A reader struggles with apparition stuff

He writes:

Hi there Mr.Shea, I hope you are well. I am a 16 year old who has been recently investigating Catholicism, but I have some key reservations about the faith that I just can’t seem to find satisfactory answers to.

Hello!  Sorry I’ve been so slow to reply! 

I am reaching out because I have read some of your articles on certain issues, and I wanted to get a nuanced and moderate Catholic perspective on my questions.


I have 3 main areas of concern, but I will only present one here, and that is with some extremely troubling apparitions, and what they seem to say about morality in God’s eyes.

The most obvious example of this is where Mary at Fatima reportedly said 

“Many souls go to hell because there is nobody to pray and sacrifice for them”

Sr.Lucia also reportedly received further revelations overtime, which apparently revealed that God would have made  WW2 go on longer if it wasn’t for Pius XII’s consecration of the world to Mary.

She also said that if John Paul II hadn’t consecrated Russia to Mary, there would have been a nuclear war that God would have started in 1985.

A similar theme is in St.Faustina’s diary, where Jesus told her that her suffering and prayer save more souls from hell than missionaries do, and that because she “consoles” God, he “withhold(s) the just chastisements mankind has deserved.

Perhaps the most disturbing one, is the message of the apparitions of Akita, which delivered the horrifying message that:

“In order that the world might know His anger, the Heavenly Father is preparing to inflict a great chastisement on all mankind. With my Son I have intervened so many times to appease the wrath of the Father. I have prevented the coming of calamities by offering Him the sufferings of the Son on the Cross, His Precious Blood, and beloved souls who console Him forming a cohort of victim souls. Prayer, penance and courageous sacrifices can soften the Father’s anger.”

So what on earth is the deal with these? If it was just one apparition, then maybe I could write it off as poorly translated or something, but so many apparitions seem to convey the same message, and I would greatly appreciate some clarification on these matters.

Does God really allow people to fall into hell because nobody prayed for them? Will he withhold necessary graces for salvation unless asked?

Does God have a certain amount of wrath he has to expiate by watching innocent people suffer, or else he will take it out on the world?

How does suffering “save” souls? Is it just a matter of letting God take out his anger on you, so he doesn’t have to take it out on others?

And why would god extend a world war or cause a nuclear war if popes didn’t perform certain consecration rituals?

And if these texts are just big misunderstandings, then how would one explain similar horrific stories in the old testament, such as God raining down Fire and brimstone on Sodom or God wiping out humanity with a flood?

I understand these private revelations are not binding, but the majority of catholics seem to believe in them, which would suggest that they are part of mainstream Catholic morality.  

I also understand God has the right to take life, but the astounding frequency and brutality of when and how he does it or wants to do it is quite troubling to me.

Any clarification or insight on these issues would be much appreciated.

Your questions are covering a lot of ground and I feel inadequate to the job.  But here goes.

First, here’s the difference between Public and Private Revelation (I’m going to quote from my book Mary, Mother of the Son):

 Public and Private Revelation

There are two kinds of revelation. The first, called “public” or “universal” revelation, is the deposit of faith entrusted to the apostles by Christ and handed down to the Church in the form of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. This kind of revelation ended with the death of the apostles, is protected by the charism of infallibility so the Church will not lose track of it, and must be believed by all the faithful. As the Church herself makes abundantly clear, “No new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 66).

However, in addition to this there is what the Church calls “private revelation.” Marian apparitions are a species of private, not public, revelation. Private revelation is an intimate form of communication. It doesn’t reveal new things to the Church. Rather it helps makes public revelation “present” to us today, and helps guide us in living out that public revelation. Its recipients are not protected by the charism of infallibility. But it often knocks the wax out of our ears so that we hear the gospel, perhaps for the first time in our sin-dulled lives. It’s often, so to speak, the “spark” that jumps the gap from public revelation to the inner sanctuary of the human heart, quickening the word of God for us by the power of the Spirit. The variety of such private revelations is limited only by the imagination of God.

[R]eal private revelation always points back to public revelation, just as public revelation illumines and completes private revelation. For that reason, private revelation never takes precedence over public revelation—ever. Augustine’s private revelation took him straight to Sacred Scripture and the public revelation of the Church. Betty’s, likewise, as impressive an invitation from God as you could ask for, was an invitation not to some new revelation, but to come back to Mass. Through the history of the Church, all authentic private revelation, however weird (and some stories are doozies), has always had essentially the same message: Repent of your sins, believe the teaching of the Church, say your prayers, be good, love God and your neighbor, receive the sacraments—in a word, believe and live the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s because there’s no new light to give. There’s just the good old healthy daylight of Jesus, but it’s often falling on eyes that need their scales removed. The apostles handed the light who is Jesus on to the Church two thousand years ago and the Church has been handing that light down ever since by the power of the Holy Spirit. Private revelation sheds no extra light. It just peels scales off of our eyes so that we can see the only light there has ever been: Jesus Christ.

That established, the next thing to know is that, as you note, nobody is ever required by the Church to accept the validity of a private revelation, not even one the Church approves.  Essentially, what happens is the Church say, “Look reasonable to use that this claim of apparition really happened.  So if people want to venerate it and honor the visionary, it’s okay with us.”  There is no order that we have to do so.  Some apparitions are so popular that the Church has permitted feasts days and so forth.  But nobody is required to venerate, say, Our Lady of Fatima, Lourdes, or Guadalupe.  So you can go your whole life as a Catholic, if you like and pay no attention to Fatima or the other approved apparitions.  Their sole purpose is to point you back to the sacraments, the virtues, and the fruits of the Spirit.

Myself, I have little trouble with most approved apparitions, but also little devotion to most of them.  I feel an important connection to a Eucharistic miracle that took place at Betania, Venezuela.  But (as all good private revelation does) that draws me closer to the Eucharist in my own little parish, not to Betania.

As to the questions about Fatima, I have only a couple of things I can say.

First, people don’t fall into hell.  We are damned by, not for, our sins.  Damnation requires a sustained final act of the will to keep God out.  The gates of hell are barred from the inside.  The message of cross is that we will only get into hell over Christ’s dead body (as it were).  God is not looking for opportunities to damn us.  He is doing all he can to save us.

That said, our choices matter.  We are agents of grace to other people and what we do and don’t do affects them.  So our prayers and sacrifices, like our other acts, matter as our actions do.  Fatima underscores that fact. Had Paul, for instances, not acted to preach and and pray for the church’s he founded, those people would not have heard the gospel and been saved by it.

But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!” But they have not all heeded the gospel; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ. (Ro 10:14–17).

So we are to pray as if everything depends on God, but act is if everything depends on us. Who does it really depend on? That’s like asking which blade on the scissors does the cutting.

Second.  God is not a psychopath itching to hurt people.  Jesus came to save us from sin, not from His Father.  Suffering can be redemptive in the Christian mystery in that it, like the rest our lives can be offered to God in union with Jesus, who himself offered his whole life, including his sufferings, to God for our redemption.  God was not the author of Jesus’ sufferings: we were.  God took all the Son offered him and transformed it to the resurrection.  He did it, not just for Jesus, but for us.  Through the Risen Jesus, he now offers us a share in his divinized, glorified life.  And we participate in that life by sharing in his sufferings so that we might share in his glory.  So we “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom 12:1).  Given that there is no choice in this life about whether we shall suffer, the choice we face is “Will my suffering mean something or will it be pointless garbage that happens for no reason, means nothing, and goes nowhere?”  The gospel tells us that we can unite our suffering to Jesus’ sufferings and have it issue both in our sanctification and in help for others.  As Paul says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking‡ in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church (Colossians 1:24).

If you ask me, I don’t think God *does* extends wars and similar horrors. And certainly not out of some weird fetish over getting a religious ritual performed.  I do, however, think that the repentance and conversion such rites are meant to spark can be vital to changing us, which is the real thing that shortens and ends wars.  We humans cause wars, not God.

As to the brutality of the Old Testament, that’s a whole nother kettle of fish.  My quick and dirty reply is that God reveals himself in and through a brutal people living in a brutal world.  So expect revelation to a Bronze Age culture to be perceived in terms of that culture.

I hope that helps!


8 Responses

  1. The other day my 14 y.o. asked me how a person can think if they are deprived of language. I don’t know, but I told him that I thought it would be in pictures and emotional responses. If a shepherd kid from Fatima was shown the hell of the coming war, and needed it to be impressed upon him that men and women would be reduced to thinking and acting according to the more primitive parts of the brain, –maybe the kid would see a man that looks like he’s part lizard, or a woman who is half wolf, tossed about in flames. God uses allegory. Kids are simple in their words and understanding.

    Jesus said “the kingdom of heaven is now”. I suppose the other side of that equation is the kingdom of hell. A soul that is parted from the body remains in the spiritual state it was already in.

    I don’t think God rained fire and brimstone down on his children in sodom and Gomorrah. They lived next to a volcano. His children were too drunk on sin and debauchery to hear the warnings.

    Anyway, I think the moral of the story is if Mary, our adoptive mother, shows up in our neck of the woods, sit up and listen, because it’s not good news. She’s the last warning before all hell breaks loose. Look at Venezuela and Rwanda. The Ukrainians say she showed up dressed all in black before Chernobyl.

    There are plenty of fake apparitions too. The devil loves to ape Jesus and Mary. Padre Pio said it was incredibly difficult to tell the difference. St Teresa of Avila also said this. As they became more advanced in understanding, they learned to discern the difference. It’s possible Akita was diabolical. The devil likes to project his lousy qualities upon God to ruin our relationship with (him).

    1. That makes a lot of sense, especially the part about a thought being in pictures and emotional responses. That’s how it is with dreams; I think a vision would be similar.

  2. My longer reply was completely gobbled up.

    Anyway–short answer–If Mary our adoptive mother shows up in our neck of the woods, it’s not good news. Look at what happened in all of the places she appeared in.

    There are plenty of fake apparitions too, the devil likes to ape Jesus and Mary to confuse and disorient. Akita might be a fake.

    1. That is exactly what hell is:

      1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”610 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.611 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”

      Just as I cannot understand how anybody can look at the 20th century and conclude that the idea of the demonic is silly, so I cannot look at the spectacle of MAGA and understand how anybody could conclude that a no person could every wilfully exclude himself from communion with God in favor of disappearing himself into a complete lie. God’s will to save us is strong and I pray it prevails in the end. But that is not to say that we are incapable of fighting that will for our good, possibly into eternity. I sure don’t want to take that risk.

      1. Hell was one of the teachings I had the most trouble with over the course of my conversion. But over time the cognitive dissonance between “What, even the worst person in history just gets to go to heaven with everyone else no matter what? That’s terrible!” and “What, some people are just so bad in their finite lifetime that they get punished forever and ever no matter what? That’s terrible!” became too great and I had no choice but to seriously dig into it. That exact passage from the CCC helped it all fall into place.

        A relationship where you can’t say “no” is an abusive one. If we didn’t have the real choice to reject God, if we had no option but to be united with Him whether we wanted it or not, how could we love Him freely? I believe that Hell is real – and my deepest hope is that it is and will remain empty. I know from experience that God is extremely powerful wherever He finds even the slightest toehold (and now I have an image of God clinging to seemingly sheer rock faces like Tommy Caldwell in ‘The Dawn Wall’). I think it’s possible that, in the end, God’s Word prevails completely and no human makes that final, permanent choice against love, even if it’s a (sorry) Hail Mary pass right at the very end. But I also think we have to acknowledge that someone *could* make that choice.

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