Understanding Medjugorje
Book Review

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Understanding Medjugorje review - ISBN 0955074606

Review by By Dr Mitchell Kalpakgian, which appeared in the 20 August 2009 edition of The Wanderer: www.thewandererpress.com

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As John Paul II reiterated in Fides et Ratio, Christian belief demands both a life of the mind and a life of faith for the fullness of the truth. Just as reason without faith degenerates into cold, skeptical rationalism, faith without reason easily declines to gullibility, naiveté, and illusion. Foley’s book on Medjugorje defends the rational basis of faith, the realm of sound common sense, and the traditional wisdom of the Church in his argument that Medjugorje has created “a misguided quest for ‘signs and wonders’” and developed into “a vast, if captivating religious illusion.

Examining the entire phenomenon of the apparitions from their inception in 1981 to the present, Foley mounts compelling evidence that questions the authenticity of the visions of the seers. The most cogent aspect of his argument contrasts the approved miracles at Fatima and Lourdes with the alleged appearances of the Holy Mother at Medjugorje.

First, Foley cites the significant historical background and cultural milieu of this part of the former Yugoslavia, a place notorious for ethnic violence and “clan vendettas” between Croatians, Serbs, and Muslims that has formed an abnormal Catholic culture prone to war.

Second, the spiritual background of Bosnia-Herzegovina prior to the visions reflected a strong charismatic character that utilized psychological techniques and sensitivity training introduced by Carl Rogers; for example, prayer meetings in which participants were “wandering about with their eyes closed, or alternatively having them open in order to look other participants in the eyes, before confessing their sins (non-sacramentally) to each other.” As Foley notes, charismatic spirituality with its sources in Protestantism is alien to Catholic experience.

Third, the Franciscans who enthusiastically promoted Medjugorje -- Fr. Zovko and Fr. Vlasic -- were most enamored of the charismatic renewal. In short, the volatile political culture of the area and the emotionalism associated with the charismatic renewal did not create an atmosphere of balance between reason and feeling.

Next, Foley examines the characters of the visionaries, contrasting the simple, innocent, humble, poor, or unsophisticated nature of the seers of the approved visions -- the childlike Juan Diego, the humble Catherine Labouré, the poor Bernadette -- with the teenagers subjected to the corrupting influence of Communism and Western popular culture. He concludes that the seers at Medjugorje who absconded to smoke stolen cigarettes and listen to rock music at a site known as a haunt for drugs “were far from ideal candidates as prospective Marian seers.”

Also these youths, some with troubled family backgrounds involving the absence of fathers, did not experience the normal Catholic family life of the children of Fatima. As one neighbor testified to a priest, “In one way or another, the children did not have parental advice or the protection of parents.” The reports of the youth at Medjugorje also presented an image of the Blessed Mother that does not accord with the composure and dignity of the Blessed Virgin recorded at Fatima and Lourdes. The Vision’s hands were trembling, she was laughing, she had no message, and she was covering the baby Jesus.

Thus the author observes the anomaly of “the absence of factors that are normally observed in apparitions which have been accepted by the Church, and secondly the presence of other factors which raise serious doubts as to their authenticity.”

The book closely examines the contents of the visions beginning on June 26, 1981. The strangest occurrence was the fact that the vision of the Holy Mother, who was uncharacteristically not holding a rosary, spoke no message and initiated no conversation. Another oddity was the arbitrary change of location, the visions no longer occurring in the Podbrdo region but in the church because requested by Communist authorities: “In none of the authentic apparitions of the Blessed Virgin has there been any suggestion that their location is in any way subject to human considerations or desires.”

Another peculiarity was the picture of the Blessed Mother submerged in a light that blurred her features. In the apparitions at Rue du Bac and at Lourdes, the appearance of Mary was distinct and separate from the mysterious light rather than gradually emerging from the brightness. At Fatima the children again perceived the apparition instantly and distinctly without the confusion of the Holy Mother arising out of a cloud or mist. This transition from nothing to vague clouds to persons to voices the author compares to “the activities of fortune tellers” and characterizes as “false or suspect images.”

Faith Doesn’t Contradict Reason

Foley then cites the judgment of Bishop Zanic, the local ordinary whose authority carries great weight in these matters of apparitions. In April 1986 the bishop sent his conclusions on Medjugorje to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, deciding that they were not authentic.

Other problems associated with Medjugorje are the contradictions between the tape-recordings that occurred within days of the first apparitions and later recollections on the part of the seers. The fact that the Blessed Mother only answered questions rather than revealed messages from God “is out of line with authentic Marian apparitions where the Blessed Mother has always known exactly what she was doing.” Likewise, the Holy Mother who was reticent in the early visions suddenly produces “a veritable torrent of words” in the later apparitions.

Of course the problem of not only the Holy Mother’s later spate of words but also the 25-year duration of the thousands of visions also casts doubts. Mary appeared three times to Catherine Labouré, four times to Juan Diego, six times to the children at Fatima, and 18 times to Bernadette. “Why after being so sparing of words in the past, to the point of taciturnity, why should Mary suddenly become so expansive and talkative? It just doesn’t make sense.” Faith builds upon reason but does not contradict it.

Foley speculates on the human motives that possibly explain the apparitions. While many eminent priests persist in their belief in the genuine nature of the apparitions, their writings reveal “a fanaticism toward Medjugorje” that epitomizes an excessive personal involvement. In the author’s view the visionaries themselves and Fr. Laurentin, the chief apologist for Medjugorje, lost a sense of detachment and became “entangled” in the perpetuation of the visions because of the great number of pilgrims in attendance and the rise of tourism: “The visions had brought unprecedented prosperity to the area,” “a new influx of wealth into their community.”

Then follows what the author calls “the propaganda offensive” or advertising campaign to keep the events always in the eye and mind of the religious. The popularity of Medjugorje for many originates from the “spiritual vacuum” left in the wake of Vatican II and from an addiction to spiritual experiences, “a ceaseless round of new messages” -- the temptation to believe what they wish to believe regardless of evidence or authority: “Many people get caught up in visions because they have a genuine taste for the supernatural, and, not readily finding it in the Church, are driven to look for it elsewhere.” Thus the craving for supernatural visions corresponds to society’s restlessness and craving for novel experiences. Religious trafficking is hence a plausible explanation for these spiritual phenomena.

Foley quotes from St. John of the Cross’s warning that “among locutions and apparitions there are usually many that come from the Devil,” and he distinguishes between the normative Catholic experience of living by faith rather than by signs and wonders. He cites the Yugoslav Bishops’ Conference Zadar declaration of 1991 that rejects the supernatural content of the apparitions. Bishop Peric, the local bishop to whom Rome always defers in matters related to visions, has noted that of the 33,000 total visions the Church has approved not a single one as bona fide.

Finally, there is the argument that Medjugorje has been a religious distraction that has diverted attention from the profound message of Fatima approved by the Church -- the consecration of Russia to the Most Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the importance of the Five First Saturdays devotion, and the reign of peace the Holy Mother will establish. Given the supernatural role of Fatima in influencing the end of World War II and the collapse of Communism in Russia, the “fruits” of Medjugorje “have been minimal in comparison with the great blessings bestowed on the Church through the message of Fatima.”

An Impressive Challenge

In short, this book views the events at Medjugorje from a comprehensive, historical, objective point of view that avoids the religious enthusiasm and charismatic emotionalism of its advocates. It judges these apparitions vis-à-vis the Church’s approved visions at Rue du Bac, Lourdes, and Fatima and finds the testimonies of the seers unconvincing. God’s signature, style, and handiwork do not appear evident at Medjugorje because of the character and background of the seers, because of the banal nature of the endless messages, because of the commercial dimensions associated with the influx of tourism in the area, and because of the absence of authentic authorization from the local bishops responsible for these investigations.

This is an arresting book that poses an impressive intellectual and religious challenge to those who have never honestly questioned the authentic nature of the events at Medjugorje. Foley’s argument demonstrates that, in John Paul II’s words from Fides et Ratio, “Faith therefore has no fear of reason, but seeks it out and has trust in it. Just as grace builds upon and perfects nature, so faith builds upon and perfects reason.”

Dr. Kalpakgian is a professor of humanities at Wyoming Catholic College

To order the book, please click here

Understanding Medjugorje is Demy Octavo size (8.5 in. x 5.5 in.). It has 23 chapters, 310 pages, and a comprehensive index.

It costs £12.95 / $19.95 / €19.95

ISBN 0955074606

Extracts from the proposed book in PDF format, including the table of contents, introduction, sample chapters and the bibliography, can be seen here ...

To order the book please click here

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