July 17, 2006

A Good Mystery

Even if you aren't that much interested in the subject, Foley's Understanding Medjugorje is turning out to be a page-turner simply because of the inherent desire for an explanation of a mystery.

And Foley's book (contra Medjugorje) is especially interesting because he makes the case that this is not your father's Virgin Mary; this apparition portrays a kindler/gentler almost indecisive Mary. Even something as seemingly innocuous as the Gospa's "Thank you for responding to my call" is something Foley sees as not Mary's character because it turns the tables by suggesting we're doing her a favor. She is more eager to please, it seems, than the Mary of previous apparitions. Certainly the consistency of appearances would show a desire to please, an almost automaton desire. (Foley suggests the very number of appearances limits the chance it is real but as Catholics we believe that the grace of the sacraments occurs in an almost automation-like fashion so I don't see how the frequency matters.) Foley makes an excellent point when he mentions how the relation between the visionaries and the Gospa is one in which the former seem to be taking much of the initiative. At Fatima and Lourdes the Virgin seemed more in control and that seems more in keeping with the reality of the dignity of her station.

Back in the early '90s I considered Medjuorje definitely true and a great gift. There was something very consoling about an on-going apparition, and the constant attention of our Mother seemed like what we needed. If it was not in character with other Marian apparitions I thought this an example of God "talking to us where we're at"; in other words, condescending so that more souls might be saved (i.e. more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar). This was in line with Vatican II's "kindler/gentler" approach (i.e. no anathemnas). Medjugorje seemed a similar attempt to reach out to the world. But Foley is pretty persuasive, and we've seen that spirit of Vatican II's excesses were a bit, shall we say, excessive.

I've only read the first third of the book but it is going to be interesting how he marries the diabolic element with the apparent good fruits of Medjugorje. My theory is that even if the apparition began as demonic, false apparition, when the Charismatics came they brought with them the good fruit.

Ultimately I'm still not sure what to make of Medjugorje. Mark Shea is agnostic on it, and the great Benedict Groeschel is similarly not sure, at least according to Randall Sullivan's book. And Groeschel especially is obviously far more qualified than me to make the call.

Update: Finished this clear and well-written book. At first I was skeptical of Foley's motives, since he's a Fatima patron and the book could be motivated by jealousy over the attention Medjugorje was getting compared to Fatima. (But almost by definition no one is going to wade through five billion messages unless they are to some extent passionately for or against the apparition.) But Foley does something refreshingly rare: he addresses the over side's concerns. He doesn't ignore the "good fruits" as he presents a lawyerly, objective case.

The devastingly effective paragraph is when he shows that Christ asks us to judge the truthfulness of a prophet not by the good that may come out of what they do, but by the fruits of the prophet himself - the seers in this case. Foley alters the focus from whether the apparition has been a force for good to the seers themselves, since when people come to Medjuogorje with open hearts God will not deny them conversional graces. It had been apparent to me for awhile that the seers were not St. Bernadettes or the Sr. Lucias or Juan Diegos, but I wondered whether that was simply the case that they are simply a product of our mediocre age. Of course it's not as though God can't find any Sr. Lucias or St. Bernadettes today; it's not as if there are no saints in our age. But I wondered if God was showing us, through them, that you don't have to be a saint in order to be "capax Dei" or have a vision.

Foley makes another good point when he sees Medjugorje as a warm porch on freezing day. People walking in from the cold appreciate the warmth momentarily but eventually become cold again since it is warm only by comparison. Ultimately they need to come in the house, i.e the Church with the sacramental conduits of grace. Back when I first heard of the apparition, back in the early '90s, I was touched by it. God still cares, I thought. Looking back, perhaps Medjuorje had a role in helping me be more open and attentive to God. His mother was appearing at Medjugorje helped spike my interest in religion, including picking up a certain book the pope wrote...("Crossing the Threshold of Hope")...and the rest was history.

It's interesting how pastoral situations work. I was a beneficiary of a "pastoral solution" in this case. Most bloggers operate completely anti-pastorally; we tell the truth (as we see it!) without much regard for who is listening. If you "can't handle the truth" then...well... The Vatican seems a bit more sympathetic to how harsh truths will be received. But now I'm strongly skeptical of Medjuorje. And I plan on doing a Fatima-inspired First Saturday devotion.

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