My mother had a lurid fascination with apparitions.
Most every Catholic I knew was interested in apparitions; everybody had a bottle of Lourdes water somewhere and made their children watch those CCC videos about Lourdes and Fatima. But my household went far beyond that. My mother got a cheap mimeographed publication called Spirit Daily delivered to the house so that she could read about every bit of supposed supernatural activity going on in the country– statues mysteriously losing fingers, icons weeping oil and perfume, Mary appearing in the grease stains on overpasses. She used to read entries from this to us with great excitement, while I cringed.
We got other, more obscure journals delivered to the house as well. One of them absolutely petrified me, because it had photographs of an alleged stigmatic. She was a woman somewhere in America who went only by her first name, to show her humility; the article contained a sentence about how she expressly did not want these photos being taken, but they were taken anyway. The photos were close-ups of the bloody gashes in her hands and feet, and a photo of her modestly-clothed side with a patch of brown blood on the fabric. One showed her face, her forehead a mass of blood and her expression drawn with extreme pain and fear.
I was petrified of those photos.
We had books full of such photos at home, and other books of “miraculous photos” as well. There was one volume written by someone claiming to be a scientist; most of his unremarkable snapshots were said to have “pillars of cloud” appearing on the film, though I quickly noted that you could get the exact same effect by accidentally getting an eyelash on your camera lens. My mother often tried to get her own miraculous images, by randomly photographing religious statues and the sun, and was constantly disappointed when the photos came out normal.
We had lots of other books on apparitions and private revelations as well– enough to fill a large bookcase. There were wonderful ones like “Divine Mercy in my Soul.” There were the thick volumes of Sister Lucia’s Fatima testimony. There were books on Medjugorje and books of grainy black and white photos of Garabandal. There were many badly edited, cheap self-published paperbacks with notes in the front explaining that they were not required to have an imprimatur, and that they had retained all the visionary’s original spelling and grammar errors so as not to interfere with the Lord’s messages. These latter books fascinated me. Some were full of ordinary, pedestrian pieties but some fairly glowed with their grace and wisdom. I would not be at all surprised if some of those locutions really originated with Christ and Our Lady.
But then there were the other kind, the scary and violent kind. The kind where Mary said “time is running out” and warned of horrible cataclysms to come. I remember one where Mary kept insisting that she and Saint Michael were offering God the Passion of Christ over and over again to prevent a hideous chastisement, but God was running out of patience with us. She didn’t know how much longer it would work. We had to repent and pray the Rosary to prevent the agonies God was just longing to unleash on the human race in His impeccable justice. I would read them in horror, and try to repent and pray, and wonder if it was working. Which of life’s sufferings were ordinary events and which were chastisements Mary hadn’t managed to deflect? How could we know? Would Mary appear and tell me? What if, when she appeared to me, she’s split open the ground and show me the pit of hell like she did at Fatima? What if she demanded I become some kind of victim who volunteered for God to pour His wrath out on me, and I came down with tuburculosis and died by inches over the course of several years? What if I came down with stigmata? What if I didn’t, because I wasn’t holy enough, and because I wasn’t holy enough the world suffered a chastisement at the hand of a vengeful God?
I was petrified of apparitions.
Next time I write I am going to write a whole other separate post on what I’ve learned about discernment and the real, Catholic understanding of who Mary is, divorced from any superstitious crotchets. I was going to write it in this post, but the post kept getting impossibly long. For now I just want to set the scene. I was petrified.
We got dragged to every purported apparition site that was driving distance from Columbus, and there are far more of those than you’d think.