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
Medjugorje and the History of Salvation
The historic-theological context of Medjugorje is the history of salvation. That is neither strange nor unusual in the history of God's activity in the world and in his creation. God has never abandoned man or mankind to hopelessness. Whenever man would abandon God and trust in his own power, which is especially visible in the Old Testament, catastrophe and destruction would regularly appear. It must be clear to Israel and thus to us today that economic or military power do not constitute us as a people, but the direct intervention of our God into our history does. He has chosen us; he has led us and is leading us. Only under the leadership of one God is it possible to preserve a pure concept of God and to mature as God's people. Man is longing for a space wherein to feel relieved, be accepted, affirmed. He longs a space where alienation disappears and where he becomes a citizen in faith and life. That is why one needs the Church of the God incarnate who, like a good host, is the God of all people. Medjugorje has offered and accomplished that from its first days.
Looking back in the history of the Church and Christianity, we will see how always at the peaks of crises there were signs for a turning point and a turn around and reorientation. Both historical and epochal. All the great reformers, renewers of the Church and society, appeared when crises were prevalent. The appearance of religious life in the Church lends itself to being interpreted precisely by the critical situations in the Church. They are a response to the crises of faith. Likewise, on the spiritual scene we have similar manifestations, that is, antidotes. After the destructive reasoning of Descartes there is the ingenious Pascal who gives new parameters to the spirit and spirituality of Europe. After Kant, Hegel, and idealistic philosophy, we have the existential philosophy of a Kierkegaard, and after the destructive, nihilistic Nietzsche, the Russian philosopher Soloviev appears as a response that God exists, after Nietzsche had announced the death of God. But no matter how strong the criticism of religion is, the miracle of theism surpasses all traps and problems. Criticism leaves in its wake emptiness, frustration and agony, and in the end every criticism speaks on behalf what it denies: If religion is denied, the denial itself becomes the symbol of the need and exigency for what is denied. Religion becomes a necessity. Explicit anti-Christianity is always salutary for Christianity because it calls attention to its problems and the neglect of what is essential. And in this is visible the remarkable, therapeutic role of Medjugorje that has appeared at the peak of the crisis of Western thought and the communist reign of terror throughout the world.
Man's governing is serving. His freedom is connection with the necessary internal truth of things, and openness for love that makes him God like. Therefore, it is possible to place the Medjugorje events and visionaries in that category of rational foundation and witnessing. Mary, as the witness and prophet, and God, who in an elementary way intervenes in the life of individuals, take them into his service. It is a direct call, psychologically unfathomable and inexplicable, that is impossible to break away from without denying one's own self. In the same way, the message of Medjugorje is, in essence, prophetic and on prophetic message Martin Buber expressed himself this way: The prophetic spirit never thinks as a Platonic one, namely, one that possesses a universal or transtemporal conceptual truth. It rather receives message after message in totally concrete situations. And precisely for that reason its word, even after the passage of so many millennia, speaks to people in the changed and changeable life situations of the national history. That message and truth are ordinarily unpleasant and apprehensive and man becomes the mouth and medium of God. In our case, Mary and several visionaries. The relationship of the prophet to the future is not for predicting it. To prophesy means to place the community and the individual, directly or indirectly, before a choice and a decision. The future is not something offered in the palm of the hand, as something about which everything is known. On the contrary, the future depends, on what is essential, on the correctness of decision, that is, on the decision that man makes at this moment and in which at this historic kairos he participates. The prophet always puts people before an alternative. He tries to turn the steering wheel in another direction. His whole soul is in it. His words are trembling from fear and hope, on account the magnitude and power of the decision. The prophet is ordinarily a great prosecutor. He does not proclaim any boring morals or ethics of behaviour, rather the infallibility and eternity of God's word and law.
Modern man is confronted with terrifying possibilities of technological advance that chill his heart. Namely, genetic engineering, an intervention into the creative possibility itself, then the possibility that man by his own power bring down an apocalyptic reality upon this Planet because of an excessive arms build up. For that he needs a prophet, who will with his own life tend toward and direct toward the reality beyond, the transcendent. The reality here below is immanent for man, but too straight and narrow for him. In abnegating the reality beyond, man has given himself over to exaltation of this reality below, of life, and has affirmed life at any price. Greed and the lust of life for anything and everything is reaching its peak, but at that peak there is no satisfaction, but only insatiability and disgust, the devaluation of life and the rejection of everything that he does not like or no longer likes. Therefore, abortion, euthanasia, and suicide are just symptomatic manifestations and the natural fruit of that kind of understanding of life. They are the fruit of a denial of the fundamental decision for life, namely, denial of responsibility in view of eternity and eternal hope. The lust of life ends up in disgust and in the end man becomes refuse, as modern literature testifies or as the omnipresent culture of death instead of a culture of life and love.
It is possible to deluge or falsify the profundity of the divine message and truth in man, but it will always re-surface and makes its way back into the human soul. That is why everywhere there is a repeated call for concentration, meditation, contemplation, the sacred, for contact with God himself. It is an inevitable call at a time when the (un)truth of the way of thinking, of which drugs, violence, terrorism and revolution are the externally visible forms, bases itself only on the world of facts, on what is manifested, and on restricting reason to the measurable and the quantitative, and not the qualitative and invaluable. Because for man to be man, he needs morals and ethics, and in order to have ethics he needs a Creator, and faith in immortality and in God. That is why the good news of Medjugorje and Christianity is precisely in this: responsibility before God, oneself, the world and history. Medjugorje is a real challenge and call in the true meaning of the word. The goal of history is neither evolution nor progress, but conversion. If the almost complete post-Hegelian epoch was carried away with the thought of continuous ascent and progress and constant pacing toward a happier tomorrow, then today we are harvesting the bitter fruit of that process. The bible speaks of conversion, and not of evolution. Medjugorje is based precisely on that thought. All pseudo-religions, and technology and science are just exactly that, have turned against man. This is why it is terribly wrong to think of man as a being of progress and growth. As a person, he is already defined in the bible as a being pitched between Good and Evil. Neither progress nor science give him security. It rather depends on a decision for God or against him. And that is why there is so much talk about the human, which is actually being jeopardized on all sides. After unlimited faith in reason, we have entered the period of irrationalism. Therefore, in the face of today's crisis of reason it is possible to find salvation only in the return to mystery, the one that will save reason. It is not against reason, but is directed toward the meaningfulness of being and the existence of the universe, sustained by the power of the one Intelligence.
After the fall of socialism and communism and then after the frustrations produced by homo faber, homo technicus in his technical achievements, many reasons speak in favour of faith and of a conversion to the God of the Scriptures. Medjugorje in that is a visible sign, the City on the mountaintop, that is, the place between the mountains. Especially today, everyone has to confront oneself with the fact that it is impossible to achieve spiritual realities by material means or promises, that it is impossible to achieve meaning, happiness, peace of mind, health, the strength of conviction and life by material or economic well being or progress, but only by accepting oneself as a spiritual reality and as a given. In our contemporaries, the sense of the spiritual is gradually being awakened. New visions and broad perspectives are being opened in spite of the seductive voices of a New Age. In spite of so many advances in the field of technique and technology, physics and chemistry, in spite of so many achievements in all fields of both the micro- and macrocosm, micro- and astrophysics, biology and regarding the structure of atoms and organisms, science and even modern philosophy remain helpless and without a clear position in the field of being and meaning. Already long ago the philosophers Adorno and Horkheimer spoke about self-destruction of the Enlightenment. That takes place where Enlightenment is absolutised, where calculation and prediction are valued, where transcendence and the reality beyond are denied. In other words: A society whose web and woof is agnosticism and materialism, cannot survive in the long run. Its consequences are the decay of morals and of all values. Even the philosophy of meaning, so-called logotherapy, of one Victor Frankl, which give its counsels to those who have lost every tie with religion and the church, cannot help those who are still within the Church but facing great questions. The first task is the healing of morals and the acceptance of moral values in society. It is not permissible for man to trespass limits with impunity. Man is free when he acknowledges the law of freedom as the atmosphere that defines him. On the one hand we are facing, we would almost say, pathological concern and fear for man's physical health, physical integrity, and ecology, while, on the other hand, there prevails a general insensitivity in regard to man's moral integrity. That, in fact, is a denial of man as man, a denial of the freedom and the dignity of man. Therefore, the question of revelation and God's speaking in history and the modern world is again put before us, and, in that, Medjugorje is an unavoidable milestone. Without God man remains just a little cog, a tiny piece in human history and this is why Medjugorje forces us to return to the sources of our own faith, namely, to the return to a revelation whose peak, purpose and meaning is Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and man, in whom is hidden the mystery of God himself. He is the Word in whom every treasure of wisdom and knowledge is hidden (cf Col 2:3), and as such he reveals the mystery of God himself and pierces the silence in which God seems to be wrapped.
If the spiritual scene thus far in Western liberalism and Marxist communism denied faith any right and capacity to mould society, public affairs, and a common future within mankind, today we meet a different trend on the scene. Turmoils on all sides clearly warn that religion and its subjective expression in personal faith - both on the personal and social level - is a force, which neither lends itself to be uprooted or deleted from man's consciousness, nor can the world give up its role in moulding mankind. Without faith, it is impossible to mould the future. But all the traps of past centuries must be avoided, including any kind of usurping of faith for political goals. The primary role of faith is concern for man, and in that, the Church is called to prepare in hearts a space for the God who comes, not by its own power but by the power of the Spirit, not by institution but by witnessing, not by law but by love, life and suffering, and thus help society to find its identity again. All history is just one great struggle between belief and disbelief, between Good and Evil, and today we are witnesses of the great world drama in which we must not hesitate, but, by the power of faith, hope and love, withstand the omnipotence of resignation, indifference, fatalism, and despair. To enable people to love is the imperative of the moment. Also to withstand public opinion and to do it the way Jesus did it before Pilate and as the present Pope does it before the mighty of this world. Jesus was not afraid of the cross but the modern believer fears the very thought of suffering and martyrdom. Everyone, and in particular high Church dignitaries, fears for his image, even if it were a simple stinking commentary in some daily paper that is written today and is forgotten tomorrow. One should be ready to take a risk and to dare follow the call of Jesus. Mary is teaching us that everyday in her school in Medjugorje.