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There are those in our Church who view the supernatural as strange or "bizarre," which itself (considering the basis for Catholicism) may strike one as strange. Miracles, they seem to imply -- and signs from God -- are products of the imagination, or more simply child's play.

Obviously, this view is a product of modernism (which can infect even conservatives). Still, we can certainly go too far. And there are bizarre manifestations, or at least confusing ones. When it comes to seers, how far is too far? And what are they saying lately?

Recently, we have carried articles about reputed apparitions to a nun at Lipa in the Philippines during the 1940s, apparitions that are currently being resurrected (because a bishop has reopened what had been a closed -- and rejected -- case). In reading what she had said after forty years of silence, one is struck by how the visionary, Sister Teresita Castillo, endured attacks by the evil one, including one assault "at around 3:00 a.m." Folks report both holy and nefarious activity at this peculiar time of the night, and we have often wondered why that is. Is it a time when spiritual transmission is simply easier, an hour for prayer, or an hour for evil? Is it an hour for all of the above?

We see then the complexities. Interestingly, one of Sister Castillo's major encounters with the Blessed Mother occurred at the reverse time of three p.m. (the Hour of Divine Mercy) -- when a garden was blessed, from which mysterious rose petals soon appeared (with holy images on them, a phenomenon that soon became widespread and controversial in that country).

As at Lourdes and Medjugorje, the evil one made an appearance at Lipa, which always causes one to discern more closely. Sister Teresita encountered a diabolical entity within weeks of her entry into Lipa Carmel, on the evening of July 31, 1948, when, notes a web article, "Satan appeared to Teresita in her cell and attempted to evict her from the monastery. She rejected the devil but he was very persistent and soon the diabolical harassment was about to escalate. Teresita described the devil as being 'surrounded by fire' all over his body." A couple weeks later, the Blessed Mother began to appear."

Does this cast doubt on the later apparition or was it a pre-emptive strike? At Lourdes, false seers swarmed the grotto and the evil one was present there also. As at Lourdes, Teresita was asked to eat grass -- and also to drink the water with which she was told to wash her superior's feet. It is strange. Does such strangeness argue against authenticity or validate it?

There are always questions. There are always the controversies. With a stigmatic: can a very holy person have "wounds" that are negative -- caused by an evil entity?

It has occurred. There often is a "mix." Because a phenomenon is supernatural doesn't mean it is good supernatural; this is one reason why the Church is so cautious (along with fear of what modernists will say). This video shows what is obviously authentic stigmata, but stigmata that the broadcaster found "disturbing."

Meanwhile, what about an apparition site that is rejected by a bishop but has led to conversions? How to discern? What do you do if a local bishop rejects the supernaturality of a seer and forbids liturgical and para-liturgical events connected with the visionary while the vicar of another diocese approves publication by a local publisher of a devotional booklet and messages from the same revelation?

This actually occurred, and the approved prayer booklet had an intriguing last message that said: "Very soon my 'heartlight' may no longer be hidden by the ploys of evil; it shall rise in the East to give light to the West. As in the beginning of the dawn, my triumph shall be seen as the morning light in the East; it shall rise in every moment as it crests over the darkened horizon."

Unless his authority in a matter has been removed (as happened at Medjugorje), we must always go follow the instructions of the bishop. In this case: one bishop seemed to be bringing a halt to a cult forming around a seer, while another Church official saw fruit in the messages themselves -- which causes a toss of the coin. What to do then? In most cases: it is simply the local bishop who has the say, and should be obeyed. The intriguing aspect is that the words remind us of a phrase in an addendum to the "1990 prophecy," which stated: "The angels have their instruction from east to west, and now a timetable has been set in motion. When the huge light is seen, I will act in a way I have not acted before." (We may have more on a possibly significant development with that alleged prophecy next week.)

We will also be announcing a pilgrimage to Medjugorje (where the Vatican says we and priests can go as long as they are not official parish trips; we will strictly abide by any final Church ruling).

In Brazil, many continue trying to determine the authenticity of visionary Pedro Regis -- an obviously good man who has had impressive prophetic hits (correct predictions, as when he foresaw the Haitian quake, and another in Chile, as well as a disaster in Portugal, very specifically) but who seems to name a new locale for disaster with every message.

For example, in a period of just two weeks, Pedro recently quoted the Blessed Mother as naming eleven towns or cities for destruction and about 25 in the past month. Casa Nova. Chora. Hamilton. These are various places in far-flung locales such as Alegria. Esmeraladas.

And so one can legitimately wonder if upon naming so many places one is bound to hit on some. With Pedro, the hits to do with Haiti and Portugal came one after another. But there have been no equally impressive bullseyes of late, and because a visionary has prophetic hits does not tell us the source of the supernatural success. One also has to wonder if the Blessed Mother would be so specific as to frighten those in all the places he mentions.

Might it be that so many things are about to occur that Mary is using this apparently humble and simple soul to convey a wide range of eventualities?

They are legitimate questions -- at the same time that we are hurt by over-skepticism. Take what is good and leave the rest. By their fruits you will know them. By their fruits you will also know the skeptics.

[see also: How the Vatican judges apparitions, Video: 'disturbing,' miraculous stigmata is filmed, Video: the apparitions at Vienna cathedral, What alleged seer said after forty years of silence, Pope accents importance of pilgrimages, and Catholic 'press' bias: not again!]

[Michael Brown retreat, Hartford, Oct. 2 and Retreat in Cleveland, November 6]

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