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Discerning Alleged Supernatural Events


Apparitions, locutions, miracles, miraculous healings, strange photos, visions, we hear of these events happening in every corner of the world. Are these all and truly heavenly manifestations as is alleged by those who claim to have been touched by the grace of God? The Catholic Church considers very few of such claims as being worthy of belief. The webpage, "Is it Catholic," reviews some of these claims and provides a Roman Catholic view as to the truth or the falsehood of some of these claims.

Alleged heavenly manifestations that are considered worthy of credibility normally meet certain criteria. This webpage will list some of them and provide the readers with a tool to assist them with the discerning (from the Greek, "to separate out") of the spirits.

"Discernment is a gift or charism (a "free gift of grace for service") that provides an inner certitude of God's presence or absence. It is also a learned process that focuses the light of Catholic teaching, Catholic faith, and Catholic love onto a specific spiritual message or experience. The process of discernment, finally, must be exercised by individual believers, by the hierarchy, and by the entire Christian community."

(Extracted from "Catholic Digest," September 1994, Page 95, "Did Mary Really Appear?" by John J. Boucher.)

Note: For the purpose of this writing, the person who is alleged to be experiencing a profound spiritual experience, be it a healer, a locutionist, a seer or a visionary, all shall be referred to as a "mystic." A "mystic" is defined as one who professes to undergo a profound spiritual experience.


1. Church Authority

  1. Within the hierarchy of the Church, discernment involves three stages. First of all, the mystic must be submitted to a SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR. In time, as it becomes necessary, the mystic must be submitted to the local BISHOP who may appoint a special Commission to review the validity of the alleged spiritual manifestations. Finally, at the Vatican level, the CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH makes the final decision on the matter.
  2. Regarding these three stages, three questions should be considered:
  • Is the mystic WILLING to submit to the final judgment of the Church?
  • Is the mystic COOPERATIVE with the Church investigation?
  • Is the mystic OBEDIENT to the final Proclamation of the Church?
  1. When a mystic sets himself apart from the investigation of the Church or rejects the final Proclamation of the Church, the alleged spiritual manifestations associated with the mystic are NOT of God.

2. Church Doctrines

  1. Without exception, private revelations MUST be FREE of ERRORS of present Church Doctrines. If a private revelation contradicts Catholic dogma, it MUST be rejected.
  2. When a spiritual or theological doctrine arises from a private revelation, such MUST be free of error.
  3. An error in doctrine CANNOT be blamed on God, the Blessed Virgin Mary or a Saint.
  4. When reference is made to be free of errors of Church Doctrines, this means that the private revelation must not oppose the teachings of the Catholic Church in its Church Councils, its Canon Laws, the Catechism and the Holy Bible as interpreted by the Catholic Church.

3. Event

  1. Regarding the spiritual manifestation, it must be asked if it is the 'FIRST' event of its kind to take place in the community? Fatima, Lourdes, these were all classified as 'first' events. Following a first 'event,' there is a tendency to rise many false claims. (These are called copy-cat events.)
  2. More CREDIBILITY can be given to a 'FIRST' spiritual manifestation than a 'second' or 'third.'

4. Fruits

  1. By fruits, it is meant, what happened following the claimed apparitions, messages or visions? The fruits of the Spirit of Christ should be manifesting themselves in the MYSTIC and in the COMMUNITY.
  2. In an genuine spiritual manifestation, HEALTHY religious devotion and spiritual fruits MUST result, with no evidence of collective irrational outcry or activity.
  3. Are the effects of the spiritual manifestation on the people of good or bad fruit? Genuine spiritual manifestation bring people CLOSER to Jesus and strengthen their desire to SERVE others.
  4. The spiritual director should be able to observe a GROWTH in FAITH, in PRAYER LIFE and in the RECEIVING of the CHURCH SACRAMENTS.

    At the same time, it should be noted that a growth in the receiving of the Church Sacraments does not authenticate an alleged spiritual manifestation. It authenticates that the grace of God is at work in the individuals.
  5. Is the overall private revelation SIMPLE in nature? Can the average faithful grasp it? Does it require reading books and books of private revelations that are unclear (and sometimes contradictory) in themselves?
  6. In cases of private revelations, do they bring a PEACE of mind? Or are they very disturbing? Consideration should be given to the difference between a loving God who disciplines His children by punishing the world for its evil, therefore allowing certain events to happen versus private revelations that prophesies the end of the world.
  7. Does the spiritual manifestation bring about a greater KNOWLEDGE and UNDERSTANDING of the public revelation that was completed in Jesus Christ? While no private revelation can claim to surpass or correct the revelation given to us by Jesus Christ, they can assist us in our spiritual growth towards a better understanding of what we have received through Christ.

5. Interpretation

  1. Is the mystic publicly giving his OWN INTERPRETATION of the privates revelations or visions? There is a great danger in this since even the saints have been known to misinterpret their own visions. While the personal opinion of the mystic does not discredit the private revelation in itself, one should question as to why the mystic seeks public recognition.

6. Lives of Jesus and Mary

  1. Do the private revelations contain details about the LIFE of JESUS or MARY? A Spiritual Director and the faithful should be skeptical of such claims. History tells us that even the Saints provided contradictory details regarding the lives of Jesus and Mary, they often interpreting symbols as facts.


  1. While the section above on the "Fruits" is directed towards the public at large, this section is more concerned with the alleged MYSTIC.
  2. Resulting from the spiritual manifestation, has the mystic become more GOD-CENTERED or SELF-CENTERED? Does the mystic claim with absolute certainty that all his private revelations are divinely inspired? If so, this is a danger sign.
  3. Can SIMPLICITY of the person be observed? Is the person becoming detached from worldly possessions versus one who is accumulating wealth or being adorned with jewelry? (Some female alleged mystics wear a ring on just about every finger.) In a true spiritual manifestation, the mystic is in the world, but not of the world. As such, he becomes detached to the world.
  4. In true spiritual manifestations, the mystic is HUMBLE. He does not boast of being favoured by God. He feels unworthy of such a grace, often asking why God would choose him, a sinner, rather than someone else who is more holy. Nor does he set himself apart as being a 'chosen one,' a 'privileged one,' an 'Apostle of the End Times,' a 'true Catholic,' or other glorious titles that belittles the other members of the community of faithful. In the eyes of God, all are equal.
  5. In a genuine spiritual manifestation, the mystic is left with a sense of AWED at the greatness of God and/or what has been revealed. He may or may not fully understand it, will reflect upon it, seek greater knowledge and understanding, all for the purpose of personal spiritual growth.
  6. Is the mystic PSYCHOLOGICALLY balanced? Some people have neurotic or psychotic disorder that lead to hearing and seeing things that result from the disorder of their own imaginations or minds.
  7. Is the mystic HONEST? When asked to relate the spiritual manifestation, do the facts change? Are facts added as time goes by to increase the awesomeness of the spiritual manifestation so it can receive more credibility? While some claim to forget details over time, in a genuine vision, the details are never forgotten, even 25 years later. The soul is marked for life, the spiritual manifestation having left an imprint that can never leave.
  8. Does the mystic have good MORALS? Does he know and understand the difference between right and wrong? Does the content of the spiritual manifestation encourage good morals?
  9. Is the mystic SINCERE? Can he be believed? Does he have anything to gain from sharing the spiritual manifestation?
  10. Does the mystic RESPECT the CHURCH AUTHORITIES? Does he respect his Spiritual Director and the guidance that he receives? Does he respect the manner in which the Church proceeds in determining the validity of the spiritual manifestation or does he find something wrong with the way they are doing it, they not understanding how it should be done... he placing himself above the Church Authorities when it comes to discernment? Is the mystic surrendering everything to the Church Authorities such as in cases of private revelations, setting his pride aside?
  11. Has the impact of the spiritual manifestation left upon the mystic a DEEPER LOVE FOR OTHERS? Is the mystic, by his behaviour, shining as a light in the world, in words and actions? Is the mystic drawn towards doing charitable works that will help others in their worldly and spiritual needs?
  12. Is the mystic LIVING HIS CROSS? Is he persevering in his daily faith, finding the joy and peace of the Lord in the midst of daily trials that may cross his path? Is he striving to grow in the fruit of the Holy Spirit? Is his faith rooted on a solid foundation? Does he accept his cross in thanksgiving?
  13. Is the mystic drawn towards a GREATER KNOWLEDGE and UNDERSTANDING of the CHURCH TEACHING AND DOCTRINES? Is he seeking to enrich his soul through the wealth of such spiritual food?
  14. 7Does the mystic ENJOY BEING A MESSENGER of God? A true mystic does not want to be a prophet of God! He would prefer that God chooses someone else.
  15. Is the mystic under the GUIDANCE of a Spiritual Director? If not, how can he discern the spirits? Has he refused to submit himself under a Spiritual Director?
  16. Has the mystic been NEGLECTING his personal obligation to suddenly become a messenger of God? Does that include neglecting one's family and children to promote private revelations?
  17. Does the mystic believe beyond any doubt that his spiritual experience or private revelations are VALID and divinely inspired? If the mystic is not open to the possibility of spiritual deception, it is likely that the spiritual manifestation or private revelations are not from Heaven.
  18. In cases where the mystic publicly speaks on the subject of his private revelations, is there an ongoing CHANGE IN EMOTIONS, from joy and laughing to tears and crying? This is a sign of a person who is not emotionally balanced. In genuine spiritual manifestations, there may be seen a sudden change in the expression of the mystic when he relates the awesomeness of the spiritual experience, such resulting from being filled awe and the Holy Spirit.
  19. Another factor to consider is the AGE. In most Church approved apparitions and/or spiritual manifestations, such happen to children. This gives more credibility to the spiritual manifestation because a child can accurately relate what was said or seen without fully understanding its meaning. The child then becomes a true messenger of God.

8. Private Messages

  1. Does the mystic UNDERMINE the responsibility and judgment of the Spiritual Director by releasing any of the private revelations to the public prior to the review and approval of the Spiritual Director?
  2. Are a great portion of the private revelations of a DOOMSDAY nature? Over the centuries, many doomsday prophets have come and gone, and nothing has happened!
  3. Are the private revelations traditional in nature, rejecting some of the Vatican II Spirit guided directions regarding communion in the hand, kneeling versus standing during the Consecration, etc...? Such private revelations are normally the alleged mystic's personal desires, the individual having been unable to adjust to the changes in the Catholic Church.
  4. Do the private revelations foretell of a COMING KINGDOM of God on earth? All such teachings are TO BE automatically REJECTED. For the invisible Kingdom of God is spiritual and already on earth.
  5. Do the private revelations contain reference to JESUS REIGNING ON EARTH as King for 1,000 years? The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies such false belief as the antichrist. These messages MUST be rejected without any further need of studying them in detail.
  6. Do the private revelations make a reference to Jesus returning on earth through the means of being BORN AGAIN as a baby? Such messages are to be REJECTED.
  7. Is he content of the private revelations ALREADY AVAILABLE to the public in book format or on the Internet, this creating a possibility that the alleged mystic got the information somewhere else but from Heaven? Many false mystics are copying their alleged private revelations from each other, their content being identical or very similar!
  8. Private revelations that CONDEMN Vatican I, Vatican II, the infallibility of the Pope, are to be REJECTED without the need of further study.
  9. Private revelations that CLAIM a false Pope, a previous Pope having been poisoned or that encourages disobedience to the present Pope or future Popes to create division within the Church, MUST be automatically REJECTED.
  10. Any private revelations that imply that ALL RELIGIONS ARE EQUAL, that each religion is a different way of attaining salvation, or that salvation can be attained in any way other than through the teaching of the Catholic Church, MUST be REJECTED. 

    This includes any NEW DOCTRINES OF SALVATION by either saying "Father" to God the Father, or "Holy Spirit" to the Holy Ghost. No one goes to God unless he goes through Jesus Christ who is the Mediator between God and man.
  11. Any private revelations that imply that the Church SACRAMENTS are NOT NECESSARY for salvation are to be REJECTED.
  12. Any private revelations that discredit the VALIDITY of the Sacred Orders, either of the Bishops or the priests, should be REJECTED.

9. Revelation

  1. Any spiritual manifestation that suggest a NEW revelation that surpasses the public revelation that was completed in Jesus Christ, must be REJECTED. Public Revelation was completed in Jesus Christ and is found in the Bible and Sacred Tradition of the Church. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church # 65-7)
  2. Any spiritual manifestation that claims to be a PUBLIC revelation rather than a personal revelation should be REJECTED.
  3. Any private revelation that suggest it is MANDATORY that the faithful believe it to be SAVED or to be a FAITHFUL Catholic, should be REJECTED.
  4. Any private revelation that suggest that the mystic has been chosen to SAVE THE WORLD, that he will be the only light left, or that salvation depends on him, should be REJECTED.

10. Test of Time

  1. As a general rule, all spiritual manifestation must pass the TEST OF TIME. As such, the Catholic Church is very slow when it comes to approving any such manifestation to ensure that it is of God. Time determines the future of the mystic, the fruit of the manifestation, the public reaction, the validity of miracles if such applies. All these factors must be considered.
  2. It is important to determine the TIME FRAME between when the mystic received the first spiritual manifestation and when the information became public. There is more credibility to someone who had a spiritual manifestation a year ago and who is sharing it with a spiritual director a year later after much reflection than someone who suddenly had a spiritual manifestation and immediately goes public, starts preaching the private revelation, sells books, etc...
  3. On the matter of ongoing spiritual manifestations, a final judgment cannot be made until they come to an END. As a general rule, ongoing apparitions are not approved. The Church authority may indicate that they are spiritual beneficial at this time, but this is not an official recognition of the private revelations, nor a reflection of the private revelations that are received after the statement has been made. In these cases, final judgment normally comes after the death of the mystic.
  4. Most Church approved major apparitions experienced the COPY-CAT syndrome after the fact. Spiritual Directors are warned to beware of spiritual manifestations that could be the result of the mentally ill, those seeking to profit from a true apparition, or Satan seeking to cause confusion.

11. Publicity

  1. It must be determined if the mystic is SEEKING PUBLICITY. By this, it is meant that the mystic has a great zeal to promote the spiritual manifestation, does public speaking, travels, publishes the story about the spiritual manifestations, etc... Beware of these because this is not the trend of authentic heavenly manifestations.

12. Wealth

  1. In spiritual discernment, one must watch out for those who are seeking to make MONEY from the outcome of the spiritual manifestation. In genuine spiritual manifestations, money cannot in any way be a motive involved in the event(s).
  2. In the case of private revelations, one should ask, WHO is profiting from the selling of books? What is more important, sharing God's message or making money from it? When it involves making money, it is not of God.

    A sign of money-makers and false mystics are those who have websites to promote their private revelations. On their websites, you can read VERY LITTLE about their private revelations. What will clearly be visible is that if you want to read the private revelations, you must buy their book(s) which are promoted on the website. These mystics are not God-centered but money-centered. AVOID THEM!
  3. Private revelations that are provided FREE of cost have more credibility than those who sell books or request a minimum donation for material related to the spiritual manifestation. This is especially true when the mystic manages the distribution of the material, or has set up an organization for its distribution, therefore, the 'false' mystic personally gaining from such work, either in fame, power or money.


As can be seen from the above extensive list as a guideline that is far from complete, there are many factors involved in the discernment of the spirits.

Most of today's spiritual manifestations fall on the negative side of the aforementioned list, this placing in question the validity of such alleged manifestations. While it is said that there are presently hundreds of claims of spiritual manifestation that are ongoing throughout the world, of these, only a handful are authentic and will pass the test of time. The others will die off and be forgotten as if they never happened.

Genuine spiritual manifestations are usually not well known and when they do become known, it is not by the power of the mystic, but by the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. If Jesus or the Blessed Virgin Mary wants the Catholic Church to know something, He or she will provide the means to ensure that the knowledge and understanding will come to the attention of the Church. And the fruits of the Spirit of Christ will be there to support to validity of such spiritual manifestations.

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