By Irene Lagan
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, SEPT. 3, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Private Marian apparitions serve to remind mankind that God exists, and to provide an opportunity to conduct a “global examination of conscience,” according to Mariologist Mark Miravalle.
The professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville will be a speaker at the 22nd International Mariological Marian Congress, to begin Thursday in Lourdes.
The congresses, held every four years, are sponsored by the Pontifical International Marian Academy. This year’s theme is “The Apparitions of the Most Holy Virgin Mary: Between History, Faith and Theology.”
Benedict XVI named Cardinal Paul Poupard, retired president of the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue, as his special envoy to the Marian conference. The Pope will visit the shrine later this month for the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions.
Miravalle, author of “Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons” (Queenship Publishing), discusses in the first part of this interview with ZENIT the significance of the congress and the importance of Marian apparitions for our times.
Part 2 of this interview will appear Thursday.
Q. What is the significance of this congress, one week before the Pope’s visit to Lourdes, and what is the significance of Benedict XVI’s Lourdes pilgrimage?
Miravalle: The Holy Father does not hesitate to celebrate authentic Marian private revelation nor does the Church, as is evidenced by his Lourdes visit. Pope Benedict is quick to acknowledge one of the world’s most renowned Marian fonts of conversion, grace and healing that has flowed to the five continents through the true apparitions of the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes.
Pope Benedict XVI, as did John Paul II before him, also acknowledges the organic connection between the Lourdes apparitions and the particular trials of the sick throughout the world, which is recognized every year on the Lourdes anniversary of Feb. 11, now designated as the World Day of the Sick.
This Holy Father is very much following the course of John Paul II in highlighting Our Lady’s co-redemptive role with Jesus as the perfect model for the people of God on how we should patiently “offer up” our sufferings and illnesses in union with Christ for the mysterious release of grace for others, making us co-redeemers as well.
Hopefully, the anticipatory Mariological-Marian congress can help prepare for the Pope’s visit by presenting and articulating the theology of the Church regarding Marian private revelation.
Q. What is the purpose of this congress?
Miravalle: I believe the purpose of the conference is to theologically and scientifically examine the domain of Marian private revelation, in its nature, its history, and its contemporary relevance.
As Rene Laurentin summarized, the Church essentially examines the three criteria of message, phenomena and spiritual fruits when discerning a reported revelation.
Laurentin also mentioned once that if Lourdes happened today it would probably not be accepted in light of the heightened scepticism and rationalism of our times. In this age of greater rationalism, materialism, consumerism and humanism, the possibility of the supernatural seems more and more diminished for the common person.
And yet, God continues to “interfere” in human history by sending the Mother of Jesus, particularly in times when a more rationalistic vision has made acts of Christian faith more difficult. The human family needs to be reminded, sometimes in a dynamic and supernatural way, that God exists, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a universal call, that we all will be held responsible for our human choices, and that, over all, the world could benefit from a type of “global examination of conscience” on how well we are responding to the ubiquitous invitations from the “Hound of Heaven,” as the poet [Francis] Thompson refers to God, for personal salvation and for world peace. But it remains up to us to respond.
The Church is appropriately both cautious and open to the domain of private revelation. She can never run the risk of losing credibility as guardian of public revelation by a too hasty confirmation of a reported private revelation, let alone something false. And yet, we can see the sublimely generous fruits of authentic Marian private revelation, which is but a heavenly spark to compel the world to living the saving message of the Gospel in the fullness of the Church, and as well to assist the Church’s ongoing mission of evangelization.
Imagine the 16th century without Guadalupe, or the 19th and 20th centuries without Rue du Bac, Lourdes and Fatima. While always remaining obedient to the Church’s definitive judgment on a given revelation, we should thank God for the tremendous graces and blessings brought to the world through the avenue of authentic Marian apparitions.
Q: Are there more reported and approved Marian apparitions in this age than in other ages?
Miravalle: There have been more apparitions approved in the contemporary era than in any other era in the Church’s history. We must keep in mind that the nature and purpose of private revelation is never to replace public revelation contained in Scripture and Tradition, but rather to accentuate the more challenging aspects of the Gospel. For example, the call to be more generous in prayer, to fasting regularly, and to committed conversion, which alone leads to a spiritual peace of heart.
If true Marian apparitions are on the increase in our times, it means our age is in greater need of encouragement to live generously the prayer and sacramental life of the Church. We should be grateful, but we should also, as Blessed Pope John XXIII said in his Feb. 18, 1959, Lourdes address, “listen attentively to the salutary warnings of the Mother of God,” which seek to “guide us in our conduct.”
Q: What topic will you be discussing at the Lourdes congress?
Miravalle: My presentation will be on the theme of Mary’s unique cooperation in the redemption as it appears in the 19th- and 20th-century approved Marian apparitions.
In the apparitions of the “Miraculous Medal” in 1830, Lourdes in 1858, Fatima in 1917, Amsterdam in 1945, and Akita, Japan, in the 1970s, the theme of Our Lady’s co-redemption, as well as the Marian call for Christian co-redemption by the people of God is a pronounced, consistent theme.
The Mother of Jesus uniquely shared as “Co-redemptrix” with Jesus in accomplishing the world’s redemption. But we are all called to offer prayer and penance to God in reparation for sin and for the conversion of sinners throughout this Marian message to the modern world.
Bernadette echoed Our Lady’s call for “penance, penance, penance.” Our Lady of Fatima asked the children visionaries to daily pray the rosary for conversion of sinners and world peace, to “make of everything you can a sacrifice,” and Our Lady appeared as “Our Lady of Sorrows” during the Oct. 13, 1917, apparition of the solar miracle.
The statue of the Lady of All Nations at Akita, Japan, wept 101 times and the apparitions and phenomena were declared supernatural by Bishop [John] Ito of Niigata after consultation with Cardinal [Joseph] Ratzinger in 1984. The apparitions of the Lady of All Nations, approved by Bishop [Joseph] Punt of Amsterdam as authentic in 2002, furthered the call for Christian co-redemption as well as for the solemn definition of Mary as co-redemptrix, mediatrix and advocate.
It should be no surprise that the truth of Our Lady’s unique role with Jesus in redemption as taught explicitly by the magisterium during the last two centuries is mirrored in the domain of ecclesiastically approved private revelation from the same historical time period.
Q. The theme of Mary as co-redemptrix is also the subject of discussion concerning a possible fifth Marian dogma. What would be the potential benefits of proclaiming this dogma at this time for the Church?
Miravalle: I believe a papal definition would have numerous positive effects for the Church. It would articulate this perennial doctrine of Our Lady’s unique role, which is entirely dependent on Jesus Christ, divine and human redeemer of all, with the greatest possible scriptural and theological clarity. It’s hard to think of a more a capable pontiff for such a definition than our own genial Pope-theologian, Pope Benedict, if he would so desire to make this proclamation.
I also believe that this dogma would serve the ecumenical mission of the Church by assuring other Christian traditions that the Catholic Church does distinguish between Jesus Christ as the divine and human Redeemer upon whom all redemption depends, and the unique participation of his immaculate human mother in the history of salvation.
The dogma would also focus the people of God upon their Christian duty to participate in the salvation of others. Would this not be the antidote to the isolation and loneliness of so many? Is this not answering the call to the new evangelism, and the call of Our Lady of Fatima to pray and do penance for the conversion of sinners? It would in fact be a clear answer on the part of the Church for all those who fear that suffering is meaningless. On the contrary, for the Christian, human suffering is always supernaturally and eternally redemptive.
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On the Net:
Miravalle’s “Mariology”: www.queenship.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=6568