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Catholic Spiritual Direction

What does the Church say about private revelations? – Part II of II

June 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Discernment, Fr. Bartunek, Private Revelation

Dear Father John, I understand that we need to defer to the judgment of the Church on matters of private revelations. It only stands to reason that the Church has the wisdom of thousands of years behind it and is very capable of guiding us in these cases. Even so, I feel drawn to dig deeper into Medjugorje and even what I have read about Garabandal. Is this instinct wrong or harmful to my faith? Surely there were people who believed and were totally committed to the reality of Fatima before it was officially approved. I am not asking if you agree with what is alleged to have happened in these places, but what are wise guidelines I might use as I evaluate these and other private revelations and whether or not I might adopt any specific devotional practices related to them? I might also say that I am completely committed to submit to the magisterial directives on these kinds of things. Thanks for your help.

In our first post, we considered briefly two spiritual principles in helping to answer the question: the workings of the Holy Spirit and how the Church views such revelations and devotions.

What Should You Do?

Having briefly considered these two principles – the Church is always young and alive and sending out new branches of devotion and evangelization, and the Holy Spirit will never contradict himself – we can now venture to answer your question.

You are feeling drawn to “dig deeper” into some relatively new Marian devotions. How do you know if this is from the Holy Spirit, and if it is from the Holy Spirit, how can  you know how far to go in your involvement with devotions that have not been officially approved (or disapproved) by the Magisterium?

In the first place, I would encourage you to read our earlier post on the discernment of spirits. But I would say you can look at two indicators to see whether this desire is from God, or whether it is simply a distracting curiosity. I mention these indicators in your case, though I can imagine other cases in which the indicators would be different.

Check Two Indicators

The first indicator would be to examine your own conscience to see if you are currently living the life of grace – regularly receiving the sacraments, engaging in mental prayer on a regular basis, doing spiritual reading frequently, overcoming habitual sin, and growing in the virtues of patience, charity, and mercy. If not, then I would recommend focusing on those bread-and-butter spiritual disciplines (and maybe finding a spiritual director to help you) before launching out into other devotions. The second indicator would have to do with the desire you are experiencing to “dig deeper.” If you have been experiencing this desire in a quiet but strong way over an extended period of time, then you should probably act on it.

But how deep should you dig? How far should you go? As long as your interest bolsters and fosters in your heart and mind the fundamental Christian virtues of faith, humility, charity, and obedience (to God’s will as expressed by the Commandments, the duties of your state in life, and the teachings and discipline of the Church), continue to develop it. But if you find yourself becoming obsessed, putting more emphasis on the private revelations than the Church’s public and universal teachings and means of spiritual growth, and indelicately (and disrespectfully) pressuring other people into trying to jump on your new found bandwagon, then you will need to pull back and reevaluate.

Guideposts to Stay on Track

The Catechism summarizes the main reference points that we all need to keep in mind when dealing with new, private revelations, and I would encourage you to keep this number (CCC #67) in mind:

Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the “sensus fidelium” knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church. Christian faith cannot accept “revelations” that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such “revelations.”

For Further Reading

For further reading you may find useful this book by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, A Still Small Voice. And, since your inquiry mentioned Marian apparitions explicitly, you may find this short essay of mine interesting as well: Straight Talk about Marian Apparitions.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

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  • New Name

     hank you Father John.

    Great article and great essay, too…and very well said.  I note the essay was published last month.  Was this written for a particular publication?  If so, which one?  I noticed it is on the ISSUU site, which I was not familiar with before.

    • New Name

       Sorry for the typo.  It should have read, “Thank you Father John.”

  • judeen

    scripture talks about not to run here and there ,, that God is with us..
            yet visiting shrines seems to touch the heart… it is our faith … needs to grow closer to God.. other wise it is just a place… with a story behind it..    to dig deeper into our lives our conchience…. and our past… to get our selves right with God … no matter what appriarition or saintly expereince… it should lead us to God… not the saint or even mary.. always to God.

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  • LAMom

    Thank you for organizing this book club!

    The title alone of this book grabbed my attention. We can’t hope to win the spiritual battle unless we prepare by putting on the full armor of God. This book looks like it will help us to do just that.

  • claire

    We love our parents by being obedient to their, doing what they ask of us with joyful heart. Jesus taught us how to love God by lived in The Word. “The Word was made flesh and dwelled among men.” Our flesh must live the Wrod we speak in our dailyb prayers as wel as during the holybSacrifice of the mass. Our Love to Our Lord and God is to obey His Commandments and live them cherrifully by our flesh until eternality! Jesus obediently carried His Cross for us by the Wrod He has spoken. We must do the samen~ He taught us how to love by first paved the Way for us to follow.

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