God’s Chosen Outsiders1
July 21, 2014 by lucieromarin
A single misunderstanding of mystical phenomena (or alleged mystical phenomena) manifests itself in one of two ways. The first is by a fascination with apparitions, messages, or miracles that’s tantamount to obsession, eventually excluding philosophy, theology, and even basic catechism, from one’s mental universe, until you’ll believe pretty much anything, as long as it’s fantastic, has Our Lady in it, and feeds your appetite for sensation. The second is a too-great detachment, either by the outright denial even of the possibility of an apparition, or by the relegation of such stories to the background. In short, one extreme cries, “Woot!” while the other says, “This Has No Place in Intellectual Discourse.” And, while the second viewpoint is marginally safer than the first, it’s still problematic. Why? Because intellectual discourses tend to want to analyse things and understand them, and you cannot analyse or understand the Church or Her culture if you have blanked half of Her out of your mental landscape.
Both extremes are the offspring of the same mistake, which is to believe that, in tales of wonderworkers, the wonders are the Main Point. Seeing wonders as the Main Point is the reason your false apparitionist doesn’t notice the heresies in the false apparitions that she follows. Conversely, if you’re not comfortable with them, you’ll just pretend they’re not there…and, via a different route, also miss the main point.
The entire landscape changes once you realise that the wonders in tales of wonders are not the main point; they always exist for the sake of something else, and that something else is the point. If you can’t see those something-elses, then not only can you really not see God, or Our Lady, or the facts of history correctly, you also can’t see the Church correctly, either. I’ll skip the obvious examples, because no one here needs me to remind them about Lourdes or Fatima; suffice it to say that for the 350, 000 people bathing in the waters of Lourdes each year, or the four million pilgrims to Fatima, the words of Our Lady to peasant children have more to do with daily Catholic life and practice than does any document issued at Vatican II. These pilgrims belong to a Church in which bishops acknowledge that Our Lady has spoken to children – and, in the case of Mariette Beco, to a child who was barely practising her faith at the time of the first apparition – and they act accordingly. Factor that into your concept of hierarchy.
St Bernadette’s Mother Superior was heard to remark that it was strange that Our Lady should have chosen this girl to speak to, when there were so many girls of a better class in their convent. Religious and secular minds alike have their own concepts about who God would want to talk to or ought to be talking to, and they are usually the upper classes and so-called intellectuals. The history of mystical phenomena in the Catholic Church tells a different story – that of a continued preference for the very young, the innocent, the poor, the illiterate, the socially inferior, and occasionally even the virtuous pagans and the condemned criminal. It’s not that we have to believe every story that we hear (we don’t!) but that the Catholic mind should not be permanently closed to the possibility of God acting in history through persons who don’t fit worldly definitions of power or importance. And if you don’t see how important these individuals are to the Church, then you don’t understand the Church.
As far as tales of wonder go, it’s hard to beat the life of Venerable Maria Agreda, a cloistered Spanish nun who repeatedly bilocated to the Jumano Indians in Texas. But her bilocation isn’t the Main Point; the main point is those people to whom she was sent. This was all done for their sake, not hers. What did God see in this tribe that made Him bend time and space for their sake? The same could be said for the conversion of the Flathead Indians, which began with a vision granted to their chief while he was still pagan, and ended with apparitions of Our Lady to Flathead children. Why? The world is full of people who were never sent apparitions or bilocating nuns in order to change their lives. What does this tell us about how God saw these tribes, as opposed to how we see them?
The story of Our Lady’s apparitions to Claude Newman, a young black man on death row in 1943, isn’t just a heart-warming tale about the Miraculous Medal. It’s also rebuke to the Eurocentric French racist who told my Chinese friend that, as a non-European, he could never be truly Catholic. It’s a message about Our Lady not making her decisions based upon a man’s whiteness, wealth, career, or level of education. She obviously has her own set of standards. What is it? Likewise is the story of Our Lady’s appearances to Sister Agnes Sasagawa, in Akita, Japan, in 1973, during which she requested penance for apostate priests and religious. Our Lady also chose a non-Western religious sister to help her rescue the modernist West. Why? Again, the extraordinary aspects of the story aren’t the main point. The main point is that Our Lady cares about saving the souls of fallen clergy, and that she doesn’t think you have to be a person respected by secular media in order to be useful to her.
Finally, it’s generally known that Pope Pius X lowered the age of First Communion to seven. What is not generally known is that we owe this change to a four-year-old girl. He took as a sign from God the life of Ellen Organ, who died at the age of four, having received a special dispensation to receive her First Communion, because she was so clearly the recipient of extraordinary grace and gifted with real understanding. She, who quite possibly didn’t even know what a Pope was, was chosen to receive the kind of grace that prompted a papal decision that would change the opportunities for grace for every Catholic who came after her. How many of us assume that Popes only take their advice from educated adults? How many of us knew that a child could be so important?
It’s true that our intellectual diet should comprise philosophy, theology, and the habit of prudent discernment, and that a taste for the wonderful should not become an addiction. (Do you wish to waste your life on a charlatan? No. So don’t believe everything you hear!). At the same time, let’s not pretend that erasing some people from history is the best way to understand it. And let’s not pretend that persons outside the establishment have nothing to teach us.