Most Christians, even if not Catholic, have heard of Medjugorje. From there, one may have a very thorough familiarity with all the details and history surrounding the claimed appearances of Our Lady, and the messages given to a number of seers. Some probably have heard passing reference to it without much thought.
I won’t go into all the details about the messages and secrets associated with Medjugorje. You can find all that here. I will say, in summary, that the claim is that Our Lady (Mary, for non-Catholics among us) first appeared in 1981, and has appeared ever since. These messages are for the whole world, and published accordingly. Each of the seers have been promised 10 “Secrets” to be revealed only under certain timing and instructions. The nature of these secrets range from pleant to unpleasant. Some of the seers have received all 10 secrets, while 3 of the seers have received 9 of the 10. Only once all of them have received all 10 will events transpire. Some details have been allowed to be released, but some are strictly forbidden to be released at this time.
So, what does this all mean? Well, it means a lot of things.
There are many balancing points with regard to Medjugorje. We must be honest about what it is and what it isn’t. Firstly, we must realize and appreciate that Catholics are not bound by faith to believe in any apparition. These events are extr-Scriptural, and outside of Tradition. They do not (and cannot) add anything new to our faith, particularly if contrary to previous doctrinal teachings. They may, and often do, reinforce doctrinal teachings of our faith. One example of this is when Our Lady of Lourdes referred to herself as the Immaculate Conception to a girl, Bernadette, who didn’t understand what this meant at a time shortly after the Pope declared this ex cathedra.
Having said that, there are certain apparitions that are so well confirmed and recognized by the Church, that to not believe it would be fairly unusual for any devout Catholic. Lourdes is one, but Our Lady of Fatima is probably the most distinct of these. The messages of Fatima carried so much weight, and the miracle of the sun witnessed by so many, and Pope John Paul II carried such a devotion to Our Lady in this capacity that it seems almost unthinkable for a Catholic to reject this particular apparition as anything but true. However, the important point is that Catholics may choose to question apparitions, even approved ones.
Second, speaking of approvals… The approval of the Catholic Church is a very strong sign to the faithful that you can submit your trust in the messages of a given apparition. There are not as many firm approvals as you may think. I haven’t cross-checked this list, but from my own reading, it seems correct to my understanding. Basically, an approval does a couple things (1) it’s a stamp of authenticity, and (2) a stamp of approval of any messages.
Authenticity is obviously important, because if it didn’t really happen, we shouldn’t suggest that it did even if the message being shared is a positive one. The Church takes a long time to discern authenticity. Numerous interviews, cross-checking of facts, revelation of certain miracles, and a close review of all messages play an important role. Messages are reviewed to determine the nature of an authentic apparition. It is conceivable that an apparition is authentic, but NOT from a source we would wish to involve ourselves with. I have been told that a good spiritual advisor tells someone who claims to be receiving messages will have the recipient challenge the visitor in the name of Christ. The demonic can be very subtle, masking themselves in goodness only to pervert messages in such a way as to cause spiritual warfare of one kind or another. Seldom will a demonic apparition appear as anything but something good. And thus, great care and discernment is needed, as well as a fearlessness in having the apparitions defend their words in Jesus’s name. Thus, even if the Church is convinced of the apparition, great care is taken to ensure protection of the messages of Scripture and Tradition.
A third point is that just because a vision is NOT approved, doesn’t mean the Church has judged negatively on it. The Church will condemn visions that clearly teach things antithetical to Church teachings. Whether it’s a judgment of lack of authenticity or in message is irrelevant at that point. Both seers and followers are to immediately cease activity associated with that apparition. At other times, there may not be a condemnation, but a certain Bishop may step in and place limitations on activities. One good way of discerning the nature of an apparition’s validity is to reflect on the reaction and the obedience to these things, even when the bishop may be wrong! Humble obedience, or a proper channel of disagreement in a respectful manner, reflect a humility that suggests that this will all happen with God’s timing. Pubic clashes with the hierarchy suggest something else.
That brings us to Medjugorje.
There are many conflicting views of this, and there seems to have been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride in whether or not the faithful should be devoting time and spiritual energy to it. For a time, pilgrimages were not allowed to be organized by churches, though I am not aware of any time where individulas were prohibited to go. In practical terms, this is rational. The messages and secrets have not yet been fulfilled, and the apparition has not been approved. Even if all things look good to this point, it is reasonable on the part of the Church to protect the faithful from deception, at least to the extent of giving the perception that everything has been approved. Some have read into this a form of “condemnation.” It certainly may be true to suggest that the Church has yet to be fully convinced, but it’s really more of a cautionary measure.
Many thousands of pilgrims go to Medjugorje each year. Many have claimed to witness or experience miracles. That is for discernment. It cannot be questioned that many have had a revitalizing experience of faith. And so the phrase “by their fruits, you shall know them” comes to mind. On the other hand, many have also said that it is a commercialized circus, and don’t take much away from it.
There has been much made of the differences in opinions of different bishops. The resident bishop has gone so far as to ask the visionaries to stop making their claims. Clearly, he is an authoritative figure, and has his public doubts. He has more recently softened the language, but still clearly has his doubts.
Case closed, right? After all, he is the bishop at hand.
This is where Medjugorje is somewhat unique. I previously mentioned that obedience to a Bishop – even if wrong – is important. And it seems as if there is some differences among the seers in this area, but all in all it doesn’t seem as if they are all that much out of line. After all, if the visions are truly real, obedience can’t possibly go so far as to lie about their validity simply to please the Bishop. But beyond that, the Church hierarchy itself does not seem to universally respect the local Bishop’s opinon. In fact, a Cardinal recently visited, causing all sorts of heartburn to the local bishop.
There is even debate about whether or not the Cardinal’s follow-up letter to the Bishop was an apology.
Why the fighting? Well, on the one hand it is somewhat difficult to believe that a lie could be perpetuated this long, and with such solidarity. If someone were that rotten of soul, they’d be able to cash in substantially on breaking the news that this is a farce. That, and the messages by all accounts are affirming of the teachings of the Catholic Church. There is nothing there to suggest falsehood, save the scenario that the Secrets simply don’t come true. but on the other hand, let’s face it: this has gone on for nearly three decades. If we look to Lourdes and Fatima as our example of an approved apparition, we see a very limited number of appearances, with a pretty direct message and directive. To believe in the apparition at Medjugorje, we must convince ourselves that there is some purpose to essentially the same messages – with a fewnotable exceptions – being repeated on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis for 28+ years. The question can reasonably be, “What’s the point?” The perception is a “crying wolf” attitude. These last few secrets have taken seemingly forever to be completed. Is that God’s plan, or is it a realization by the visionaries that once the last secrets are completed, they’ll be exposed? I’m just offering the reasons for the differences in opinions, I’m not suggesting in any way that I can determine the truthfulness of the visionaries.
It’s an interesting question ,which begs the question as to where the Pope stands on this. Well, even this question is not perfectly clear, and is up for debate.
A good article from last August explains the initial opinion that Pope John Paul II was of the opinion that the Medjugorje phenomenon was legitimate, while then Cardinal Ratzinger shared the opinion of the local bishop that the apparitions were not authentic.
Dr. Jones asserts that when he met with Bishop Pavao Zanic, then-ordinary of the Diocese of Mostar (in which Medjugorje is situated) in 1988, the bishop said Cardinal Ratzinger agreed with him and did not believe the alleged apparitions were authentic.
But Pope John Paul II did not respond to Bishop Zanic in the same way. This would make sense considering certain seemingly pro-Medjugorje notes and letters JPII wrote to friends of his years ago…
There is a lengthy interview in that article more fully explaining the opinion of Jones, who sees the beginnings of the Church’s attempts to delegitimize Medjugorje.
If true, it certainly appears that Benedict XVI is not endeared towards ratification of this any time soon. However, citing a personal opinion as a Cardinal in a personal conversation is a far cry from any kind of condemnation or indicator of any campaign of delegitimization as Pope. Further, it is the opinion of others on the basis of other statements that Benedict XVI is in no way against Medjugorje, but instead has more or less framed his remarks in a neutral way that suggests investiagion is needed and prudence required.
Another interesting development, though, is the sudden public affirmation by the aforementioned Cardinal Schönborn. In fact, he has now come out and said that Pope Benedict XVI may visit Medjugorje. Clearly, if that happens, it may not be a message of outright approval, but it is certainly a positive message for devoted followers of these apparitions.
So where does that put us?
Quite honestly, it should put us where we’ve been all along: constant prayer and discernment. In the end, the faithful need to pay heed to the ultimate authority of the Church in this matter. As long as we are allowed to take an individual pilgrimage there, we are free to do so. Accept happily the spiritual fruits of such a pilgrimage, as well as the messages of Our Lady. As long as the message is one consistent with the teachings of the Church, we can heed the calls to prayer without any problem at all. If we choose to believe that this is true, we do so under the condition that we will ultimately follow the Church’s decision should she rule contrary to our own personal conclusion. Always be respectful to authorities in the Church, even a priest or bishop who may not feel your own conviction in the matter. Obviously, if the Church approves the phenomenon, we can then celebrate this devotion quite freely. Such approval also carries a call to heed the messages as well.
Quite honestly, for us laypeople to debate its legitimacy to the detriment of our spiritual community only clouds the question about its validity even more. So I would ask that any debate be respectful, and no matter how devoted a follower you may be, and however much you believe the truth of it, please respect those who have their doubts, or even outright don’t accept it. Question them, of course, but be respectful. And those who don’t believe it, please do not belittle those who do. Faith can be a very simple thing. That doesn’t make it wrong.
That we may all be one doesn’t necessarily mean we all think the same thing about everything, even with regard to our faith. It means we are united in Christ, and the doctrinal teachings of the Church. When we allow dissention to rule over something that isn’t doctrinal, it harms us all.