I have been taken aback by the mail I get on the subject of Medjugorje. The Catholic Church has made no determination on its supernatural authenticity yet. It neither forbids, nor endorses, devotions arising from it. At this point it leaves faithful Catholics free to embrace or ignore it.
I have written before that, until March of 1993, I thought it something of a carnival. I changed my mind simply because my angel told me it is authentic and, in fact, that Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje are manifestations of a single event. I reacted with some skepticism. My angel said, with a chuckle, that Medjugorje is, indeed, encrusted with the barnacles of these times, but I should not dismiss it because it is, nonetheless, authentic. Since I try to always judge things by their fruit, I like to think I would eventually have come to the same conclusion on my own, but it is entirely possible I would never have paid much attention to it at all had I not been directed not to gainsay it.
Even when I did not believe it authentic, I did not begrudge those who did. If I had seen it pulling people away from the faith rather than more deeply into it, I would have taken it seriously and opposed it. But it seemed to have a good and comforting effect on people – and I met few who followed it whose faith was shaken rather than bolstered. Even now, I know many very good Catholics who are dubious about it…and many very good Catholics who are devoted to it. So long as they are docile to the teaching authority of the Church, which says they are free to take comfort in it or ignore it, I am fine with either perspective.
What has startled me about the matter is the vehement stridence of much of the mail I get on it. A few calmly recite their reasons why they are dubious or why they believe, but the great majority are angry, defiant and some, even threatening. Not content with exercising the freedom on the matter that the Church has guaranteed them, they insist that everyone MUST believe precisely as they do or be damned. It is astonishing, but not unprecedented. Most of I Corinthians covers this impulse towards factionalism quite firmly.
I am not going to discuss the various arguments about Medjugorje today, as I am focused on the divisiveness of factionalism, which has nothing to do with faith and everything to do with vanity. In St. Paul’s day, various new Christians tried to form cults around which apostle or charismatic figure they followed. Paul rebuked them for that immediately as I Corinthians opens. At festivals, some ate meat sacrificed to idols with a clean conscience, knowing that the idols were false and so the sacrifice had no effect. Others stayed away from it. Paul was fine with either decision, as he explains in some detail in I Corinthians: 8. What he was not fine with was either trying to impose their will on others on a matter which the apostles had granted Christians freedom. He bluntly condemned efforts to impose a rule the Church had not imposed on the faithful.
Throughout the history of Christianity, there has been an effort on the part of some factions to out-holy everyone else. That instinct usually manifests itself in demands that everyone behave just as they do, or be condemned as insufficiently pious and on the road to perdition.
The Church has been enriched by many of its theologians and scholars. These have often prevented heresies and dissensions from dividing the Church. But sometimes theologians and scholars have become proud, believing they have captured the essence of Christ in the little box which is their minds. With condescension towards lesser mortals, they sometimes patronizingly sneer that the ‘little folks’ mean well but just do not understand the mysteries as they do. They embark on a form of Gnosticism – implicitly telling themselves that Christ is their creation rather than that they are His.
The Church has been enriched by its Bishops, good shepherds who guide the faithful to Christ. But sometimes Bishops have set their sights on the temporal rather than the eternal, believing themselves princes to be honored rather than shepherds to guide. This is how you get a Bishop Cauchon, whose ambition to rise high in earthly councils led him to condemn a great saint, Joan of Arc, to death.
The Church has been blessed with many great evangelists, who spread the word with great zeal, gaining many new converts while enkindling a fire of hope and greater devotion in the faithful. But sometimes evangelists devolve into a cult of personality, careful to make sure their presentations are an encounter with them rather than an encounter with the Living Christ. Their evangelism becomes a parody of itself and fades, as all temporal things must, but leaves some of the faithful feeling betrayed and wondering if truth and goodness are even possible.
Some are marked by their deep, pious and constant devotions and prayers, offered up on behalf of those who suffer and for the whole Church. But sometimes the pious become so taken with their own Herculean efforts that rather than offering it up for all, they set it up as a benchmark by which to judge the piety of others – almost always finding those others wanting. This leads to a Pharisaical pride that eats away at the soul and drives others away.
The animating factor behind such factionalization is the insistence that others must be “like me,” an attitude that sets the self as the benchmark for holiness rather than Christ. It is a false unity they seek, the unity of a foot berating a hand or an eye for not being a foot – “like me.” This in not faith, but vanity. Once again, St. Paul covers it in I Corinthians 12 where he notes that there are many gifts, but one same spirit, then uses the metaphor of the many members of the body, each with different functions, all working in harmony to create a coherent unity. There could be no unity if all members were feet or all were eyes.
Thanks be to God, many of my closest friends and collaborators are very different than me in the way they practice their faith. When praying over someone, I tend to be very brief, making the request, then turning it over to emphasize the need for trust. It has helped many. But two of my friends pray at greater length and in more detail. I have been fortunate to pray with them over some who requested it. I have seen how deeply their longer prayers, 15 to 20 minutes, move and inspire those prayed for. Their prayers emphasize solidarity. It has been a grace for me to watch this and participate in it. Those receiving the prayers get the benefit of both trust and solidarity, each an important pillar of living faith.
There are real dangers rising as this Storm gathers force. Already there rise those who would lure people away from the faith with beguiling arguments and rigor for the sake of rigor. There are those who esteem private revelation more than they esteem Scripture and the Magisterium. They seek to beguile people away from the faith. I have had much private revelation, but if the Church told me through its proper teaching authority I had been deceived, I would immediately hold fast to what the Church teaches – for that is what Christ told me to do, both in Scripture – which is binding – and in private revelation – which is not. A pride of lions rises, seeking whom they may devour. Hold fast to Christ. Hold fast to His Church. Hold fast to the faith. There is no formula other than this. On matters where the Church gives freedom to the faithful, those who seek to rob others of that freedom are doing satan’s work in a vain effort to remake the faith in their own image.
Bringing it back to Medjugorje, you may share full Christian fellowship with those who believe in it and with those who don’t. But if you seek to impose your preference on others and foster division on account of it, you are doing satan’s work and have cast yourself to the lions.
Let none usurp the freedom which is in Christ. Let none pervert the teaching which is of Christ. Let none forget that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. Now let us go forth and bear fruit that will last.