The Touchstone of Obedience: Medjugorge and Other Apparitions

I am not an apparitions kind of guy. I’m aware of Fatima and Guadalupe and Lourdes, and find them somewhat interesting, but they don’t form a significant part of my daily spirituality. Thus, I have no particular dog in the fight over the apparitions in Medjugorge; but this week’s statement about Medjugorge from the CDF (i.e., don’t assume the apparitions are real) led me to reflect on obedience and humility, which I regard as perhaps the most important touchstones for the behavior of living “saints”.

By “obedience” in this case, I mean obedience to duly constituted religious authority: to one’s superiors in a religious order, and to the local bishop. Padre Pio, for example, spent years pretty much confined to his cell at the order of superiors who thought he was a fake. He took it quietly; and when he was vindicated he went quietly back to hearing confessions. Well, I say “quietly”; I gather he sometimes had a lot to say to penitents who weren’t truly penitent.

When St. Juan Diego told his story to the bishop in Guadalupe he was met with disbelief. He went on quietly, and was vindicated a day or so later. St. Bernadette went through very hard times before her story was accepted, and went on to live and die an obedient nun. St. Catherine of Siena famously persuaded the pope to bring the papacy back to Rome from Avignon, but did so with the utmost respect and without criticizing the pope to others (although that particular pope is certainly open to criticism).

So when I hear about present day private revelations, to the extent I’m interested at all, I look first at the behavior of the person receiving the revelation. Are they obedient to the church authorities? Are they living a life of humility, or are they exalting themselves before others? And, of course, are their revelations consistent with the teaching of the Church? Next I’d look at the fruit: is the revelation leading devotees into obedience and humility, or into dissent?

I think the most important lesson of Medjugorge is to not be eager to jump on the bandwagon of a new apparition. It’s not fatal if you do, and the apparition is proven false; true devotion to Christ and his Blessed Mother is always reward, I feel sure. But a too eager devotion can lead you astray, and then official disapproval can cause significant pain and disappointment. Why go there?

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  • AnneG

    I agree entirely. I find it kinda weird that some people get so worked up over things that are not essential to the faith, nor require our assent. I don’t really have any special affection for any apparitions except the Virgen of Guadalupe as my son was born on her feast and we lived in Mexico for years. Saying that, though, it is very hard to overestimate the importance of the Blessed Mother. I hope she prays for those devotees of Medugorge and they learn obedience, as you said.

    • Will Duquette

      Hi, Anne! Understand, I’m not accusing anyone in particular of disobedience—I’m not all that familiar with Medjugorge, not being an apparition kind of guy, as I said.

      What I can see is that lots of people have been moved to pray by Medjugorge, to pray a lot, to fervent acts of devotion; and of course God rewards that. And when you’ve been moved closer to God by a devotion, it can be hard to separate the context (Medjugorge in this case) from the persons to whom you are devoted (Jesus and his Blessed Mother). I’m sure a lot people think they are being told that their devotion is a fraud.

  • AnneG

    “true devotion to Christ and his Blessed Mother is always reward,”
    That is what I was referring to. I am worried about some friends who are invested or emotionally attached to Medugorge. I’ve gotten a lot of flack for saying those mentioned are private revelation.

    • Will Duquette

      And that could become an obedience issue, certainly, if they reject that from some duly constituted authority. I am not one of those. :-)