I was an Anglican priest living in England, in 1985 when I was invited by a group of Anglicans and Catholics to visit Medjugorje. I didn’t want to go. Being a former Evangelical-fundamentalist I wasn’t too keen on apparitions of the Blessed Virgin. I opted out. They insisted. I dug in my heels. They said someone else would pay for it. I didn’t want to go. They cajoled and twisted my arm until I said ‘yes’.
So off I went and this was in Medjugorje’s hey day. All I can do is report my memories of that visit: People were everywhere making confessions. Mass was non stop in the church of St James in the village square. Crowds lined up to see the visionaries who were still living there and still teenagers and still having daily apparitions.The Franciscans preached mightily. There was a strong charismatic element–praise and worship music and fervent preaching.
If my memory serves me, at six o’clock in the evening the visionaries would go to the side room off the sanctuary of the church where the visions occurred. The whole town would begin praying the rosary. All the visitors prayed too. At 6:20 the visions would start. Around 6:40 they would stop and the people would pray the last set of mysteries.
On our second day there I sat on the balcony of our guesthouse with a large woman named Eleanor. As we began the rosary I looked up and the sun was a blaze of light in the sky. I looked down to the car parked below and the sun was reflected in the hood of the car as a blaze of light. Eleanor and I prayed the rosary together. I had my eyes closed. At 6:20 Eleanor gave me an elbow in the ribs and pointed. The sun was now a disc of white light in the sky like a Eucharistic host. Then as I watched it began to spin, first clockwise then anti clockwise. Sparks spit out from the rim of the sun like a firework. I looked down and the sun was a white spinning disc on the hood of the car. I don’t think this would have happened if it was just my eyes playing tricks on me. Plus, Eleanor saw it too. That’s why she gave me an elbow in the ribs. I am not sure how long this lasted, but when we spoke about it to our fellow pilgrims they said many people in the town square had reported the same phenomenon.
A few other strange things: the days we spent there were ones of incredible fellowship. We seemed to be on a higher plane of consciousness. We seemed to love one another and we laughed joyously almost constantly. Think of being on vacation with really good family and friends and being high the whole time on the love and joy you were sharing. We also met pilgrims from around the world and established an instant family like rapport, and oh yes, the new rosary I bought there was a pewter color, but when I got it home–still in its package–it had turned a gold color.
So now what do I make of all this? Well, the same as I make of the other supernatural experiences I have had. It was inexplicable. That’s why it was supernatural. I cannot rule on the authenticity and I am not much interested in the controversy. I know the experience I had bolstered my faith. It was one of the things that drew me to Catholicism ’cause let’s face it, the Protestants don’t really have stuff like that! Also I was drawn closer to the Blessed Mother. Somehow I understood her role and the blockage I had as a Protestant was further eroded.
Does this mean I am a die hard Medjugorje devotee? No. I’ve followed the story a bit over the years. I wish them well and I hope it will one day all be sorted out. If the church says the whole thing is authentic I don’t have a problem. If it is ruled inauthentic I don’t have a problem.
My own opinion is that something authentic happened there at some point, but that it has been infected with human ego, greed and probably a concerted attack by Satan. The waters have been muddied. Bad stuff has now happened to discredit the events. Whatever transpires, I will accept the church’s decision and don’t really mind one way or another.
I thank God for what I experienced at Medjugorje, but the truths of the Catholic faith and the authority of the Catholic Church are what are most important, and I am sure the Blessed Virgin would approve of that.
I tell this story, by the way, because I have been asked to–not because I wish to cause controversy or upset people on either side of the controversy. As it happens, I’ve had some pretty wonderful supernatural experiences along my way with Christ, and I take them all with a sense of wonder and a pinch of salt and try to keep my eyes on Jesus.
Mark Shea bounces back about this story here.
More thoughts on this particular event and what supernatural events in the church mean can be read at my article Weird Things Happen.
If you haven’t heard it already you’ll have to ask me sometime about my unusual experience meeting St Bernadette…