Weighing visionary's claim of end times
Question: A friend sent me some information from her parish in Arizona about the strong feeling among the parishioners there that the end of the world is approaching. This feeling is encouraged by a woman in the parish who claims to have visions about enormous destructions, great outpourings of the Holy Spirit and attempted world domination by the enemies of freedom and God himself. I am very skeptical about these “revelations” and would like your opinion on them.
— Jeanine Aucoin, Henniker, N.H.
Answer: I have looked through the information you sent me and perused the websites associated with these “revelations,” and I am not inclined to take them seriously. There is hardly a parish in the United States that doesn’t have at least one member who claims to have revelations and visions. A pastor must always approach such people with pastoral sensitivity, but at the same time guide the rest of the parish away from taking the revelations seriously. It bothers me that a whole parish would be disturbed by the claims of the visionary you describe. Clearly the pastor needs to intervene and help restore parishioners to a steady and sober faith.
Am I suggesting that Catholicism does not have a place for visionaries? Of course not. Among the saints and great figures of the Church there have been visionaries and seers. However, the Church is always very cautious in dealing with claims of visions and apparitions and with messages about doom and destruction. A genuine visionary and an authentic message can only be given credibility after having passed the test of time. The Church makes very clear that no visionary information is credible that claims to add anything to the body of divine revelation found in the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church. An authentic vision does not throw people off the central mysteries of faith (as when people become obsessed with the end of time), but rather reiterates the central practices of Christian faith (repentance and renewal of life, more fervent commitment to the Mass and the sacraments, an increase in devotion to Christ and to his Gospel). The Church furthermore holds that private revelations of the kind you describe have no binding character and need be given no credence by Catholics.
Relics of saints
Question: The Catholic Church teaches that the human body is sacred and gives instructions regarding where the remains can be placed after death. Why then are there so many body parts of saints scattered in reliquaries throughout the world? Is the dead body more respected by the Church today than it used to be?
— Sister M. Monica, OSF, Monitowoc, Wis.
Answer: Catholic funeral and post-funeral practices have varied a great deal over the centuries. It is not unusual to find body parts of the same saint in different places. For instance, the head of St. Catherine of Siena is kept in a reliquary in Siena, while the rest of her body is in Rome.
The intent of these traditional practices was not to show disrespect for the bodies of the dead, but to respond to the devotional needs of Catholics.
Readers may recall that the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux were on tour in many parts of the world in recent years. The Church’s concern in such cases is that the relics be authentic and generate true devotion.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.