Monday, June 14, 2004

In Search of ... Those Who See The Blessed Virgin

THE MIRACLE DETECTIVE: An Investigation of Holy Visions by Randall Sullivan
I was intrigued because this book is about Medjugorje which I hear friends mention in awestruck tones but never see mentioned when reading about places where Mary has appeared. I picked up the 448-page book from the library intending to glance at the first chapter and see if it looked worth reading. To say that I found this story gripping is an understatement. I read it in 24 hours. This was facilitated by the fact that I had hurt my back and was forced to do nothing but sit around the house but that couldn't account for my fascination.

Randall Sullivan became fascinated with religious apparitions when a local family began seeing the Virgin Mary appear in a painting hanging in their trailer. He thought this would be a great subject for a book and started on a journey that would take him to Rome, Medjugorje, Scottsdale (AZ) and New York City. Along the way, he unexpectedly began a personal, spiritual journey of discovery. In the process, Sullivan uses an even handed approach to give a lot of information including describing the Catholic Church's process for investigating and approving miracles; detailing the apparitions at a variety of places including Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje; and giving an in depth history of Bosnia including the fighting that was going on while he was there. Some reviewers disapproved of these "side trips" but I liked having so much information about most of the subjects. The step by step look at discovery of apparitions at various holy sites was fascinating and more detailed than anything I had been able to find anywhere else. Certainly I had no idea that a group of people had claimed to experience apparitions of Mary and Jesus in Scottsdale, Arizona.

I found the interspersing of factual reporting and personal story of discovery worked very well. Because Sullivan is sorting out what he thinks of all this, as well as coming to terms with God personally, we see all sides. I especially appreciated the reminder that most priests are not welcoming of apparitions as they can come from a variety of things: the person is faking, the person is crazy, the apparitions are demonic or they are true. As Father Benedict Groeschel reminds Sullivan, they can come from a combination of those things also. For me, Groeschel's inclusion in the book, albeit brief, was one of the things that pointed to an honest effort at truth seeking. The first book I ever read about apparitions was his A Small, Still Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations which reminded the reader that the first thing anyone is supposed to do is to reject an apparition as it is too easy to fool yourself or be fooled by outside influences. That advice made a strong impression on me and added a note of verisimilitude as it was repeated throughout the book by priests on both sides of any given apparition sighting.

I also liked the fact that emphasis is made toward the end of the book that the Church depends on time to help reveal whether apparitions are truly from God. Not only does it help calm the attendant public hysteria that may accompany revelations, it gives enough time to properly evaluate the theology of any messages, etc. The only revelation that we are required to believe is entirely public ... the Scriptures. As to all others it does not hurt to reserve judgment. There is a famous case of a well accepted series of "revelations" made to a nun long ago only to have her make a deathbed confession that she had sold her soul to the devil in exchange for her supernatural abilities. No wonder the Church is cautious.

On a personal level the most endearing thing I found was that the author's personal revelations of God always were accompanied by hilarity, as if God and he were laughing at a huge joke together as Sullivan would suddenly "get it." This went along perfectly with someone in the book who said that she had found Jesus has a great sense of humor and always was making jokes. It sounds so silly, so corny and, as it is just what I have experienced myself, so true.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book. Also highly recommended for anyone interested in apparitions are A Small Still Voice mentioned earlier and Apparitions: Mystic Phenomena and What They Mean by Kevin Orlin Johnson.

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