IN the over 900 writings on this website, I have mentioned Medjugorje relatively few times. I have not ignored it, as some wish me to, for the simple fact that I would be acting contrary to Sacred Scripture which commands us not to despise, but test prophecy.1 In that regard, after 33 years, Rome has intervened several times to prevent this alleged apparition site from being shut down, even going so far as to take authority for the authenticity of the apparitions away from the local bishop and into the hands of the Vatican and her commissions, and ultimately the Pope himself. Neither can one ignore, without a certain intellectual dishonesty, the numerous statements from not only cardinals and bishops, but from St. John Paul II himself that were positive, if not outright celebratory of this unofficial Marian shrine (see Medjugorje: Just the Facts Ma’am. Pope Francis has yet to make a public pronouncement, but is known to have allowed the seers of Medjugorje to speak in his jurisdiction while he was a Cardinal.)
While I’ve shared my own experiences of Medjugorje in the past (see That Medjugorje) as well as a powerful encounter of Divine Mercy there (see Miracle of Mercy), today I am going to speak to those who want to see Medjugorje shut down and mothballed.
What are you thinking?
I ask this question with respect, since I know of good and devoted Catholics who nonetheless believe Medjugorje to be a hoax. So let me say straight out: my faith is not hinging on whether the Vatican approves or disapproves of Medjugorje. Whatever the Holy Father decides, I will abide by. In fact, neither is my faith based on the approved apparitions of Fatima, or Lourdes, or Guadalupe or any other “prophetic revelation.” My faith and my life is based on Jesus Christ and His infallible, immutable Word as revealed to us through the Apostles and resident today in its fullness in the Catholic Church (but is, in fact, supported by such prophetic revelations). That is the rock of my faith.2
But what is the purpose of this faith, brothers and sisters? What is the purpose of this Revelation handed on to us some 2000 years later? It is to make disciples of the nations. It is to save souls from eternal damnation.
For eight years, I have had the often painful task of standing upon the rampart and watching the approaching Storm across a spiritual landscape that is mostly barren and parched. I have gaped into the mouth of evil and its machinations to the point where, only by God’s grace, have I not despaired. Upon this landscape, I have had the privilege of meeting little oases of grace—men and women who, despite the apostasy around them, have remained faithful in their lives, their marriages, their ministries, and apostolates.
And then there is this massive oasis, comparable in size to no other, called Medjugorje. To this singular place alone come millions of pilgrims each year. And from this single place have come thousands upon thousands of conversions, hundreds of documented physical healings, and countless vocations. Everywhere I go, whether it’s in Canada, the U.S., or abroad, I constantly run into people whose ministries were conceived in Medjugorje. Some of the most anointed, faithful, and humble priests I know have quietly acknowledged to me that they received their calling in or through Medjugorje. Cardinal Schönborn went as far as to admit that he would lose half his seminarians were it not for Medjugorje.3
These are what we call “fruits” in the Church. For Jesus said,
Either declare the tree good and its fruit is good, or declare the tree rotten and its fruit is rotten, for a tree is known by its fruit. (Matt 12:23)
And yet, I hear Catholics repeat that, somehow, this Scripture does not apply to Medjugorje. And I am left with my mouth hanging open, silently asking the question: What are you thinking?
As an evangelist in the Church for nearly 20 years now, I have prayed and begged the Lord to bring about conversion and repentance wherever He sends me. I have stood in nearly empty churches preaching the Gospel to parishes that are practically on life support. I have walked past their confessionals-turned-broom-closets and stood at the back as mostly white-haired congregations mumble their way through a Liturgy that is apparently no longer relevant to people my age. Indeed, I’m in my forties, and my generation has practically disappeared from nearly every one of the hundreds of parishes I have visited around the world.
…And then I see in Medjugorje line-ups of young and old to the confessional. Over-crowded Masses that happen on the hour all day long. Pilgrims climbing mountains barefoot, ascending in tears, often descending in peace and joy. And I ask myself, “My God, isn’t this what we pray for, hope for, long for in our own parishes?” We are living at a time when heresy has nearly decimated the Church in the West, when errant theology and secularism in many places continues to spread like cancer, and compromise (in the name of “tolerance”) has been held up as a cardinal virtue… And then I listen to people actively campaigning against Medjugorje, and I ask myself again: What are they thinking? What exactly are they looking for if not the very fruits of Medjugorje? “It’s a deception,” they say. Well, sure, we have to wait and see what Rome has to say about it (though after 33 years, it’s clear that the Vatican has been in no hurry). But if it is a deception, all I can say is that I hope the devil comes and starts it in my parish! Let Rome take its time. Let the “deception” continue to spread.
Of course, I’m being a bit facetious. But I believe this is precisely what St. Paul meant when he said, “Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good.”4
I’m thinking right now of a friend, the powerful missionary Fr. Don Calloway. As a youth, he fried his brain on drugs. He was led out of Japan literally in chains. He had zero understanding of Catholicism. Then one night, he picked up a book of the messages of Medjugorje. As he read them, something began to change him. He sensed Our Lady’s presence, was physically healed (and physically transformed) and infused with an understanding of Catholic truths at the first Mass he attended. Now, I mention this because I’ve heard the argument that, if Medjugorje is a deception—that if the Vatican rules against it—millions will be dragged into apostasy.
The most noticeable, most impressive fruit of Medjugorje is how souls have returned to love and grow in faithfulness to their Catholic heritage, including a renewed obedience to the Holy Father. Medjugorje, is in fact, an antidote to apostasy. As Fr. Don said, what happened to him happened—but he will adhere to whatever the Vatican decides. There will always be those, of course, who will rebel against the Vatican in such a case. There might be the few who “leave the Church”, right alongside the “traditionalists” and others who have sometimes lacked the humility and trust to stand by the sometimes difficult decisions of the hierarchy that, nonetheless, need to be heeded. In those cases where people genuinely apostasize, however, I would not blame the Church nor Medjugorje, but the formation of that person.
I watched an interview lately that railed against Medjugorje in what amounted to gossip, an attack on trivialities and unsubstantiated claims.5 As I wrote in Prophecy Properly Understood, people often attack mysticism because they simply don’t understand it. They expect seers to be perfect, their theology impeccable, an apparition site un-impeachable. But not as much is expected even of canonized saints:
Conforming to prudence and sacred accuracy, people cannot deal with private revelations as if they were canonical books or decrees of the Holy See… For example, who could ratify in full all the visions of Catherine Emmerich and St. Brigitte, which show evident discrepancies? —St. Hannibal, in a letter to
Fr. Peter Bergamaschi who had published all the unedited writings of
Benedictine mystic, St. M. Cecilia; Newsletter, Missionaries of the Holy Trinity, January-May 2014
“But it’s a circus there,” some object, “all those little shops, restaurants, new hotels, etc.” Have you ever been to the Vatican lately? You cannot get to St. Peter’s Square without passing by strings of souvenir shops, beggars, rip-off artists, and cart after cart of meaningless “holy” trinkets. If that is our standard for judging the authenticity of a site, then St. Peter’s really is the seat of Antichrist. But of course, the reasonable response is to recognize that, wherever large crowds gather frequently, services are needed, and pilgrims themselves are the ones who fuel the souvenir business. Such is the case at Fatima and Lourdes as well.
As I mentioned recently in The Great Confusion, the central message of Medjugorje has been consisently in harmony with Church teaching.6 And the alleged seers have obediently and consistently preached it: Prayer, Scripture, Confession, Fasting, and the Eucharist are the reoccurring themes that are not only spoken, but witnessed there.
But there is another message that has come out of Medjugorje, and it is indeed false. It’s time this story was told.
In my travels, I met a renowned journalist (who asked to remain anonymous) who shared with me his first-hand knowledge of events that unfolded in the mid-1990s. An American multi-millionaire from California, whom he personally knew, began a tenacious campaign to discredit Medjugorje and other alleged Marian apparitions because his wife, who was devoted to such, had left him (for mental abuse). He vowed to destroy Medjugorje if she didn’t come back, even though he’d been there numerous times and believed it. He spent millions doing just that—hiring camera crews from England to make documentaries defaming Medjugorje, sending tens of thousands of letters (to places like The Wanderer), even barging into Cardinal Ratzinger’s office! He spread all kinds of trash—stuff you now hear rehashed and rehashed again… stuff that apparently influenced the Bishop of Mostar as well (in whose diocese is Medjugorje). The millionaire caused quite a bit of damage before finally running out of money and finding himself on the wrong side of the law… Bottom line, the journalist recounted, this man who was possibly mentally ill or even possessed did a remarkable job influencing others against Medjugorje. He loosely estimated that 90% of the anti-Medjugorje material out there came as a result of this disturbed soul.
THE REAL DECEPTION?
If I had any serious concerns about a “Medjugorje deception”, it would be how the forces of darkness might in fact try to mimic an apparition through technology. Indeed, I heard a retired U.S. General recently admit that technology exists to project large images onto the sky. More disturbing, though, are the words of Benjamine Creme who promotes “Lord Matreya,” a man who claims to be the ‘Christ returned… the long-awaited Messiah.’7 Creme says that, among the signs coming from Matreya and the new age Masters…
He has created millions of phenomena, miracles, which now daily bedazzle all those who come in contact with them. The visions of the Madonna, which for example appear to the children at Medjugorje every evening and give them secrets, similar visions which have occurred in many countries, wherever there are Christian groups around the world. Statues which weep real tears and blood. The statues which open their eyes and close them again. —share-international.org
Satan is the Great Mimicker. He is not anti-Christ in the sense of opposite but of a distortion or flawed copy of the authentic. Here, the words of Jesus come to mind:
False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect. (Matt 24:24)
If in fact Medjugorje is an authentic apparition site, I do not believe it will be long before the Hour of Medjugorje is upon us—when the alleged secrets that the seers have kept silent all these years are revealed to the world. Many cannot believe that Our Lady would continue to give monthly messages to the world there… but when I look at the world, I cannot believe that she wouldn’t.
So, am I declaring Medjugorje to be a true apparition? I have about as much authority to declare it true as its detractors do to declare it false. There is a stunning shortfall of humility in this regard, it seems. If the Vatican still remains open to the phenomenon, who am I to supercede their judgment after years of investigation, scientific experiments, interviews, and fielding testimonies? I think it is fair game for anyone to offer their opinion that this or that tree is bearing good or rotten fruit. But a certain humility is necessary either way when it comes to something of this stature in judging the root of the tree:
For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.(Acts 5:38-39)
Did Jesus promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against Medjugorje? No, He said against His Church. And so while I celebrate and thank Heaven for the tremendous gift of saved souls continuing to stream out of Medjugorje, I also realize how fickle and fallen humanity is. Indeed, every apparition has its fanatics, like every other movement and organization in the Church. People are people. But when we are living in a time when leaders can barely keep their prayer groups together, youth groups are sputtering, parishes are aging (except for the immigrants that prop them up) and apostasy has spread everywhere… I’m going to thank God for those signs of hope that do exist and are bringing about genuine conversion, rather than find ways to fault and tear them down because they don’t suit my “spirituality” or “intellectualism.” It’s time Catholics stop panicking over prophecy and their prophets and mature in their prayer life. Then they will need to rely less and less upon external phenomena, and likewise, learn to receive it for the gift it is. And it is a gift that we need today more than ever…
Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy… For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. (1 Cor 14:1, 31)
…prophecy in the biblical sense does not mean to predict the future but to explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future. —Cardinal Ratzinger (POPE BENEDICT XVI), Message of Fatima, Theological Commentary, http://www.vatican.va