Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Marian Apparitions: The Story of Medjugorje

J+M+J

This post on Medjugorje is written by a friend of mine, Frazer Bellfield, who has visited Medjugorje many times. In this post he explains the story of this apparition...


What is Medjugorje?

This is a question that is being asked more and more, especially with news of Pope Francis’ recent words that there is going to be a solemn declaration on the apparitions which have been taking place there since 1981. Being a frequent visitor to Medjugorje, and a believer in the apparitions, I hope to sum them up in a brief history of what happened there and where it has led to!

In 1981 our Blessed Lady appeared to 6 young Croatian children in the small and very poor Catholic village of Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At that first encounter the 6 children, who ranged from 12-16 years of age at the time, all claimed to see something they couldn’t explain. Not so far away from them they said there was a very beautiful lady standing. They described her to be dressed in a grey veil with dark hair and blue eyes- she did not approach them and they were scared to approach her as they had no idea who she was and being humble village children didn’t wish to approach the beautiful stranger, therefore, they backed away and decided to return home. The older children wondered if they had just witnessed a “Marian apparition” but couldn’t know for sure and were confused. They all agreed not to speak of this again, even to their parents... but the youngest of the 6, Jakov, was to blab- the whole village was gossiping within 24 hours and the children were being mocked and thought to be crazy.  As well as those that mocked them, there were those in the very pious village that did believe the children had seen something, even if it was not Our Lady. They were encouraged to return.

The next day the 6 children decided to walk by the foot of what was to be known as “Apparition Hill" roughly about the same time of 6.40pm in the evening of the next day. To their amazement the beautiful woman was already waiting for them; this time she urged them to approach her and appeared to wish to speak with them. Vicka, the eldest of the children, sprinkled Holy water given her by her grandmother over the woman, knowing that had she been an evil spirit she would have vanished.  The beautiful woman smiled and said to Vicka, Ivanka, Mirjana, Marjia, Ivan and Jakov that she was the “Queen of Peace” and that God the Father had chosen them because of their simple, yet deep, faith to be witnesses and messengers on her behalf.  She told the children that she would speak to them about many things but that she mainly wished to promote peace and that all would honour and return to her son, Jesus. She also told them that life was not going to be easy for them but that she knew they had the necessary faith to carry out the mission her son desired for them. The 6 children understood immediately that they were seeing the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The many relatives and neighbours who had followed the children did not see what they saw, but every single people experienced inner peace and knew that they had been present at something special. Our Lady told the children that they were to return the next day.

News of this spread for miles and miles and the very next day hundreds upon hundreds of people gathered in Medjugorje, including the Communist authorities who hated all forms of Catholic events and gatherings. The children were visited and told not to return by the authorities. The children could not be stopped, and all 6 were again present at Apparition Hill, helped and protected by the many people that had gathered there. Our Lady again appeared to them and advised them that she was to give 10 “secrets” to each of them and that, little by little, the full messages would be given to them when the time was right. These “10 Secrets” are for most people the most intriguing or “confusing” part of these apparitions, however, no Catholic can argue with the main messages of Our Lady at Medjugorje which are “Prayer, penance and fasting”. She urges all Catholics to “frequently attend Mass, to prayer the Rosary daily, read scripture and to regularly Confess their sins out of love and trusting in the mercy of God not out of duty, routine or fear”.



To this day 3 of the visionaries have not received all the messages and the other 3 have. She
continues to appear to all 6 of the now adults, yet only on a daily basis to those still waiting for all of the secrets- which they are to reveal to a Priest of their personal choice. The Holy See has received these messages and (those that have been revealed) have been taken into consideration.  The only secret to be revealed is that a visible sign will be made present in Medjugorje at some time in the future which will be visible to all there and that all present will not fail to believe in God through seeing it. This has happened before: in Fatima, Our Lady gave 3 secrets to 3 children and the 3rd Secret still causes much interest as it has not yet been fully revealed or understood.  Many theologians working on the Medjugorje phenomena have likened the secrets of Medjugorje to those of Fatima, claiming that there may be a link.  It is of course “human nature” to want to know all there is to know about “the secrets”, but that is not all that Medjugorje is about.

Over the years the daily apparitions continued, the parents and families of the visionaries
were hounded by the Communist authorities, threatened with prison sentences and even death, yet the children would not retract their statements. The Parish Priest of Medjugorje, Father Jozo, at first did not believe the children and thought it all to be lies, but within weeks of the apparition he prayed for guidance and for a sign, only to find in that moment the visionaries knocking on his door for sanctuary as they were being chased by the Communists. Father Jozo was arrested and spent 2 years in prison where he was tortured and beaten, yet he would not retract his statements of belief and support. The apparitions were to continue on the property of the Parish in the future and in a “private room” until the fall of the Communist regime, and even this did not stop thousands and thousands of people flocking to the small village up to the present day. During the Bosnian War in the early 90s not one bomb fell on the village of Medjugorje as Our Lady had promised to children.

Many things have happened in the more than 30 years Our Lady has been appearing in Medjugorje. All 6 visionaries have undergone extended psychiatric tests and have all have been declared 100% sane and that they are not simulating or lying about what they are seeing.  Their medical files and many documents on their testimonies and writings have all been submitted to the Holy See, including the many conversions and physical healings that have taken place in Medjugorje.

Medjugorje has become known as “The Confessional of the World” it has become the 3rd most visited Marian Pilgrimage in the World and is known as the greatest for spiritual renewal and healing, especially through Reconciliation.  Many thousands make annual visits to Medjugorje and readily await the Holy Father’s approval. Surely bad fruit cannot come from a good tree? There are of course those who deny Medjugorje, just as there were those who denied Lourdes and Fatima... but how can so many conversions and healings, both spiritual and psychical, come from a bad and ungodly source?

It is now in the hands of Our Holy Father!

Frazer Bellfield

Edited 26/04/15: Spacing format issue resolved.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Marian Apparitions

J+M+J

     With the tip off from the Pontiff, Pope Francis, about a coming decision on the categorisation of the Medjugorje site there is a buzz in the air concerning 'Marian Apparitions'. Marian apparitions have been recorded to have taken place at sites across the world. We can see famous shrines at many places where this has thought to have happened, such as: 


Guadalupe, Mexico

Fatima, Portugal

Pompeii, Italy


     These shrines (among many others) have been ratified as sites of apparitions by the Blessed Virgin, miraculous occurrences or sites of private revelation by the Church after much theological, philosophical  and rational debate performed by an investigative commission which may comprise of bishops, priests and theologians.These investigations are naturally approached with great caution, serious contemplation and discernment. Here is the Catechism of the Catholic Church on apparitions: "Throughout the ages, there have been so-called 'private' revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church.  They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith.  It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history.  Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church."

     However, there are also hundreds of sites of private revelation which are not yet recognised by the Church and, as long as they are not contradictory to the Catholic Faith, devotion and faith in the apparition/ revelation is left to the individual, as are approved apparitions. One such site is Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina which the Pope has stated will soon have a definitive clarification from the Catholic Church.

     The method of investigation is usually carried out by interviews with the person, or people,that received the alleged apparition or revelation followed by an examination of the content of the apparition/ revelation concluding with a theological and rational debate. The result then produces an announcement of the findings which are usually presented thusly:

Categories of Approval 

Official Church statements regarding the authenticity of apparition claims are placed into three categories:

Not Worthy of Belief

The statements to declare a private revelation false are given according to the Latin phrase: "Constat de non supernaturalitate" (It is established that there is nothing supernatural here) . It has been determined that there are no characteristics that show it to be from God thereby attributing it to fraud or another spirit.

Nothing Contrary to the Faith

When locally it is decided or suggested that the reported apparition might or might not be of supernatural origin, the apparition is assigned to the category of "Non constat de supernaturalitate" ( It is not established that something supernatural is here). Apparitions in this category do not enjoy approval of their supernatural character but are determined to contain nothing that is contrary to faith and morals.

Approved

The supernatural character of the apparition is declared worthy of belief ("Constat de supernaturalitate") and contains nothing that is contrary to faith and morals. But belief in the apparition (even the true one) is not necessary for salvation.
(Categories of approval section provided courtesy of miraclehunter.com)

There are many interesting responses about every site of apparition, ranging from the thought that they are indeed of divine origin, and some which state that they are the opposite; of origin of the Devil. Others believe that apparitions do not happen at all. With all of these thoughts and great debates surrounding the subject, we can only wait with much anticipation for the decision of the Medjugorje commission and its theological outcome...

Watch this space!

Andy

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Call of Duty - Vocations Series: Religious Life

J+M+J
Franciscan Brothers

A community of prayer, a community of brothers and sisters, a family, medieval Xerox printers and fantastic beer brewers. The people of religious life can be many things, but there is one focus and one aim which is common to all of them: to sanctify themselves and serve God.  

     With this being the year of consecrated life, there is a particular focus for the Catholic Church to pray for people that are part of a religious order or congregation, or are considering a vocation to the religious life. Hopefully these prayers will help people realise their vocations (and maybe bring religious life as an option for them). 

     Religious life has a great focus on prayer and serving the church and the general world according to their charism, or way of living their service. Some communities are cloistered and live with little or no contact with the world outside of the monastery, others are active and do missionary work in the local community or abroad. Joining a community is considered to be a form of ultimate charity, the discerner is considering to commit themselves and their life to God.



     Here's what UKReligiousLife.org has to say: 'One of the first things that anyone discerning a vocation to religious life will become aware of is the great variety of forms of religious life. The main distinction is between monks and nuns who live in an enclosed convent or monastery and religious who work outside the cloister, for example in education, health-care or evangelization.

There are hundreds of different religious orders or congregations, each of which contributes a particular gift to the life of the Church. Some are rooted in the great spiritual traditions, such as Carmelites or Benedictines; others are based upon a particular ministry, such as Dominican preaching or the Missionaries of Charity’s care for the poorest of the poor.

The Second Vatican Council described how the Church presents different aspects of Christ through the variety of religious congregations: “Christ in contemplation on the mountain, in His proclamation of the kingdom of God to the multitudes, in His healing of the sick and maimed, in His work of converting sinners to a better life, in His solicitude for youth and His goodness to all people."'

     Members of religious orders usually profess three vows: poverty, chastity and obedience. I asked a friend what it means to take these vows, this is what they said: 'Although it seems at first that there's a lot to do, a lot of effort, a lot of maturity (and it is), what happens when these things are realised to be necessary for religious life, which, if you are called to, they are also aids to make you wholly the person God made you to be, Whilst it is no small thing to follow this way of life, what you get in return for saying 'yes' and giving yourself to Christ is so much more and than the world can give you. Is it any wonder why you never see an unhappy nun or monk? The religious life is one of the closest ways of imitating Jesus, to be near our Lord and encounter him in the way we live is truly humbling. In personally owning nothing we live communally or with others and share everything, this is much how it was between Jesus and his disciples, a communal life together, a communal purse and a lifestyle which we all live out. In chastity we remain celibate (unmarried) and abstinate. Because of this we are able to dedicate all of our time to the people in our area, to the Church, each other and God, just as Christ did. By obedience we obey Our Lord and our order superiors, whether they be senior Sisters, Brothers, Abbots or Mothers. We are also obedient to our rule which governs how our life is to be led out. Benedictines live out their life in one particular monastery and have a charism of contemplation and hospitality, for example. This can be the hardest vow to follow, not chastity and poverty, they can get use to and feel natural after a while, but the lifestyle totally uproots you and changes you,sometimes you think 'what am I doing?' and then you see the work you do for others and the love you have for the Church and our Lord. In taking these vows you can almost see a soteriological [method of salvation] element. By being like him in the tradition of our particular order's charism, we can all but fail in the aspiration to live saintly lives and fulfill our first vocation: the universal call to holiness'.

Why be a monk?: http://www.monasteryofstjohn.org/documents/abbatialessays/Why_be_a_monk.pdf

     There are so many types of religious living, no doubt most of you that are aware of it will have heard of a few:

  • Order of Carmelites, O.Carm.
  • Order of Discalced Carmelites, O.C.D.
  • Order of St. Dominic/ Order of Preachers, O.P.
  • Order of St. Francis/ Friars Minor, OFM/ Capuchin, O.F.M Cap./ Conventual, O.F.M. Conv.
  • Order of St. Benedict, O.S.B.
  • Order of the Servants of Mary/ Order of Servites, O.S.M.



 "I love you, so just love each other the best you can... never be afraid to love" ~ Fr. Mychal Judge (a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York and the first certified fatality on September 11, 2001)


     Having had a look around a few of the different order's websites, it is clear that this branch of great, loving and humble people are here to stay, just as they have been for thousands of years. Although, just as it is with vocation in general, there aren't as many people entering religious orders and congregations as they used to, it is certainly not decreasing in vibrancy, variety  and joy. People are still entering to live as a lay person or ordained member in the context of a particular mission or service. Some of you reading this may be contemplating such a move. The best thing to do if you are is to have a look on websites (which be be put at the bottom of the post), get in contact with the novice master at an order's centre, parish priest or vocations and discuss the feeling of a possible vocation to an order which you may be attracted to, either as a monk/friar, a nun/sister or tertiary member/ oblate (living some of the charisms and rules in the secular world).

     If you look around, you may find some good shows or clips of daily lives in the setting of various types of religious life. A good show which entails 5 men spending 40 days at a benedictine monastery in Worth Abbey can be found, called The Monastery. Another which features women doing the same thing can also be found, called The Convent. There are also others like: Into Great Silence, The Retreat, and  Finding Silence.

     Every time I hear of someone enquiring I am told that it just like joining a family, each place and each order has a different feel to different people and can take time - just like finding a home. Usually the process starts off by someone feeling drawn to this way of life, an inner pull, a calling. The next stage is to visit an order and talk to them. After visiting a few times to a particular group you feel comfortable and at home (and likewise them with you) you may be invited to spend some time with the community living as they do, then a Novitiate year or 2 years wear you get to grips with daily life living alongside taking Novice Vows. If this feels right for both you and the community then it may well happen that you profess more solid a permanent vows. 

     In this Year of Consecrated Life, please pray for those in this vocation, those considering it, our Holy Father and for your own vocation!

Andy

Website Links (UK):
UK Religious Life: ukreligiouslife.org
Carmelite Order, Discalced: http://www.carmelite.org.uk/
Carmelite Order: http://www.carmelite.org/
Dominican Order: http://english.op.org/

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Lent and Reconciliation (A Homily from Last Year)

J+M+J
A Discourse on Repentance, Lazarus and Lent




The season of Lent is the perfect time for resolving or fear of these things through the tradition of repentance, reconciliation and reparation (or penance). These three 'Rs' can be rather daunting, or rather much more like a self-help plan. It's can be scary when we need to reconcile our relationships rather than being able to sit and stew being sorry for ourselves, no doubt you know that it's scarier still when we have to do this with someone a bit bigger than ourselves, for example: with a friend, a boss, a teacher... a God.

Now, concerning the 'S' word... Sin: repentance and reconciliation is not all doom and gloom, in the old fashioned, medieval-hellish perception in which it's normally perceived.

If one were to look in the dictionary; repentance is a feeling when one feels regret or remorse for their wrongdoing. In old-school orthodox language: 'sin is what kills the soul', quite frightening, indeed! Sometimes we are aware of a nagging feeling and know that we have strayed from what we know is good, and so, naturally the best thing to do when feeling repentant is to reconcile with what we wronged or hurt, commonly known as; an apology.

Travelling up to a set of highway traffic lights, a car meaning to turn missed the junction completely and had to travel through lanes of oncoming traffic in order to get to where he needed, it appears he either didn't trust his Sat-Nav, or was having a seriously bad day.
Sin is what keeps us away from the light of God, imagine: we are driving a car, but we travel far past the turning that we needed to take, and we know sometimes, annoying though it is, that the Sat-Nav was right... Sin obscures for us, as Christians, the most important thing, the presence, love, guidance and path towards God.

We hear Jesus talk about this when he is asked why he returns to the place he was ejected from, having had stones hurled at him, he replied to his disciples: 'Are there not 12 hours of daylight? Those who walk in the light during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.' And this is quite a profound thing, not only is it the invitation to follow him, but it is also where our choice is, our free will to say yes or no, to walk in the light, or stumble in the dark not knowing quite sure where we are, missing our turn. He then makes a great reference to the valley of dry bones: 'Our friend, Lazarus has fallen asleep, but, I am going [to return] there to wake him.' Just as Ezekiel did when prophesying the word of God on the piles of bones. There is a whole verse which contains only the phrase: 'Jesus wept', or 'Jesus began to weep'. And it was for a friend which he loved. Those who wonder and sleep are woken again by Christ, he dwells in those that walk toward the light, and, as a god that loves everyone, he weeps when we turn away.

There is a great speech from Pope Benedict XVI at the vigil for young people at Freiburg which addresses this, he said: 'There is no saint, apart from the Blessed Virgin Mary, who has not also known sin, who has never fallen. Dear friends, Christ is not so much interested in how often in our lives we stumble and fall, as in how often with his help we pick ourselves up again. He does not demand glittering achievements, but he wants his light to shine in you. He does not call you because you are good and perfect, but because he is good and he wants to make you his friends. Yes, you are the light of the world because Jesus is your light. You are Christians – not because you do special and extraordinary things, but because he, Christ, is your life, our life.'

It seems that even the holiest slip up, or did in the past when seeing God wasn't clear. So, I feel that it is fair to assume that if God can pick up and raise a dead man, he can help anyone pick themselves up, just like the Saints that struggled, and that all we have to do is ask, repent, reconcile and do a bit of reparation.

And this is achieved in the tradition of Lent. We have 3 things to do, not for a sadistic sake of just depriving ourselves of something for 40 days, but a purpose; to breathe new life on our spiritual bones in Prayer, Fasting and Charity. One of the greatest prayers, is that which allows God to enter us and lead us. Perhaps we can see the light of God being our Sat-Nav so that we don't completely miss that junction. Concerning fasting, I’m willing to wager you may have given something up for Lent, but one of the greatest charities is to show others the good news of God, and one of the persons of God which is Christ.

But, part of the issue with the concept of sin is that we do sin, we don't like it, but it happens. We completely miss the junction, and sometimes it happens a lot more than we'd like or feel comfortable remembering. But, it's okay, God's got you anyway because God, the Father, sent his son to radically change the way in which we may live our lives, so that we also may lead a life of sacrifice for the betterment of other things. We, during Eucharist (the sacrifice on the altar) must remember this. Christ, which took away the sin of the world through providing us with this great way for betterment, inevitably led to his death on the cross. We must remind ourselves that we are the people that live remembering and revering the life, death and resurrection, and we must be the people of death and resurrection, we must evaluate our relationship with God, and evaluate our lives and live as Christian people, to have new life, through the Eucharist, breathing on our dry bones, reconnecting us and living again.


I hope through this Lent that we learn to pick ourselves up again, without fear of reconciliation, of whatever we must do to fix the relationships which are truly dear, to trust in God fully, even when the going is hard, let us pray that God continues to enlighten our lives, continues to radicalise our living and breathe fresh breath to our bones and share it with others so Christ may wake the ones who have fallen asleep. As it says in the story of Lazarus; Our teacher is here, and he's calling you.