Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Archbishop orders "visionary" to cease and desist

I only caught up to this story this morning although it is a few days old. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Baltimore, Maryland, has ordered a lay Catholic who has claimed to speak to the Virgin Mary to stop spreading any alleged "messages" from her. Gianna Talone Sullivan of Fairfield, Pennsylvania, has claimed to have spoken to Mary on a regular basis and disseminated her "prophecies" at least once a month. By contrast, a group in Emmitsburg, Maryland has accused Sullivan of running a cult within the church. Things came to a head a few months ago when Sullivan said that Mary said a "celestial body" was headed towards the earth and would wipe out 60 to 70 percent of the population.

This reminds me of something that's going on around this part of the world. At a local parish which is attached to a monastery there is a 24-hour chapel and for the last couple of years a local person has claimed to be seeing Mary in the chapel around the 25th of each month and posting the "message" disseminated on the front door. While I do go to that chapel every so often to meditate and just mull things over, I have to admit I roll my eyes if I see a "message" attached to the door to the chapel. I'm wondering why the local bishop here hasn't paid attention to this -- he ought to.

While I am a Roman Catholic, I have always been at the very least skeptical about all the purported apparitions of the Virgin Mary on and off for the last nearly 2000 beginning with an appearance to St. James the Great in the year 39 -- but especially the number of visions gaining in intensity over the last 160 or so, most notably beginning with her claimed appearance to Mélanie Calvet and Maximin Giraud in La Salette, France in 1846.

My skepticism lies in two basic biblical principles.

First, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to perform a sign to prove he was the Messiah, he said the only sign they would see would be the miracle of Jonah (Matthew 12:38-40). If Jesus declined to perform cosmic disturbances, how can one reasonably believe that the Virgin Mary would do such including the "spinning of the sun" in Fatima in 1917?

Second, St. Paul warned that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) -- and by extension, dole out false prophecies. How can one discern if the "messages" are genuine? Put it another way: If people think what they're seeing is the Virgin Mary, they'll believe anything she says; what if the prophecies or sermons being offered are themselves dangerous?

Since everything that was revealed to us came to the Scriptures, the Church's position has been that a private revelation can only emphasize revealed revelation, it can never add to it. Furthermore while the Church may itself confirm the veracity of an appearance it has never required its members to actually accept the vision as a doctrine of faith. In the absence of a smoking gun per se I choose to remain skeptical but will not ridicule those who choose to believe in their veracity.

After decades of taking pilgrims' claims of apparitions at face value, it's good to see the Church is starting to clamp down and take such claims with more than an askance glance. For most of us Catholics, devotion to the Virgin Mary is important but it's not key. We are told, as other Christians, to worship God alone; and the reports of appearances by Mary sometimes lead people to worship the mother of Jesus -- a very heretical practice -- rather than merely venerating her.

I have on many occasions criticized the distortions of televangelists and will continue to do so. I will be equally critical of those who claim they know what the Virgin Mary said but probably don't. For myself, I choose to follow the Lord in His walk. I admit I trip a lot, but that's the path I follow.

I conclude by asking, why would Sullivan suddenly decide to change the post box of her foundation from Emmitsburg to Fairfield thus changing the diocesan jurisdiction for this matter from Baltimore to Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania? One can only conclude a desire to continue the charade. While I normally support local control for local matters, can it not be argued that this is a case where the national church or even the Holy See needs to put a stop to this nonsense once and for all?

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