(Translated from the German-language Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost.)
For years there has been discussion of the phenomenon of the alleged "Marian apparitions" that took their origin in Medjugorje: Does the Mother of God really appear to the seers who originated in Medjugorje? Or are the experiences parapsychological fruits of the seers' unconscious? Are they a deceptive manipulation or even a trick of evil forces? According to reports, there are plans at the Vatican to have the Medjugorje phenomenon conclusively investigated by a commission. Regina Einig asked the chairman of the German Society for Mariology, professor of dogmatics and patristics at Lugano, Manfred Hauke, about the subject.
A pope’s first encyclical is said to be programmatic, a kind of manifesto of the style that Peter’s successor desires giving to the Church during his pontificate. And how could one not see in the title of Pope Benedict’s document the will to begin from the foundation of Christianity: God is love (1Jn 4:16), so that this humanity ever more divided amid the sea of options proposed by society might be shown the tracks that lead to God.
Benedict concludes his Encyclical with praise for Mary, “Mother of the Lord and mirror of all holiness.” To Mary, who knitted love into every moment of her life, who became the mother of Love, are dedicated the last words of his letter on love. His words are full of grace and tender love for the little woman of Nazareth.
Nowhere in the world has Our Lady ever spoken for such a long time and through so many messages to the people of this earth. This fact alone is so unique that it makes us wonder. The Messages have nothing spectacular nor sensational in them, as we journalists expect and as we are used to in news broadcasting. Many Messages are repetitions, deepening of the same content, offering help to make even the smallest step in faith; they are repeated invitations finally to do and to live what Our Lady already invited us to live. She motivates us again and again to turn to her to learn how to believe, to find Jesus, to find ourselves. All this is not particularly interesting for the demands of a journalist. No wonder, because the Messages are not passing news which seem a sensation today and become "cold coffee" tomorrow, according to the proverb: "There is nothing as old as yesterday's newspaper." The Messages are not like that. They are supports and helps to grow continually and in simplicity.
The request for us to read Holy Scripture can be found four times in the messages of Medjugorje. On October 18, 1984, a message said: "Today I call on you to read the Bible every day in your homes and let it be in a visible place so as always to encourage you to read it and to pray." A later message picks up on this one in a very specific manner: "Every family must pray family prayer and read the Bible!" (Message of February 14, 1985) Two further messages give reasons to why reading Sacred Scripture is so very important: "Pray and read the Sacred Scriptures so that through my coming you discover the message in the Sacred Scriptures for you.", and "Read Sacred Scripture, live it, and pray to understand the signs of the times." (June 25, 1991 and August 25, 1993)
If one inquires about particularly conspicuous signs of hope in today's Church, the new spiritual communities or movements are very often being mentioned. This is certainly justified since, as a whole, they represent an authentic Christian answer to the challenge of the cultural situation of the faith (cp. Medard Kehl SJ, "Communio" - a Paling Vision? In Voices of the Times, Journal no. 7/1997,453).
The Council documents have always stressed the community of the entire People of God in the mission and calling of the Church in the midst of the world. Also the bishops' synods of the last decades have acknowledged the community of the Church as a gift of the Spirit in the multitude of charisms and forms of life: The Calling and Mission of the Laity> (1987), Priestly Formation in Relation to the Present Times (1990) and The Consecrated Life (1994).
While thinking about the theme assigned, the word of John comes to mind: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us -- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." (1 Jn 1:1-3)
Someone said that the problem of the meaning of history is precisely in this, does man know and is he at all aware and is it granted to him to discover the truth about himself while that history is still ongoing. Namely, does history, which offers so many signs of coincidences, so much irrationality, still reveal, in spite of everything, the necessity, which brings along some sort of justification for everything that has happened in the past?
The fact is, without doubt, clear that many prayer groups that have started in the world have been founded by Medjugorje pilgrims. This has happened and is happening at the explicit desire of Our Lady to establish groups. It is difficult to find out the exact number, but there are already thousands of prayer groups.
Medjugorje, in other words, that which is understood when the name of that small parish in Herzegovina is mentioned today, has already for seventeen-years a long and stormy, but above all, an unpredictable history. Because who seventeen years ago could have anticipated that the claim of the children to have seen Our Lady would reach to the furthermost parts of the world, and that the parish of Medjugorje would grow into one of the most distinctive shrines and develop such a dynamic spiritual movement before which no one can any longer remain indifferent.
Pilgrimages are known in all religions. They are an expression of a person who searches for God in places where He has revealed Himself in a special way; where He has offered persons the possibility to feel His presence more easily or with particularly gifted persons, who - through their gifts - have become a special sign of God's presence. This is why there are places of pilgrimage which attract people and where they come in their search to experience God in a new manner, that is, to experience peace, joy, love and hope. With each pilgrimage, a person leaves behind his everyday life, his work, his family, his friends, his security and - longing for a new encounter with God - starts on his journey to places and to people who have proven themselves as "gifted", so as to help him in his new experience with God.
One thing we can do is that each one of us tries as best as he can to live the messages, which the Queen of Peace gives us so patiently and tirelessly. Another thing we can do is to take care that the original message is not being falsified or obscured in the Medjugorje centres and prayer groups. Medjugorje is not just any pious prayer movement. The program of Medjugorje is not simply that of any popular mission, as it is from time to time presented to our communities. It is good to pray, to fast, to go to holy mass, to go to confession regularly, to read Sacred Scriptures. But, if we do not understand that, despite all personal piety, we are dealing here with total peace and conversion, then we have not yet correctly understood the essence of the Medjugorje message.
To love and to be loved is the fundamental and the deepest desire of every man. We do not even need to discuss how important love and acceptance are in the family school of life. Lack of love and acceptance in the family leave deep scars. It is not unheard of that even the newly conceived child feels and knows if it is accepted with love or not. It is known from therapeutic practice, that deep fears, which can follow a person throughout his entire life, are often caused prior to birth, if the father and mother contemplated abortion.
In 1973, there was a stormy discussion among theologians about the significance of Jesus' resurrection and the meaning of speech in the apparitions of the Risen One as the New Testament speaks of them. R. Pesch, a liberal Catholic biblical scholar, provoked that discussion with his assertion that talk about the resurrection is merely "the expression of the believers' recognition of Jesus' eschatological significance, his mission and authority, his legitimation in view of his death." Talk about apparitions would merely be the "legitimation" of the disciples, that is, their determination to proclaim that "significance of Jesus." His Protestant, very moderate colleague, M. Hengel, in his response particularly regrets that in present times visions are made equivalent to hallucinations and continues, "Since the rich mystical tradition of the Church has dried up, at least in our regions, theologians are then no longer in authority for these manifestations, but rather psychiatrists or drug experts. A vision is considered a pathological manifestation" (ThQ 3/1973, p. 255). It was as though it were a prophetic word for what will be shown also in the case of the apparitions in Medjugorje eight years later.
The term "private" revelations has already for a long time become customary in theology. In contrast to it is public revelation. However, public revelation would be the one given in the Bible, and private the one given apart from the Bible. Accordingly, it would be more justifiable to speak of biblical and extra-biblical revelation. Assigning a greater honour and significance to the biblical than to the other has no real reason whatsoever. Because if they are both true, if they both come from God, according to their origin they are both divine and equally valuable. Both, the one and the other, God intends for people and wants them to accept both of them. Otherwise, there would be no reason for him to speak at all. If there may be some justifiable difference between them, it can never be in the sense that one is obligatory and the other is not. They are both obligatory. For every one that has been reached by them and for the one who has attained sufficient reasons and moral security regarding their authenticity, both of them oblige equally.
The position of Medjugorje in the Church is a difficult, disputed subject, an object of confusion and ambiguities, that is important to dissipate.
Among us, Medjugorje does not need any explanations. It is a place of grace where Our Lady has manifested Herself by all the exceptional fruits: spiritual life, conversions, healings. "The tree is judged by its fruits," says the Lord, and it is the only criterion of discernment that comes from Him (Mt 7:20; 12:33).
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