PRUDENT AND IMPRUDENT ATTITUDE TOWARD PRIVATE REVELATION
What should be the prudent attitude toward private revelation? As we learned in the chapter on discernment, it is no easy job to be able to determine the true from the false revelations. Even in the true revelations, it was shown that there are many ways that the revelation can be impure. But most people are unaware of these realities about private revelation. The vast majority of people do not have any background experience or access to the necessary books and resources to study mystical theology. The most important criteria of discernment is the implicit or explicit approval of the Church. But this generally requires a substantial amount of time. In the mean time one may investigate a private revelation on his own. But he should use a prudent reserve along with logical deductive reasoning and much humble prayer.
There are some who naively believe that the revelation which the visionary transmits to us comes integrally from a heavenly person; it is this heavenly person, so to speak, who composes its text. Each word comes from above and penetrates the human psyche. We are dealing with an encounter between two persons: a heavenly person "has come," "has visited the earth." Happy are the eyes which saw him, and blessed the place he sanctified by his presence! The expression of the face, the demeanor, the dress are objective details which are clothed with symbolism. Once heavenly intervention has been admitted, the entire event is clothed in an objectivity equal to that of other facts. 1p117 "There can be no error because, after all, it is from heaven."
This attitude toward revelations seems very "naive" to others. According to them, God makes use of the psychological realities which He has placed in man. To believe that He performs miracles in order to accomplish something which does not exceed the limit of human possibilities is "miracle-hunting." God normally makes use of secondary causes such as the human psyche, the imagination, the subconscious. God uses these means of communication but so does the devil as well as the visionary himself, consciously or unconsciously, by inputting his own psyche into the revelation.
In every revelation there is psychological co-operation. It is minimal, according to the first opinion. But according to the second, it is so developed that one may ask if the revelation is not turning into fiction. It is not surprising, then, that others put forward a solution midway between the two, which is that the content of a true revelation comes wholly from God, but that it enters deeply into the psyche which expresses it more or less in its own way. The revelation comes back to the individual and undergoes a change in the sense that it receives an explanation from the intellect. 1p118 This psychic process along with other pertinent factors in revelation including hallucinations or diabolical influences were thoroughly discussed in the chapter on discernment.
There are no errors more like the truth, more seductive, more widespread, than the exaggerations of partial truths. This is the case in the question with which we are now dealing. Any of the three theories proposed does not give itself a satisfying explanation of all the facts. The first seems to explain some of them, the second, the majority. With regard to the third, it is necessary, or at least very helpful to eliminate undue deception, to have a thorough knowledge of the criteria of discernment regarding revelations.
10.1: Catholic Faith vs Hunan Faith
In regard to the visionary, "many theologians are of the opinion that the persons themselves to whom such revelations are made and those for whom they are destined may believe in them with real faith, provided they have had clear proof of their authenticity." 2p701
Also we have a statement made by the majority of the Fathers and theologians of the Council of Trent in regard to our problem. According to the resume of the discussion made by Father Laurence Mazochius: "The majority of theologians and finally nearly all the Fathers (of the Council) decided that without a special revelation no one may be certain with a certitude of faith that he is actually in the state of grace." They said "certitude of faith," the same theologian reports, since they could not have been thinking of certitude of evidence; and probable certitude was admitted as a fact without the intervention of a special revelation. 1p203 Here we are talking about Catholic Faith or divine faith which must be believed.
It is obviously not the same in the case of those who receive the revelations only through the visionaries. The basis of the assent to revelations in this case is an act of human faith, commanded" (imperatus) by prudence and reinforced by the motives of the virtue of piety. 1p205
The most authoritative decision on this matter is to be found in the encyclical 'Pascendi' of St. Plus X who made his own the reply of the Holy Office to the question about the attitude of the Holy See in regard to the apparitions of La Salette and Lourdes, which had already been canonically approved by the ordinaries of the places concerned: "These apparitions or revelations," we read in the encyclical, "have neither been approved nor condemned by the Holy See, which has simply allowed them to be believed on purely human faith, on the traditions which they relate, corroborated by testimony and documents worthy of credence. Anyone who follows this rule has no cause to fear" 1p205
But, as for all belief, there must be influence of a moral order in order to reach certitude. Piety exercises such an influence, that is, piety in the theological sense; this is a virtue of veneration accessory to the virtue of justice. 1p207 This gift completes the infused virtue of justice and makes us look upon God as our Heavenly Father, and helps us fulfill our duties out of love and grateful loyalty. Piety inclines us to look upon our fellow men as children of God and brothers in the Mystical Body of Christ and therefore leads us to sacrifice ourselves in the service of others. 6p107
Thus, in its proper meaning, the term piety is applicable in pre-eminent fashion to the heavenly Father and, by extension, to what belongs to our earthly fathers - thus one's country is also the object of piety.
But the Church is truly our Mother; we accept with piety what she allows. Thus we may arrive through our own investigation at belief in the apparition at Lourdes. However, we read in the encyclical 'Fulgens Corona' a prolonged and emphatic reference to this event; the Pope speaks of it as of any other undisputed historical fact; therefore I believe "piously". And my faith is thereby more solid, surer. This is the respect I owe my Mother the Church, who increases the certitude of my faith; this faith remains, in regard to its structure a natural assent, but it is subject morally to supernatural influence. 1p208 etc.
That is all the more reason why we may consider piety in respect to revelations not only a moral virtue but also a gift of the Holy Spirit, the "principal act" of which "is to venerate God with filial affection" (Sum Theol., II-II, 122, 1, ad 3).
But this act of piety is, in the end, like every Christian act carried out under the influence of Christian prudence. Christian prudence is required in a particular way because of the subject; that is why it is often recommended in writings dealing with revelations. So the text quoted from the encyclical 'Pascendi' begins thus: "... in this matter the Church uses the greatest prudence."
It is understandable that Ranwez, to quote only one among recent writers, wrote as follows about this matter: Adherence of human faith. Assent, prudently based upon testimony which merits confidence and respect. An act of intellectual docility assuming good will, but a will calling for a perfect logic, a lofty wisdom, and thus eminently reasonable. For, if such a commitment binds the intelligence itself, it does so nonetheless without risk of dangerous error, since the door remains open to every possibility of retraction which the evidence might eventually demand, as also to all sworn statements which others might believe should be made to the authorities". 1p208
No doctor has exerted so much influence upon the subject we have dealt with in this section as Benedict XIV; he visibly inspired the teaching which the Holy See has officially proclaimed. Having categorically declared that ecclesiastical approval does not indicate in this matter anything other than a permission to publish the revelation for the good of the faithful, he wrote the following which resumes everything we have just said: "While there must not and cannot be given an assent of Catholic faith, there may, however, be given (debetur tamen) as assent of human faith following the rules of prudence, and according to which these revelations are probable and piously credible." 1p209
10.2: The Abuse of Revelations
Since true revelations are precious to us, the abuse of revelations are dangerous to us. Private revelations are truly a merciful gift from God. They help us conduct our lives in a particular situation. They help motivate our slothful wills by using extraordinary means thus captivating our attention and feelings in such a way that they are affective in cases where other methods would not be.
It is chiefly here that abuses creep in. Normally speaking, man loves change. He flees from the boredom that comes from the monotony of the actions of ordinary life. He feels the need for some new experience, some event, some sensation. In the spiritual life especially, in those periods of dryness when it becomes necessary to live by pure faith, the danger of abusing revelations is great. There are Christians who have an irresistible need to feel, to see, if possible, something staggering. 1p258 etc.
Leon Bloy wrote to Jeanne Fermier: " . . . the hour has not come, I do not see signs. God is not showing Himself in a sensible, indisputable way .. I am awaiting Signs and up to the present I do not see them. So long as the Supernatural does not appear manifestly, incontestably, dreadfully, deliciously, there is nothing real. "
From such a state of mind emerges the danger of interpreting particular revelations in too universal a manner and applying. them to things which have no connection with them. Certain apparitions have been tragically abused by being mixed up with the social, political and religious struggles of the time when they occurred. It is understandable that the ecclesiastical authorities have intervened.
Again, the need for startling happenings encourages abuses in the sense that authors seek to impress their readers by interpreting, from a standpoint of terrible apocalyptic catastrophes, messages which contain pomised and warnings of chastisement.
"It is remarkable," writes Father J.H. Nicolas, "that what interests the majority of people in these private revelations is the announcement of future events ... the trials from which people are emerging or in the midst of which they are struggling do not occur at all. The apocalyptic events with which we are threatened are always imminent at any moment of the time when the prophet - or any one of his interpreters - speaks."
Revelations are subject to another kind of abuse. It is considering them as the discovery of a method of self-sanctification at little cost. Then the spiritual life grows upon stony, thin soil which is not nourished by the great Christian mysteries. 1p259
A new devotion, for instance, may be presented as a spiritual panacea or a remedy for all diseases; cure-all, or even a source of answers for all problems of life which could and should be found and solved using God's normally given graces and natural abilities and resources.
10.3: The Pit of Self-Deception
One of the main paths to heaven which is also a basic source of God-given crosses in life is to think, to dig out truths and answers and applications of these truths and knowledge of God and His will for us every step of the way leading toward heaven. This is how God so designed life. To seek or desire an easy source of answers to life’s problems would not only be imprudent but even dangerous due to the possibility of falling into the habit of not thinking or complacency or using this pseudo source of answers as an excuse or rationalization or a self-made smoke screen to avoid doing what we should be doing.
It is a very natural human tendency to avoid our heavier God-given crosses by willfully (even if partially subconscious) ignoring them or shoving them aside and then picking and choosing another more convenient cross that we are able to rationalize as a substitute. The reason why a substitute cross is chosen, at least initially is because most people, who still have a little fear of God or hell or loss of heaven left inside of them, try to convince themselves that they are on the road to heaven since, after all, they are working so hard for God, or neighbor, or Holy Mother Church. A religious may subconsciously or consciously desire to avoid his prayer life so he works hard on exterior activities to sooth his conscience. Or a religious may pray extra in order to rationalize his lack of charity and kindness toward his fellow religious and neighbors. A married man may become involved with many activities outside the home to rationalize avoiding the bothersome cross of spending needed time with his perhaps nagging or critical or negligent wife and irritating children.
To justify these self-chosen substitute crosses, there is a tendency to seek and hold on to readily available excuses such as an imprudent custom or the words of an authority figure imprudently applied or even twisting Bible quotes out of context or twisting Catholic doctrine or even private revelation to justify certain actions or beliefs which are imprudent or sinful due to the times or circumstances of the situation. This is one of the major reasons why God gave us an infallible Church to properly interpret the Bible and Divine Tradition and all spiritual things and thus apply these teachings to our daily lives throughout time in innumerable situations of life. But as long as man is alive with a free will, there will always be a way out of doing God's will of carrying the cross of Christ because God will never force anyone into heaven.
The person who is able to change his ways when he discovers the errors of his life is invariably the person who either fell into the pit naively or semi-innocently while still sincerely praying to God and seeking and following truth even if it hurts or he is the person who willfully or semi-willfully chose his pit but had many outside prayers and help. "Many are called, but few are chosen". Everyone falls into various pits in his life, but few painstakingly dig their way out of each pit they fall into and persevere in their truth seeking mission till death. The reason why few are willing to dig out of their pit by seeking truth is because invariably, a cross along with more responsibility is attached to each piece of new and real truth especially when it applies to our own lives.
10.4: Few Respond To the Whisperings of the Holy Spirit
God made us. He knows how to make us happy in innumerable and perfect ways - if we would only let go. The more we let go and become docile and humble, the more the Holy Spirit and His spouse, the Virgin Mary, can mold us into Christ with the aid of His virtues and seven gifts. These infused virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit enlighten our minds and strengthen our wills to become more responsive and docile to the slightest whisperings of the Holy Spirit.
A mature man makes the best decision he can with the information available at the time and sticks by it even if it hurts a little or is against his feelings. If later he receives new information or insight into the problem, he then may see fit that he must change his decision even though he may have to swallow his pride, or change his comfortable life style or face a certain undesirable God-given cross. Life is full of necessary and often unpleasant changes for love of God. Thus, it is important to slowly develop a habit of docility with God's help.
Few listen carefully to the inspirations from the Holy Spirit and His spouse with the ears of their soul. Some act and pray as they want to but have consciously or unconsciously thwarted inspirations to work and pray as God would have them. With little docility to inspirations or cooperation with available graces, there is much loss of graces and merits. All the prayers and graces in the world will not do any good if not cooperated with and applied to what we are supposed to do and thus produce the good fruits that God would have us produce.
"Ora et labora"! Pray and work! These two words cannot be separated. If a person prays and yet does not work or does not do the work that he should but some other work that suits his own fancy, the prayer is wasted because the graces and help derived from sincere prayer are not applied to doing God's will due to self will. Most likely, in such a case, the person is not truly praying to do God's will, which usually has a cross attached, but rather his own will with his own self-picked ego-satisfying crosses. On the other hand, if a person works and yet does not pray, the work is most likely for naught due to improper motives of self interest rather than the interests of God or neighbor for love of God. The combination of true and sincere prayer and work will produce the desired result of good fruit and thus eternal merit. As Pope John Paul II tells us, the degree of perfection in all the states of life is measured by the rule of charity; love of God and neighbor.
We must pray and work as Mary did with the sincere intention and desire to do God's will even if it is difficult and contrary to our personal desires. We must not allow ourselves to consciously or unconsciously rationalize or subjectively make exceptions or excuses for our selfish desires and actions.
10.5: Great Saints or Mediocre Sinners?
What is the difference between the great saints and mediocre sinners? With the help from God through prayer, the great saints faced the truth and themselves squarely; they let go of themselves, trusted God, did not get sucked into the infinite variety of pitfalls and side roads of the world, or the devil, or their own selfish fancies. The great saints zeroed in on their main fault but most especially, a generous, towering love of God with the help of Mary their holy mother.
With God's help, all things are possible. But without His help or with our stubborn lack of cooperation, we will remain locked in our lowly human nature filled with self. Just as it is not part of the nature of a stone to bloom or a dog to recite Shakespeare, so too, it is not part of our human nature to act like and become children of God without God's help. It is a far greater change for a man to become a child of God, to be raised to the supernatural life, to share in the very life of God, sanctifying grace, to practice the supernatural virtues, than it is for a stone to bloom or a dog to speak.
10.6: Revelations: A Problem of the Present Time
There have always been false prophets and occasionally, especially from the Middle Ages on, we witness a positive epidemic of visionaries. In our own time, for example, innumerable crowds were drawn to Exquioga, in the Basque country or to Heroldsbach, in Bavaria, where visionaries and revelations so multiplied and vied with each other that the Congregation of the Holy Office was obliged to intervene and to condemn such manifestations. 1p4
But it is not condemnations only which issue from the Church. Through her ordinary Magisterium the Church in our own time has approved many particular revelations. On many others she reserves her judgment even though years pass by. This attitude is, on the whole, in their favor.
It is surprising to realize how extensive the influence of pseudo-revelations may be. Wonders, strange coincidences whether artificial or real, authentic spiritual benefits, insistence upon certain arguments and unvarying silence about others, an irresistible emotional need, the suggestion of the crowd, the influence of individuals they love and admire, may impel Christians to assume attitudes which at first sight are inexplicable. These attitudes, which turn a minor aspect of religion into a leading element in Christian life, are not to be found solely in the so-called ages of faith and of ignorance, but even in our own day, when science might seem to be triumphant in many spheres of life. They are in fact flourishing vigorously at present, a fact that may be partly explained by the efficiency of modern methods of communication which permit the immediate diffusion of news of the slightest event throughout the Church. 1p114
The situation is so serious that the highest administrative authorities of the Church have deemed it necessary to react against a tendency so injurious to Christian life. Quite significant in regard to the present situation of particular revelations is the article "Saite cristiani, a muovere piu’ gravi!” (Christians, be less carried away!") by Cardinal Ottaviani, published in the 'Osservatore Romano' of February 2, 1951, before he was made cardinal. First of all he briefly and vigorously emphasizes the fact and the providential role of particular revelations. But this is only the introduction to a grave warning: "It is a curious thing," he writes, "that it is but a short time since the Church had to defend the fact of revelations, and now she has to give a warning against the abuse of them; the craze for the marvelous is such that it is becoming a grave danger to the Christian life; people are running in crowds to places of reputed apparitions and neglecting the sacraments and defying the authority of the Church." 1p5 He continues: "Who would have imagined fifty years ago that the Church today would have to put her sons, and even some priests, on their guard against so-called visions, against fictitious miracles, in short, against all those events regarded as preternatural which, from one continent to another, from one country to another, practically everywhere attract and excite the masses? ... For many years we have been observing a recrudescence of the popular passion for the miraculous, even in the religious domain. Masses of the faithful flock to places of presumed visions and fictitious wonders and, on the other hand, they neglect the Church, the sacraments and preaching." 1p115
This article shows in a masterly manner at what point the faithful may be deceived if they do not apply the true criteria of discernment when confronted by pseudo-revelations. It is also to be noted that never in all her history has the Church explicitly rejected such a large number of false revelations as in our own twentieth century. In the last thirty years alone she has condemned at least fifteen of them. 1p115
There are indeed people who irresponsibly acclaim every revelation, apparition and vision which is being discussed. They quickly accept them as important facts in history or as a fulfillment of the Gospel text. Eager for signs from heaven, they are convinced that apocalyptic times are at hand. They look upon those who do not believe in these things as rationalists and unbelievers, or as blind men who do not wish to see the signs of the times and whose distracted minds refuse to accept the designs of God. 1p5
That there should be excessive reactions against such a situation is very understandable. There are Christians who refuse all credence to revelations. For them all revelations, or practically all, came to an end with the death of the last Apostle. All later manifestations appear to them as no more than illusions and frauds, the machinations of man or of the devil. Those who know something of the power of hallucination or of hysteria, the latent forces of the unconscious, are apt to think in these terms ... How many fanatics are there who, through curiosity, through the need to emerge from their spiritual dryness or because of their social isolation, believe that they hear voices from the next world while all the time they are merely talking to themselves! 1p6
10.7: The Right Not To Make Use of Revelations
In order to defend oneself against all the abuses to which revelations are exposed, there is one radical method to adopt - to ignore revelations completely. We have the Gospels and the Church, the Faith and the sacraments, and these are sufficient to raise Christian life to the sanctity desired by God. 1p259 etc.
At all events, provided that the Christian retains the respect due to the authority which has pronounced upon a revelation, he has, generally speaking, the right to refuse to accept it. Anyone who does this for good reasons and in a spirit of humility need not fear a refusal of grace. It is properly one of the essential characteristics of particular revelations that they are not addressed at once to all and to each of the faithful.
St. John of the Cross expressed himself categorically upon this point: "Nothing is to be believed in a supernatural way, save only that which is the teaching of Christ made man, as I say, and of His ministers, who are men." 1p259
10.8: The Usefulness of Belief in Revelations
Here is the content of a quotation from the Mystical Doctor: "And so we must now be guided in all things by the law of Christ made man, and by that of His Church, and of His ministers, in a human and visible manner, and by these means we must remedy our spiritual weaknesses and ignorances, since in these means we shall find abundant medicine for them all. If we leave this path, we are guilty not only of curiosity, but of great audacity." 1p260 etc.
Must we conclude from this that all those who believe in Lourdes, for example, are curious and audacious? No. The Doctor of Carmel would not allow such a conclusion. He is thinking of the personal revelations, not approved, of mystics. Here is a doctrine which we find in ‘The Ascent of Mount Cannel' (book II, chap. XVII): God sanctifies man according to his nature. He begins with what is the least elevated and the most exterior - the senses. He perfects them by supernatural communications. By this means the senses are greatly confirmed in virtue and withdrawn from their inclination to evil. The supernatural visions which God is accustomed to give afterward to a soul which is well disposed, enlighten the senses, spiritualize them and produce great fruits in the spirit.
But if this is the case, the question arises: Should one, because of the danger of abuses, refuse means of such benefit for the Christian life? On the contrary. We are invited to profit by these fruits, for it is normal to use all means which favor our ascent toward God.
When the Church approves revelations, when she grants privileges and indulgences to the devotions connected with them, when delegates of the Sovereign Pontiff, cardinals and numerous bishops go in pilgrimage to the places of these apparitions, how could we not see in all this an invitation to make use of these revelations in order to receive the fruits of which we spoke earlier? 1p260
But, as pointed out earlier, there may be certain cases where there is an obligation to believe in revelations. The saints testify to us that there are revelations which present themselves with so much clarity that it would be impossible not to believe in them.
"Theologians admit, moreover, that in particular circumstances, for example, when revelations present the visionaries with clear evidence of their effects, the visionaries are obliged to believe in them. Some theologians even think that an act of theological faith is involved.
But apart from these particular cases, the following must be considered as a guiding principle. The recipients of revelations may be called upon - even obliged - to believe according to the tenor of the revelation. That others may have the right, even the duty, to reject them may be so, but for the recipients it is another matter. Otherwise why would God make revelations? Was not Zachary punished because he hesitated to accept what the angel said to him? The Lord reproached the Apostles for not having believed the testimonies of the women who recounted their vision of His resurrection (Mk 16:14). 1p261
One could apply to all apparitions or visions what Bishop Ginoulhiac of Grenoble said in his pastoral of November, 1854: "La Salette is not a new doctrine, it is a new grace; it is not a new teaching ... it is an additional admonition."
Now an admonition is given in order that it may be believed and obeyed. The only question is to know to whom it is addressed. No one can oblige us to accept a new doctrine to be added to the teaching of the Church. But I, in my particular situation, may be obliged to accept a grace which is presented under pain of losing the friendship of God.
We are at this point entering into the mystery of vocation. Within the domains of the Faith and of the Law different vocations are to be found. Every Christian should live his vocation in his own way. Should a particular Christian refuse to follow the path laid down for him within the guidelines of obedience of lawful superiors - which from the general point of view is a detail - he may endanger his eternal life. Speaking of these personal matters, St. Paul says: "For if I preach the gospel, it is no glory to me, for a necessity lies upon me: for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel" (lCor 9:16). 1p262
10.9: The Fruitful Use of Revelations
Those whose only knowledge of the revelations is through the visionary will derive all the profit from the revelations by using them prudently. It is not good to want to know about as many revelations as possible and to restrict one's spiritual reading to books on revelations received through apparitions or visions. It is very much to be recommended, upon two conditions, that those who are leading a sluggish Christian life should make use of one or other particular revelation. The conditions are that they approach their content by the light of the great Christian sources and that they refer to the evangelical law when there is a question of giving status to acts demanded by a revelation. 1p265
It is through the realization of these conditions that the use of revelations is proved to be fruitful. In other words, the criterion of the abuse or the fruitful use of revelations is to be found in the docility with which one accepts the directives of the Church.
If someone, for example, goes to Lourdes solely to satisfy some vague interior religious sentiment, he will end up with those "crowds of the faithful" referred to in such strong terms in the article "Saite Cristiani" in the 'Osservatore Romano' of February 2, 1951. This article speaks of those crowds of the faithful who betake themselves to places of presumed visions and miracles and at the same time abandon the Church, its sacraments and its preaching! 1p266
It is quite different with a person who makes this pilgrimage with the intention of finding God in a place where He has strikingly manifested Himself in a manner less ordinary than in the pilgrim's own parish. In this place the pilgrim goes to confession, or makes a better confession; because he is the witness of an immense movement of faith, he is better able to grasp the meaning and reality of the Eucharist and the mystery of the Cross. The apparition of the Blessed Virgin, and still more the personality of the visionary, Bernadette, pass into the background of his consciousness. It is indeed a particular revelation of Mary which draws him hither; but once drawn, he discovers, through her, the Church and in the Church, God, the infinitely Merciful. This is the best use of revelations which could possibly be desired. 1p266
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Ch. X: Proper Attitude Toward PR