew 25 are much greater than feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. And according to Matthew 25, judgement is primarily about sins of omission. “You did not…did not…did not…”

There’s a wonderful poem by Studdert-Kennedy that powerfully captures this:

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,”
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.

Then the priest took a surprising direction in his homily, one I’d never previously heard preached. He said:

But one of the most surprising omissions in Confession is the sin of breaking traffic laws, reckless driving. Did you know the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air”?

Grave guilt! Let me ask you — please, though, don’t raise your hand! — how many of you have sped, had too much alcohol and gotten behind a wheel, texted while you were driving, blown through stop lights or done other irresponsible things while driving? And how many of you have confessed this to the Lord in His Sacrament of Reconciliation?

This is, the Church tells us unequivocally, a grave matter. “Graviter” in Catechism’s Latin — which means it’s a serious matter, the matter for mortal sin. In fact, the Catechism takes it so seriously that it places this consideration under the 5th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”

If Jesus says to harbor hateful anger against your brother in your heart is already murder, the Catechism adds this: Reckless driving contains an implicit consent to murder. So it can, in this sense, already be considered murder. Whether you get caught by the cops or a camera, or not, is absolutely irrelevant.

I beg you, as your father in Christ, respect life by driving safely. Be a witness to temperance and justice, call others to be accountable and responsible. Maybe put a “Choose Life” bumper sticker on your car so that you become more conscious of being a witness to others. If someone sees you texting and driving, and then sees your bumper sticker, they may wonder: “Whose life are you choosing?”

You are your brother and sister’s keeper, a disciple of Christ the giver of life.

There’s a stunning bumper sticker I’ve seen, “Honk if you love Jesus! Text if you want to meet Him!” [congregation laughter]. But I would add, on a much more serious note, that for me, personally, I would not want my last deed before entering the presence of Christ the Judge to be the violation of the 5th commandment. Destroying lives, all to send a stupid text.

It’s a very powerful human skill to rationalize sin away. And especially to rationalize reckless driving away. I am exempt; I can handle it; just this once; nothing’s gonna happen. The families of victims of traffic accidents caused by texting or drinking or disregarding traffic laws would have much to say to you in reply. As would the Lord.

So I encourage you: Go to Confession if you haven’t and unburden your sins before our merciful Lord, the Lover of life. And then, choose life every time you get behind the wheel.

This short film was made in 2013, so the texting and driving problem since then has grown exponentially. It’s almost ubiquitous. Just yesterday, a woman with children in her van was texting as she drove down I-10. I noticed she was texting because she was weaving in and out of her lane. And voice to text unquestionably makes the illusion of justification even more seductive. Here’s some stats:

Texting While Driving Causes:

1. 1,600,000 accidents per year – National Safety Council
2. 330,000 injuries per year – Harvard Center for Risk Analysis Study
3. 11 teen deaths EVERY DAY – Ins. Institute for Hwy Safety Fatality Facts
4. Nearly 25% of ALL car accidents

Texting While Driving Is:

1. About 6 times more likely to cause an accident than driving intoxicated
2. The same as driving after 4 beers – National Hwy Transportation Safety Admin.
3. The number one driving distraction reported by teen drivers

Texting While Driving:

1. Makes you 23X more likely to crash – National Hwy Transportation Safety Admin.
2. Is the same as driving blind for 5 seconds at a time – VA. Tech Transportation Institute
3. Takes place by 800,000 drivers at any given time across the country
4. Slows your brake reaction speed by 18% – HumanFactors & Ergonomics Society
5. Leads to a 400% increase with eyes off the road

If you can, the ~35 minute film is worth the watch. With your family, friends. But it is graphic.

Catholic vantages on Evolution

Fr. Nicanor Austriaco.

Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory. — St. John Paul II’s 1996 Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

But the big problem is that were God not to exist and were he not also the Creator of my life, life would actually be a mere cog in evolution, nothing more; it would have no meaning in itself. Instead, I must seek to give meaning to this component of being. Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called “creationism” and “evolutionism,” presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? — Pope Benedict’s 2007 Meeting with Clergy

Recent studies indicate that the Church’s pastors have not been effective in communicating and leading this mission. In her 2015 study “Catholicism and Science,” sociologist Elaine Ecklund notes that 62% of high-attendance Catholics think that the Bible and science can be in conflict, indicating a lack of awareness that, in the words of John Paul II, “The theological teaching of the Bible, like the doctrine of the Church which makes this explicit, does not seek so much to teach us the how of things, as rather the why of things.” This is especially true of younger Catholics; according to the National Study of Youth and Religion, 72% of 18-29 year-old Catholics see science and religion in conflict, and 78% of 18-29 year-old lapsed Catholics cite the “conflict” of science and religion to account for their departure, despite the teaching of the Youth Catechism that “there is no insoluble contradiction between faith and science” (#23). This data suggests that in order to effectively catechize and evangelize this and subsequent generations, Catholic priests must be prepared to address scientific topics in a way that weds faith and reason. — Dr. Chris Baglow, author of Faith, Science, and Reason Theology on the Cutting Edge

That last quote is by my colleague and dear friend, Dr. Baglow, introducing the timely importance of a course he offered this Spring at our Seminary called, The Emergence of the Image: Human Evolution from Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Perspectives. I wish I could take it! It offers seminarians the opportunity to become part of the solution to the crisis these statistics evidence.

Recently he invited microbiologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., who teaches biology and bioethics at Providence College, to give a series of lectures on evolution. Fr. Nicanor received his Ph.D. in Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his doctorate in Moral Theology at the University of Fribourg.

One of his class lectures on “why would God choose to create through evolution” was recorded, and he wonderfully gave me permission to post his lecture for public consumption. I am so grateful! It’s over two hours long, the audio is not perfect, but I think it’s well worth your time. Enjoy…

“The Madonna has not appeared in Medjugorje” — Bishop Ratko Peri

[Busy days ahead so I will pause my posting till the weekend]

As a person who went on pilgrimage to Medjurgorje twice 25 or so years ago, let me say a few brief things about the recent judgment of Bishop Ratko Peri, following the lengthy Vatican investigation:

Considering everything that this chancery has so far researched and studied, including the first seven days of the alleged apparitions, it can peacefully be affirmed: The Madonna has not appeared in Medjugorje.

See also the article here.

My comments today won’t analyze the content of the Vatican investigation or the Bishop’s judgment, which I don’t have time to think about or research, but I will offer four general reflections on claims to “private revelations” like those in Medjurgorje.

(N.B. I include a definition of what I mean by “private and public revelation” at the bottom of this post).

First. Private revelations always hold a relative status in the Catholic tradition. Even when the Church makes a judgment in favor of an apparition of Mary, belief in the apparition is not commanded for Catholics but only commended as “worthy of pious belief.” The obedience of faith is given only to public revelation, i.e. what is contained in Sacred Scripture as interpreted and handed on in Sacred Tradition. In fact, commending a private revelation as “worthy of pious belief” is actually quite modest language. Strictly speaking, the Church does not “approve” an apparition as true. Rather, it only asserts that the Church finds in the apparition nothing contrary to orthodox faith and practice.

That said, private revelations, like those in Fatima, Portugal can be given a revered status by the Church, even becoming the focus of a liturgical feast day (Our Lady of Fatima on May 13). And though one is still not required to accept the specifics of Fatima (e.g. Mary appeared between May 13 and October 13 at the Cova de Iria, the sun miraculously danced in the sky) as a truth of faith, the core message of Our Lady at Fatima must be accepted simply because it is part of the Catholic common core of beliefs, i.e. be devoted to God, repent, pray, do penance, make acts of reparation and receive the Sacraments.

Second. Following from the first point, private revelations can never be said to add anything substantial to the content of faith. When authentic, they only serve to emphasize and punctuate what is already fully present in the Church’s ordinary faith and sacramental life. In theological language, ordinary means not plain or dull, but rather the normal means by which God brings us His truth and salvation. Private revelations are always extra-ordinary, out of the ordinary. While we don’t diss their value, we also refuse to overinflate their value. Then why does God grant them at all? The Tradition is consistently clear that they are given by God when some aspect of the ordinary is being neglected or denigrated; or when there is an extraordinary crisis that may prevent the faithful from seeing and accessing the fullness of truth and life found in the Church. God does extra-ordinary things, yes, but extraordinary always tends back to the ordinary. As extra-ordinary, all private revelations are secondary, supplementary, ancillary and, like John the Baptist, should always be content to decrease in favor of the increase of the ordinary.

Those who latch on to private revelations in an obsessive, disordered, clingy or fanatical fashion sow the seeds of sectarianism, dishonor the fullness of salvation already “ordinarily” present in the Church, and they threaten the primacy of unseeing faith over visions. Faith, not sight, is the appropriate posture toward the supernatural in this life (see John 20:29; 2 Cor. 5:7).

In my experience, so much of what I call Catholic “apparition culture” resembles early Christian gnosticism that favored secret, esoteric, spectacular, special and new revelations over the ancient Apsotolic Tradition. A morbid fascination with novelties, the miraculous, the odd, as well as the compulsive need to feel special, is how St. Irenaeus might have described the gnostic pathology in his 3rd century treatise, Against All Heresies. St. John of the Cross made this same point thus:

Therefore if someone were now to ask questions of God or seek any new vision or revelation, he would not only be acting foolishly but would be committing an offense against God – for he should set his eyes altogether upon Christ and seek nothing beyond Christ.

God might answer him after this manner, saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him. I have spoken all things to you in my Word. Set your eyes on him alone, for in him I have spoken and revealed to you all things, and in him you shall find more than you ask for, even more than you want.”

Modern versions of this neo-gnostic “apparition culture” also seem to be a very human response to the crisis of modernity that has placed faith under the critical microscope of science, stripped away the sacred from the public square and made of religion a wholly private affair locked in the inner room of personal experience. Maybe, angst-ridden moderns fret, the personal experience of heaven breaking the laws of nature and bypassing the ordinary, telling us what it all means, and what to do, is the only way we can gain real certitude and peace with this age’s countless ambiguities. But succumbing to such an approach as a Catholic means, among other things, that we willingly grant faith and reason a written bill of divorce and relegate Christian apologetics to a course in miracles. But I digress.

Third. Because private revelations have only a relative status and are extra-ordinary, they have a certain inherent ambiguity. St. John of the Cross, who is merciless on claims to visions, locutions and other extraordinary mystical phenomena, makes it clear that those who claim to receive these “extraordinary favors” from God, or from a saint or angel, are always subject to errors in the process of receiving, interpreting or relating the content of what is heard or seen. Which is why, St. John says, the best approach a spiritual director can take toward a directee claiming such extraordinary things is not credulity (canonizing the experience), but scrutiny, placing faith, humility, discretion and prudence in the forefront. If the mystical phenomena are from God, they will come to pass through the fires of virtuous scrutiny and in fidelity to the authority of the Church. And this is the case especially when the recipients of revelations claim their message is for others or even the whole world.

Naïve credulity, John says, is the open gateway to diabolical and psychological delusion, while sage discretion is the gateway to genuine illumination that flows from reason informed by faith.

Unlike public revelation, even with authentic instances of private revelation it’s not always simply about believing “all or nothing.” To say either everything a visionary said is true or it’s all a lie misses the complexity of the reality. Seers and saints aren’t mediums who channel an unfiltered divine voice, but, like theologians, are interpreters of God’s living Word who are subject to error and are subject to the critique of reason and the final judgment of the Church’s authority.  Pope Benedict XIV, when referring to the mistaken predictions of St. Catherine Labouré, said: “The revelations of some holy women canonized by the Apostolic See, whose saying and writings came in [mystical] rapture and were derived from rapture, are filled with errors.” Yes, these women are still saints, and their teachings are still revered, but holy saints are not Holy Spirits.

Fourth. Even when claims to extraordinary mystical or supernatural phenomena are deemed problematic or false, or even diabolical, genuine graces received in association with those dubious phenomena are not thereby rendered meaningless. God, who sends rain on the just and the wicked, and who speaks through asses and antagonists (cf. Numbers 22:21-38; John 11:49-52), is very willing to work good wherever there is sincere faith, hope and love. Like it or not, weeds and wheat, wheat and chaff co-exist in this world.

So when some aspect of a good thing given by God is found to be tainted or flawed with some bad element, we should not simply throw out the baby with the baptismal water. We must use discretion, retaining what is good and rejecting what is not (cf 1 John 4:1). Consider that if a priest in mortal sin can validly consecrate the Holy Eucharist, absolve sin, etc. with all the fullness of God’s power, then good graces given in association with alleged apparitions that are subsequently deemed by the Church “not to be worthy of pious belief” should not be rejected or doubted. They only need be purified, detached from alien elements, winnowed and brought into conformity with the act of an unseeing Catholic faith, hope and love. The many graces I received in Medjugorje remain with me today, and to accept the judgment of the Church that these apparitions are not objectively genuine supernatural “visionary” events does not steal those graces from me, but makes me even more grateful that our God is a God who can make even the very stones cry out His praise: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38, 40).

In some ways, hearing such a stark judgment on an alleged apparition can serve to strengthen faith. How? Inasmuch as it reinforces the bedrock truth that, in this life, God wishes us to cling to Him in dark faith and veiled sacrament within the ordinary life of the Church and amid the ordinary contexts of daily life. And the ordinary, for Catholics, burgeons with great mystery as it both conceals and reveals — like the earth’s serene crust — the fiery magma of grace burning beneath life’s homely surface. Seeking to bypass the divine economy of “the mystery of faith” is, it seems to me, a form of cheating.

I, for one, am grateful that the Church takes so seriously her shepherding role in the face of every claim to extra-ordinary graces and supernatural events. I’d have no faith in a credulous Church. Catholics must rejoice in knowing that, in the ordinary economy of grace, we have superabundantly more of God’s graces than we could ever ask for or imagine. As I said in class the other day, “If the fact that Baptism remits all your sins, recreates your nature, grants you adoption by the Most High King, makes your body-soul into a Holy of Holies for the life-giving Trinity, divinizes you, empowers you to consecrate the cosmos to God and labor into existence an everlasting new creation is not enough to satisfy your itch for mystery and thrill, nothing will do it.”

So when any “extras” do come to us, if they do, we must happily beg Christ to at once to give us a fresh infusion of the 9th beatitude that clearly gives Him such great joy:


[Revelation refers to God’s making Himself and His plan known, specifically to Israel and the Church, and above all in Christ. Public revelation, which ended with the death of the last Apostle, refers to all that God has made known to us that is contained in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Private revelation refers to any claim in the post-apostolic Church that God or a saint/angel has revealed something to a person or persons by some extraordinary means, like an apparition or locution. Public revelation demands the assent of faith by all Christians, while private revelation does not]