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
A Response from Faith
Life is neither a game nor does the 'law of might makes right' rule in it. It is woven of suffering and love, of sin and grace, the devil's temptation, of trials, but also of the rejection of trials and of victory over the tempter. In Medjugorje we are confronted with an explicit call of conversion to the God of life, with a call to personal prayer as the response of human freedom to divine freedom, as the encounter of two loves. Medjugorje is the explicit affirmation of personhood and individuality in contrast to emergence into some sort of union or cosmic One as New Age, for example, wants it to be. No matter how much individuals claim that theism is disappearing, we are witnesses that faith is not being lost, that religion is not being atrophied nor is it disappearing, but it is only assuming a new and different form and, thereby, changing its internal essence. In Christianity, we have a perfect synthesis of reason, will, and feelings, which is not at all easy. It is too subtle and in danger of being turned this way or that way at any moment. It is always in internal tension. The same tension we shall find outside Christianity as well. Almost all religions of the world are aware that there is only one God. It is clear to polytheism also that gods are not the plural of one God, because there is no God in the plural. God is one and only. Gods, even if we call them by the same name as the God, are always powers or forces on an inferior level. But, in religions, that one God is usually lost sight of, disappears from practical life, and divinities make their appearance on the scene. That one God is not dangerous. He is goodness itself. He does evil to no one. But in religions all ritual and worship is not referred to God, but to the divinities and the powers which surround our life and with which man has to reckon. That falling away from God is chronic in the history of religions, and is present also today in our post-Christian Europe. That is why we are today being jeopardized with neo-paganism. The man who excludes God as the one and only good, as one who is far distant from him, will turn to tiny, insignificant powers, that are close by, that surround us, and thereby humiliates his very self, creates for himself artificial gods, as the atheist Freud once expressed himself. That is then, the decomposition of Christianity and of the Christian synthesis. It is the decomposition of God that leads to this disintegration and the decomposition of man. And Paul clearly expressed himself about this, "For, though we live in the world, we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ " (2 Cor 10:3-5).
In the search for a response and a real cure, we must, first of all, start with our very selves. What kind of powers do we have available, and what kind of powers can we count on at this moment? What are the tasks put before us? What are the dangers that lie in ambush for all of us? First of all, we must overcome nationalism and ideological division. Communism left behind it an ideological wasteland in souls, economic decay, an excessively burdensome heritage, and with us here even a war. A common and decisive will is necessary to overcome the existing condition and to move on into the future.
First of all, we must search for common grounds. What is the foundation that is common to all of us? What is the common basis? We would say: belonging to the Western cultural milieu and at the same time the Christian basis in the foundations of our reality. Nowadays everything aims toward a state guided by law and a freedom based on law. Freedom and law are not two opposing terms, but freedom and law mutually condition each other. The legislator cannot proclaim odds and ends as law and law cannot be deduced simply from statistics. There must exist a consciousness of responsibility before history, the dignity of man, and before God. Everything must rest on foundations that the legislator cannot prescribe, but must presume. Today these presumptions are undermined quite a bit in society by the permissiveness and moral collapse of Western civilization. That is why it is necessary to look in retrospect in order to be able to analyze both the times past, and the present times in which we are living, as well as to be able to cast a forward look toward tomorrow.
In the sixties, a great turning around was felt in the atmosphere. On the one hand, at the end of that decade we had a student unrest that cannot be looked at separately from the Church. They called into question the painfully achieved progress on the social and economic levels and there was a threat that all would end up in chaos and anarchy. A crisis of authority shook the foundations of the social system. This unrest came out of the post-conciliar ferment within the Church itself, but also from the revolutionary American Protestant theology. The Eucharist was celebrated on barricades in Paris in 1968 as an expression of fraternization among fighters for anarchistic liberty and as a sign of hope of the political messianism in the world that was emerging through violence and terror. This clearly indicates that in the foundations of that revolutionary movement, there is a religious, that is, pseudo-religious, characteristic. That theological implication we shall also find in the Italian and German terrorism of the seventies. It is impossible to understand Italian terrorism if it is abstracted from the crisis and turmoil of post-conciliar Italian Catholicism.
Namely, let us remember: at the end of the fifties, John XXIII announced, we would almost say, a utopian plan, the convocation of an Ecumenical Council. The council in its opening and unfolding grew into the central event of the second half of our century. It is deliberately aimed at being pastoral, as the opening up of the Church toward the world, the opening of windows and doors, but it intentionally avoided the pitfalls of previous councils, namely, it did not go in for dogmatising or a proclamation of moral-theological or dogmatic definitions. Perhaps the defining of the dogma on Mary's Assumption into heaven was felt somewhere as a burden during the pontificate of Pius XII. Namely, the Pope wished to crown his pontificate with it, but actually, he caused the opposite effect. The intelligentsia remained frustrated and the interconfessional fronts were blocked.
In contrast and in spite of the expectations of the Roman Curia, the Council had a very dynamic unfolding. It opened itself to the questions and problems of the times and epoch, to the problems of the church, the developing countries, the non-Christian religions, and the non-catholic confessions of faith. It undertook courageous steps in the direction of liturgical reform and mediated extraordinary pastoral initiatives. At the peak of the council it came to the succession of Popes. The bishops little by little had grown weary of everything. There were too many requests for changes and modifications of the Council schemes and proposals. Some could hardly be woven into the tissue of the conciliar documents that the Council published in the end. But what followed after the Council?
We would say, there was a lot of wild growth and wilderness, of misunderstanding of the conciliar decisions, a true galimatias in many fields of life and activity, the falling away and exodus of many from the priesthood, religious life, and the Church. The pontificate of Paul VI was characterized by renewal and progress, but also by a certain restoration and restraint. Today's pontificate of John Paul II is characterized by his countless journeys and pilgrimages throughout the world. It brings along with it an opening up of the Church to the whole world, the transition from a static into a dynamic Church, and, thereby, also brings collegiality, that is, solidarity of the Pope of Rome with the whole world and with mankind. Today's Pope dialogues with all religions because, according to the Council, we find the elements and seeds of truth in each one of them. His travels throughout the world are also at the same time an adieu to the western concept of Christianity in favour of an openness to the whole world and of the integration of Latin American, Asian and Negroid culture into the Church. Also the new term pilgrimage making contributes toward that, in the foundations of which, seen from the viewpoint of the history of dogma, lies a new understanding of the Church, not as a static unit, but as a journeying people of God, accordingly, not of a Church as the institution divinely superior to the whole world, but of a Church as the people of God that is journeying toward its eschatological goal together with the rest of the whole world. Therefore, the Pope is the symbol of that pilgrimage making and all those who travel and make pilgrimage to Medjugorje can be compared to that. It is the overcoming of all boundaries and the merging of all into one union. Thereby is being fulfilled what Paul VI already formulated under the term civilization of love that John Paul II wholeheartedly accepted. That is why it is necessary to confront the omnipresent culture of death in which we are living with Jesus Christ and a vibrant Christianity, the alternative that faith in Jesus Christ offers to the contemporary life style.