The Historical-Theological Context of the Medjugorje Apparitions
Date: November 10, 2005 , Originally published November 10, 2001
Author: Dr. fra Tomislav Pervan, OFM
Category: Theology reports
Content of the article
Comparisons with Salvation History
For almost every occasion and pondering, history and Sacred Scripture can be our teacher and guide. They offer us sufficient illustrative material for our reflections in concrete situations, particularly in the context of Medjugorje and the historical turning point with reference to the collapse of communism in these past two decades of our century and millennium. Communism caved in on itself. It was unnecessary to go against it with weapons or force. Why did it happen that way? There are many reasons. In the first place, the ideologists and leaders no longer believed in their own ideas of creating a better future and a happier tomorrow on the principles of economy or a higher gross national product. Later on, it was impossible to hold the world under terror by the force of repression and the non freedom of thought, of self expression and self determination. Here I would compare the fall of communism with the fall of Jericho in the book of Joshua. Let us remember how the Israelites entered the Promised Land and the collapse of the walls of Jericho. The Bible interprets it as a direct intervention of God in the history of the chosen people. Human strength did not destroy the walls, but prayer and song, prayerful processions around the walls. That is, God himself, who moulds history and gives it direction, demolished the walls. It is a sign that God himself hands the land over to his people who came from a foreign land, from the wilderness after decades of wandering through the barren mountains. Military might or power did not demolish the walls, but devout singing, day and night processions around the walls with the Ark of the Covenant. The victorious march and the triumph are condensed into that one moment, and that should be for all the future a sign to the whole nation not to trust in itself, but rather in the Lord who tears down strongholds. It was, of course, soon overshadowed by moral decay within the nation itself, by sin and failures, both individual and collective. Life in the new environment continues to be jeopardized by all sorts of attackers and usurpers. However, the internal decadence of the nation kept on giving opportunities to attackers to conquer and subdue the nation with greater ease. Let us remember what happened with Jericho and the curse that Joshua pronounced over it, "Joshua laid an oath upon them at that time, saying, 'Cursed before the LORD be the man that rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his first-born shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates'" (Joshua 6:26). And in I Kings (16:34) it says, "In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho; he laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his first-born, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun."
That tissue, woven out of fulfilment and responsibility (under the threat of obvious punishment), knitted from the command and the gift of grace, automatically imposes itself upon us when we look closely at the political processes, the turmoils and the fall of communism in our own most recent history. Perhaps to some ears or eyes it will seem inappropriate to mention here the walls of Jericho, the trumpets and the prayerful processions around the walls. For a long time now our contemporaries no longer believe in that because they are enlightened, or they consider themselves to be so, but we are witnesses of a similar process that has developed among us. However, that which happened with the election of the Polish Cardinal K. Wojtyla as Pope, and after Medjugorje, namely, the collapse of communism in 1989, has not yet been adequately explained nor does it have its historical-theological interpreter. Maybe the reason for that is that only six years separate us from the collapse of communism, but it is, undoubtedly, the most decisive and the greatest turning point in the history of the world and civilization. The Pope is certainly the initiator of that process of the fall of communism. He was the first to penetrate the so-called iron curtain, in the first place of his own Polish nation, and then he went on laying the obvious indicators for a more human and freer life. The year 1989 is a historic date before which a person can only fall on their knees, be amazed and freely say: God does not speak only with words; he is at work. One should, according to Jesus' word, clearly read the 'signs of the times'.
Here we would like to mention the example of today's Pope, the only modern recognized moral force in the whole of mankind. He is the shepherd of entire mankind. He offers his leadership because he is aware of his own mission that he has from Jesus Christ, the power that stands behind him. He is explicitly a Marian Pope because after his election he spoke like this: "I was afraid to accept this election but I accepted it in the spirit of obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ and in full confidence in our most holy Mother. . .And so today I stand before you all confessing our common faith, our hope and out confidence in Christ's Mother and the Mother of the Church." When some day the history of Europe and the modern world will be written, the history of world communism and its fall, its collapse, and caving in on itself, the present Pope will also certainly have his own unique, honourable, and historic place. Who does not poignantly remember all of those images in which were clearly seen the Pope's self-confidence, self-awareness, determination, and superiority over the contemporary, particularly the communist, leaders and 'big shots'. If there is any image that more strongly signifies the fall of communism and the Marxist idol, the complete shakiness of that system, then it is an image that went around the world and is related to the present Pope during his visit to his Polish homeland after he was elected as Peter' successor. In Poland, the military dictatorship was already in power. Pope Wojtyla and the leader of the junta, General Jaruzelski, appeared on the stage before a multitude of millions. The one has behind him all the military power and force, the strength of weapons, terror, violence, the system of retaliation, godless communism. But there is one thing he does not have behind him. He does not have the people. The other one on the stage, the Pope, fragile in himself, has Jesus Christ behind him, eternity, the word and the promise of God. Force and weapons were standing against God's word and eternity. The General and the man of power, whose authority rests on clay feet, was standing against the Pope who speaks with powerful words and a conviction which only the Holy Spirit gives. He speaks without quivering, but when the General takes the paper in his hands, they are shaking, his words are fading away or are swallowed in his throat. He is afraid. His hands quiver at the Pope's words. He is dripping with cold sweat. Once upon a time the dictator Stalin queried, in fact made fun of, how many divisions does that Pope have in Rome, while Jaruzelski did not dare to ask nor even literally to pronounce how many divisions this Pope has, because he was aware of the power that this man has in his nation. He knows that the entire world is behind him, all of Poland. He knows well what a military dictatorship brings with itself, and he himself had much to be afraid of since recent world history took a totally different direction away from communism. In a single Pope there is the primordial power of the Christian faith, a faith which is alive and which is proclaimed simply and comprehensibly, without an excessive defense. It is a faith of simple testimony for which the modern world is yearning.
With the election of the present Pope and, later on with the Medjugorje apparitions and events, and finally with the fall of communism, certainly the deepest incision of all European history was made. Not only regarding the Croatian people and all the nations that were enslaved under the communist reign of terror, but also regarding the end of the cold war and the conflict between East and West. The fact that that process and truly revolutionary event was achieved without an explicit protagonist, without an explicit historical personality, without a clear program, without a strategy, and what is even more noticeable, as has never happened in the history of mankind - without bloodshed, must still be more surprising to us. Of course, abstracting from the fact of this genocidal war that is taking place on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia. The historian stands dumbfounded and stricken before these facts and is not capable of mentioning adequate reasons or causes. He must either on the one hand renounce causal connections, or else on the other hand admit and embrace the idea that we are precisely the ones who are in this historical moment faced with the direct intervention of God himself in history. It is painful to recognize that in times past we have not developed a sensibility to this within ourselves and, in particular, that we are not even grateful to God for this. It is still far away from being present in our consciousness and we have not grasped the depths and authentic meaning of these events. If God is at work, then we have no greater obligation than to refer to this event in a human and Christian way, rightly and justly, with dignity and gratefulness. If a historical miracle can exist, then what has happened is a true and magnificent miracle of our times.
Because in our understanding of miracles and wonders, we are used to observing them only when an individual experiences healing in his body in the absence of a doctor or of medicine. However, miracles are not limited only to individual destinies. Miracles exist in history. Here we should learn something from the Jews and Judaism. Namely, the Jews have considered their own entire history as an actual dialogue with their God, as a miracle in their origin, their continuation and existence. Therefore, the demolition of the Berlin wall and all other walls in the world are like a miracle. The ideological walls, that were dividing not only Europe but the whole world, no longer exist in their previous form. These walls were not demolished by armed force or violence, but with persevering prayer and the revolution of candles, the outbreak of the Spirit and spiritual expansion in the world, in so many marches for freedom that were more powerful than the barbed wire and the concrete walls. The Spirit revealed its power and strength. The trumpet of the Spirit and the cry of the spirit for freedom was manifested as being stronger than the walls and the prisons in which human freedom was languishing in exile. Although it is not permissible to gratuitously implicate God in a game, we are still left with the possibility, real and tangible, of thinking also about such an option in our reflections, because faith in God was setting the tone for these movements of the spirit and the new Jericho trumpets of freedom.
Closed and locked gates were opened. Dividing walls were demolished. The breeze of freedom began to be felt. All of these are the consoling and encouraging processes that appear in the most recent history of which also Medjugorje is a participant, actually a true contemporary and initiator. We must not lose sight of these processes. They remain our signpost and the foundation of hope. But we must also not abstract from, nor lose sight of what followed in the history of Israel after the Jericho walls were demolished. Soon the joy and rapture, the happiness and enthusiasm over the conquered city was transformed into tasteless, daily routine, and all that enthusiasm disappears amid every day worries and torments. For survival of the nation, it is not enough to inhabit the same state or the same land. The oblivion of God and the social injustice, a consummate egotism or egotistical understanding of freedom, pushed the entire nation into internal decadence, moral and spiritual decay, at the end of which we again find enslavement to foreigners and enemies of the nation. The internal decay, moral as well as ethnic, leads into a renewed loss of freedom, which the Book of Judges unmistakably speaks of, on its every page. Freedom, such as this in the post-communist period, is always excessively demanding. Man does not get it served on a platter, and it vanishes precisely at the moment it desires to be unlimited. In other words, the decline of Marxism and communism does not automatically give birth to a free individual or state, nor to a healthy society or a healthy person. Let us remember a parable from the mouth of Jesus: In the place of one exorcized devil, the unclean spirit finds seven others worse than itself and returns to find the house well swept and clean, but empty (Matt 12:43-45). That parable of Jesus is continuously renewed and verified all throughout history. One freed from the yoke of Marxism does not automatically find a new life style nor has he thereby based his life on a new foundation. The loss of the ideology, which gave the tone to all of life and, to a certain extent, carried it along, can easily turn into egoism and nihilism, and that would be the same as the return of the seven evil and worse demons. Who can deny that the relativism that is reigning everywhere, and the indifferentism to which we are exposed are not the way into nihilism, into the denial of everything positive and human?
Therefore, a crucial question is put before us: With what spiritual content are we capable of filling in the spiritual vacuum that appeared in souls and on the spiritual scene after the breakdown of Marxism, that is, of the perilous and dreadful Marxist experiment? On what spiritual foundations are we capable of building and able to work on a new future so as to be able to link not only East and West together, but also the North and the South of this Planet? While straining over the diagnosis of our contemporary situation and while giving some predictions for tomorrow's development, tasks and opportunities, it has to be developed on a world wide dimension because nowadays the destiny of one part of mankind is dependent on the totality of events among nations, and decisions made at the highest level reflect on the lowest and vice versa. In speaking of what is personal, we must think of the global and vice versa, and, the same way, in thinking of the global we must think of the personal and the individual.