January 2001By Rosemary Lunardini
Rosemary Lunardini is a writer and editor living in Hanover, New Hampshire.
God-Sent: A History of the Accredited Apparitions of Mary. By Roy Abraham Varghese. Crossroad. 240 pages. $39.95.
Ever since her apparition to the Apostle John as the woman clothed in the sun in the Book of Revelation, Mary has been the God-sent one, calling both young and old to be witnesses to her Son, as she did, as His first witness. Roy Varghese has written a magnificent overview of the major apparitions of the Blessed Mother, which occurred at those times when people most needed to hear her Gospel message. Certainly it was so for St. James the Apostle, apparently discouraged by his missionary work in Spain in the first century. Or for Christians persecuted for their faith in Vietnam in 1798 and China in 1995. Or for the people of the New World, when Mary appeared to the peasant Juan Diego at Guadalupe in 1513, effecting mass conversions. Or to the modern world through her calls for prayer and repentance as revealed to three shepherd children at Fatima in 1917.
Varghese describes in detail these and about 30 other apparitions and their messages. In early Christian times, the author points out, apparitions were not examined to the extent they are today; rather, they were recognized by their fruits: the peoples own veneration of Mary, their cures and conversions. In the 20th century, the messages of the apparitions became more comprehensive and interlinked with one another. For example, apparitions in Amsterdam, Akita, and Fatima bear many similarities, including the instruction to pray the Rosary.
As compelling as the details of the apparitions of Mary are, this books strength lies in its case for why such phenomena take place. The answer comes from within the scriptural identification of who Mary is, and from that, how Mary quite naturally wants all her children to be saved. There was a time, up until the Reformation, when all Christians were devoted to Mary and venerated her image. Church councils dating back to Ephesus in 431 taught that Mary is Theotokos, Mother of God, and well before that Scripture and Tradition recognized her as such. The author makes a strong appeal to Protestants: Why do you accept only some early Church doctrines, such as the Trinity, but not this one?
God chose Mary to be the Mother of His incarnate Son, the new Adam, and Marys obedience to Gods will established her as the New Eve. The author also recalls another of Marys ancient titles, the New Ark of the Covenant. Her overshadowing by the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation prepares a tabernacle for the Son of God. This action by God prompts Marys response, in which she says that because of what God has done for her, all generations will call me blessed. One aspect of her blessedness is that she continues to appear to all generations until Christ comes again.
Especially important in understanding Mary as a continuing witness for Christ is Revelation 12:17: Then the dragon was enraged with the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, that is, all who obey Gods commandments and bear witness for Jesus. Varghese convincingly relates why Mary is this woman in the Book of Revelation. Mary is not only the first witness to Christ but the mother of all who witness to Christ. And like any mother, she comes to the aid of her children in need. Thus, there should be nothing surprising about her apparitions to her children down through the ages!
That is not to say, however, that people should believe anyone who claims to have seen Mary in a physical sense. In fact, Catholics are not required to believe in this form of revelation, which is private, as opposed to Scripture, which is public revelation. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is quoted in an interview with the author as saying that the Church does not decide absolutely that an apparition has occurred, but gives pastoral guidance that the message conveyed by the visionary is doctrinally sound (i.e., coherent with public revelation). The Church may also inquire into the soundness of the visionarys mind. Positive and negative criteria for assessing the authenticity of apparitions are to be found in an appendix.
Unfortunately, some Christians believe Satan is behind the apparitions. The author has a poignant response: Here are some of the things that happen to visionaries at apparitions and to those influenced by the apparitions: total conversion; increasing holiness; prayer; aversion to sin and Satan; evangelism . We would be well to ask whether Satan would bring about any of these spiritual changes.
It is most moving to learn about the lesser-known Marian apparitions, which have been a source of healing and miracles, sometimes for centuries, as has that of Vailankanni, India. But it is especially saddening to read of the apparitions to several young women in Rwanda from 1981 to 1989, in light of what happened there a few years later. During an eight-hour-long apparition on August 15, 1982, the visionaries were told that there would be a river of blood if Rwanda did not come back to God. In 1991 the Rwandan civil war began and took the lives of one million people, including one of the visionaries and the entire family of another.
Are we to think, then, that Rwanda did not come back to God? In light of the genocide it would appear so, if we accept the validity of the apparition and its message. But it is important to remember that a warning from Mary is also a blessing, and, to the innocent, a call to offer their suffering to God so that, in the end, He will be glorified. These warnings are, in the vocabulary of apparitions, chastisements, preparing the world for the ultimate chastisement.
Wisdom should dictate that in any individual case of an apparition, we should refrain from saying definitively that what comes later good or bad is a direct consequence of the warning. The messages are universal, for all time, as well as local, and bound by time.
We must remember that the messages always the primary reason for the apparitions of Mary are conveyed with love and compassion for her children whom she wants to see saved. We must surely heed the messages that are theologically sound; the call to salvation is the most important call that ever comes to us, and when it comes from the Mother of God, we know that we need to repent and pray. She is our Mother, the woman clothed in the sun, the first witness to the Son from the beginning until He comes again in glory.