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Revelations about Private Revelations:
Church Teaching-Charity, Clarity and Focus

Father John J. Lombardi
Rector, Nation Shrine of the Grotto of Lourdes
Emmitsburg, Maryland

Published in the Grotto's newsletter in 2003

Recently you may have heard or read of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger-head of the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith--affirming last year's report, by Cardinal William Keeler, which judged in the negative, alleged private revelations in Emmitsburg in the last decade. Because there is confusion regarding private revelations today, and a seeming profusion of them, we publish the following points, which may help you and others. The Church seeks to guide souls both thru clarity and charity. The following content is partly based upon the following sources: "A Still Small Voice," by Fr Benedict Groeschel, which is highly readable and helpful; "The Graces of Interior Prayer," by Aug. Poulain; "The Spiritual Life," by Al fred Tanquerrey, and "The Catechism of the Catholic Church".

Q. What is a private revelation?

A. This is any inspired revelation, from God to an individual, outside the "public revelation" of the Church. The means of these private revelations (hereafter "PR") include locutions (inner or audible speaking by God or the Virgin Mary); apparitions (an inner or external vision); or miraculous phenomenon (stigmata, miracles, etc).

Q. Are all private revelations true?

A. No. The Catholic Church does not make pronouncements on all alleged private revelations. In fact, most are not judged "pro" or "con," and for this reason, some persons have used the term "alleged private revelation" to help the faithful know of unofficial PR's.

Q. What is "public revelation"?

A. It is the approved revelation of God in the Bible, ending with the death of St John the Apostle. Every teaching or pronouncement by the Catholic Church after this is based upon Bible facts or principals from it, and the latter is called Sacred Tradition--dogmas and doctrines. The guardian and interpreter of this is the Magisterium ("teacher") of the Church--which is made up of the Pope in union with the worldwide bishops, and inspired by the Holy Spirit leading into all truth (cf. Jn 14:26). This is the essential link we have with Jesus and His teachings for today. All Catholics are required to believe the public revelation of the Church.

Q. Are Catholics required to believe private revelations?

A. Catholics are allowed, even encouraged, to place a "natural faith", in these PR's, but are not required. The Church makes the distinction between natural faith-a trust which we have in other persons, for instance--and supernatural faith--which we place in God and His teachings. Even when PR's are approved they are taught as probable and not indubitable. Pope Pius X said that the Church does not guarantee the truth of facts narrated; she simply does not forbid belief in PR's.

Q. On what basis does the Church judge PR's?

A. The Church, thru the local bishop examines the doctrine of the alleged revelations, the fruits (good works associated with it), and the personal character of persons involved.

Q. What are the basic messages of PR's?

A. Turn away from sin and turn to Him, Jesus the Savior of the World--by praying, fasting, sacrifices, living the Gospel, praying the Rosary, serving others. While each PR has this similar message, each one also has a unique "flavor" to speak within the times and thereby re-inspire the faithful of that period of history.

Q. What are some examples of approved private revelations?

A. Guadalupe, 1521, Mexico City: the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego. Indigenous people there were practicing human sacrifice. The virgin impressed her image on Diego's tilma (a cloak displayed there today), and convinced the local bishop and, later converted some 15 million Indians...Fatima, 1917, in Portugal: where three children saw the Virgin. They were called, and called others, to make heroic fasts and sacrifices; to pray the rosary; and who were shown Hell to prevent people going there; thousands of people "saw the sun dance" in a public miracle… Lourdes, 1858, in France: the Virgin appeared to St Bernadette, and asked her to sacrifice and suffer, and find happiness not on earth but in Heaven.

Q. Why does God give private revelations if He has revealed all essential things in the Bible already?

A. The Catechism says: "Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit: it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries" (#66). God still naturally communicates to inspire the faithful.

Q. What are some dangers regarding "private revelations"?

A. That PR's may become a "Fifth Gospel" or alternative source of belief and piety, either by contradicting or overwhelming the public revelation of God. PR's may unintentionally attract undue emphasis and infatuation toward the miraculous-"signs and wonders," while the basics of the Faith-reading the Bible, receiving the Sacraments, helping the poor, meditation upon lives of the saints goes underemphasized.

Q. How do we know some PR's are untrue?

A. They may include content against the Public Revelation and also the fruits (good works) and persons involved may be questionable.

Q. What are some rulings regarding possible PR's?

A. No formal investigation is made--if at all-- until the local bishop deems it time-and an arduous study ensues. A judgment may be made--that the alleged PR is worthy of devotion or not; if so, then official, public pilgrimages may be made. PR's may be judged by Church as:

  1. Not of supernatural origin;
  2. The PR is questionable and later changed-see Joan of Ark as an example;
  3. or fraudulent (person's are directly misleading people; cf. Magdalena of the Cross, in Groeshchel, p. 45-46). False revelations include people who are, or may be, sincere but misled.

Q. Why are there so many reports today of PR's?

A. The following are possible answers: the Holy Sprit may be very active in these times--as a needed response to lukewarmness... Some persons see and hear of possible PR's and are less shy to report their own... Because of the denigration or denial of the Catholic Faith, a reaction--sometimes legit, sometimes not--ensues. These causes may include: the downplay of the supernatural (i.e..: the need for grace in one's life; public miracles denied of Jesus); desacralization of churches and public ceremonies; the "hijacking" of illegitimate interpretations of doctrines, and of Vatican II (which Pope John Paul has stressed consistently), and the marring of catechetic and contemporary discipleship--the association of the Church too closely with the world.

Q. What is the ruling regarding the alleged PR 's of "Our Lady of Emmitsburg"?

A. The Church ruled, in 2002, thru a commission established by Cardinal Keeler, that there is no evidence of supernatural content or origin to the alleged revelations (in Latin, the formula is: Non constat supernaturalitate), and also that "negative elements" were part of the alleged phenomenon.

Q. What exactly was Cardinal Ratzinger 's recent "statement"?

A. It was affirmation of the already-established report and finding by Cardinal' Keeler's Commission; there was no new substantial content or definitions.

Q. What were some of the "negative elements" regarding the Emmitsburg P R's?

A. They include--doctrinal: the return of Jesus as a child; a questionable coming-reign of chastisement; a supposed universal revelation of everyone's soul before the Second Coming; the possibility of spurring excessive attachment to the supernatural. All these elements are contrary to Catholic Faith and doctrine.

Q. If the Emmitsburg PR 's are not supernatural, than what is their origin? A

. The Church has not defined this.

Q. Many have reported positive benefits-conversions, return to the Faith, good works -so, how could the PR 's not be supernatural?

A. These fruits alone-- although possibly many--do not prove in themselves a supernatural origin. God can, and does, use human, fallible instruments-- (think of priests, esp. after the past two years) and still transmit grace, and produce good works and conversion from questionable origins.

Q. What are some responses to the Emmitsburg ruling(s)?

A. Charity: People should be loving to those involved in any proven or unproven revelations. Charity should both affect and be the outward sign of anyone's discipleship: "Love is patient, love is kind...." (1 Cor. 13). All persons involved should try to overcome grievances, reconcile and be charitable with others. Whenever difficulties exist, as in these times, saints are needed-and saintly actions. Pope Pius' aid of crisis times: "It is no time to be mediocre." Clarity: In Emmitsburg and any disapproved PR's, people should be clear about the ruling and acknowledge the official Church, no matter how difficult. The Church has "spoken"-variously--on this matter, and has clearly defined the situation. While the Church has rarely overturned disapproved PR's in the past, it seems imprudent to await that here. Focus: When discerning any PR's, one should remember the anolgia fidei-the analogy of Faith. This means practicing and believing the total Faith, without making essentials secondary. The analogia fidei includes-faith in God, the Blessed Trinity; love of the sacraments, prayer and adoration; the role of Mary in salvation; meditation upon the Bible and saints; selfless service to the poor; interaction with others, and acknowledgement of legitimate authorities in the Church. We should focus on these essentials, which Catholics anywhere agree upon. Persons of faith should continue good works and an active faith life. Today, we need the clarity of truth to solidly define faith matters, and also the charity of love to help heal hurts. When people focus on the Gospel and the essentials they can overcome much.

Q. What are some guiding principles?

A. (See Groeschel):

  • Rule 1. Keep all claims of revelations in perspective.
  • Rule 2. No private revelation comes directly from God and therefore none can be assumed to be inerrantly true. (Note: This is the all-important principal called subjectivity, which means anyone processing sensate experience receives thru his/her subjective state, personal history, wants and desires, etc, and not purely)..."
  • Rule3. A private revelation by definition is personal and therefore must be carefully applied by those for whom it was meant and only within the limits of ordinary human prudence and never in an unreasonable way or against the teaching of the Church. It must never be considered an infallible guide in any situation.
  • Rule 4. A person who is the recipient of an authentic revelation, even a canonized saint, may indeed make errors in understanding that revelation or in reporting experiences which are not authentic revelations…

Conclusions- Remember: Charity, Clarity and Focus on the essentials..., St John of the Cross, the "Mystical Doctor," quoted in the Catechism, states this important, timeless principle, pertinent to everyone everywhere: Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty of not only foolish behavior but also of offending Him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and living with the desire from some other novelty." One disciple, said it this way: "In essentials, truth; in all things, love."

Read more thoughtful writings by Father Jack

"People who expect the world as it is to end soon
 do a lot of very strange things."

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