Fr Richard Foley SJ invites all to reflect upon the continuing apparitions and fruits of the controversial Yugoslav shrine
A STUDENT was asked during a campus quiz what he understood by Medjugorje. After a moment's reflection he said, "I've an idea it's the horse that won last year's Derby."
This hilarious misconception can perhaps be milked for an apt parable in this context.
Medjugorje, like the champion thoroughbred it is, continues to forge ahead at full gallop despite obstacles galore; and it enjoys an inside-rail position as it sprints for the finishing-post, cheered on by an ever-growing grandstand crowd of enthusiastic supporters.
While still on this zoological plane, a further thought involving a switch of metaphor comes to mind: Medjugorje has revealed the presence of any number of ostriches. Such people are defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary as "those who refuse to accept facts." Sadly enough, some of these Medjugorje ostriches sport Roman collars, a number being further dignified by their episcopal purple.
Surely nobody can afford to ignore Medjugorje completely or brush it aside as an irrelevance or worse without having taken a long, hard look at the evidence.
That amazing series of events is clearly not being mounted by the Mother of God merely for the diversion of simple locals in a rural corner of Yugoslavia.
Rather, Medjugorje is meant as an urgent alarm-bell for a world perilously close to auto destruction; and, at the same time, as a dynamic sacrament of faith, prayer, love and peace for the renewal and sanctification of the universal Church.
In the ostrich-like attitudes adopted by some towards Medjugorje, do we have an application of T S Eliot's dictum, "Human kind cannot bear very much reality"?
Anyhow, the Medjugorje reality is based upon facts, which are as abundant and verifiable as the rocks on Medjugorje's hills and fully as hard. Moreover, these facts are backed up by documents. And upon these documented facts, as upon a foundation, rises the fair edifice of Medjugorean theology.
In saying which, I have sketched the very ground-plan of an important book just out. Its title is Medjugorje: Facts, Documents, Theology. Fr Michael O'Carroll, CSSp, its author, is a top-notch Marian theologian; his publications include a classic encyclopaedic work on Our Lady, Theotokos, and he is a member of the Pontifical Marian Academy as well as an Associate of the Bollandistes.
Fr O'Carroll knows Medjugorje inside-out. So his book is as it were earthed in the local soil, while at the same time taking you to the stars when dealing with things like the apparitions, the vigorous sacramental renewal Medjugorje has inspired, and the wonderful faith and peace that prevail there like a very atmosphere.
This book is a godsend for those who have not yet accepted Medjugorje for one reason or another "Come, my friends," I say to them, particularly my brother-priests, in the words of the poet, " `tis not too late to seek a newer world." For, believe me, Medjugorje is in itself a whole new world of gospel holiness and spiritual fruits on a colossal scale. Of the many priests that have been there, few would deny that Medjugorje exercises a tonic effect on things like faith, prayer, devotion to Our Lady, love of the Blessed Sacrament, and zeal for souls.
That genial prelate, Bishop Nicholas D'Antonio, auxiliary of New Orleans, is on record as saying that if any priest, being duly informed about the Medjugorje phenomenon and having experienced it for himself, should thereupon reject it as unauthentic, there would appear to be something wrong with his head, or his heart — or both!
But there's nothing wrong with either Fr O'Connell's head or heart as he examines and weighs the extraordinary Medjugorje facts. He also deals with a number of nasty nonfacts that have a wide currency and, in some quarters, enjoy the status of gospel truths. Commonest among these is that the Church wishes us to leave Medjugorje severely alone pending her eventual official verdict. On the strength of this, some Catholic newspapers refuse to accept articles about Medjugorje or even to advertise prayer meetings or pilgrimages, in its connection.
The answer to this nonsense is quite simple. While the Church, has not yet officially approved Medjugorje, she has not officially disapproved of it either. And, in the meantime, the Church accords us the canonical right to look into Medjugorje or anything else that promises to help our faith and spiritual lives generally.
As for our right to go on a Medjugorje pilgrimage, provided it is not representative of some diocese and therefore "official," it has been affirmed by the Yugoslav hierarchy and endorsed by Rome.
Nor is Rome likely to make up its mind about Medjugorje until the apparitions are over. Moreover, if Fatima is anything to go by, we shall probably have to wait a while even then. It was not till some 13 years aftet the Fatima apparitions ceased that Pius XI gave the first official approbation to the cult that had developed around them. His main reason, interestingly enough, was the strong stimulus Fatima had given to local vocations.
So it is not without significance that, as one of its choicest fruits, Medjugorje has sparked off a vocations boom. Seminaries are doing exceptionally well and so are converts; indeed, the Poor Clares in Split report that they simply cannot handle the numbers applying for admission. Another point is well worth noting. Medjugorje has in fact been approved by the Church — at least virtually — in the person of those millions of ordinary faithful who, guided by the sure instinct of faith, accept , the apparitions and Our Lady's basic message and are now setting about implementing this in their daily lives.
The author aptly quotes Newman, the outstanding authority on the teaching role the faithful habitually exercise in supernatural matters. Their faith and prayer set up the groundswell that gives rise to the subsequent surface waves of formal, official Church teaching and decisions.