Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates / Catholic Spiritual Direction

What the Church says about private revelations (I of II)

June 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Private Revelation

Dear Father John, I understand that we need to defer to the judgment of the Church on matters of private revelations. It only stands to reason that the Church has the wisdom of thousands of years behind it and is very capable of guiding us in these cases. Even so, I feel drawn to dig deeper into Medjugorje and even what I have read about Garabandal. Is this instinct wrong or harmful to my faith? Surely there were people who believed and were totally committed to the reality of Fatima before it was officially approved. I am not asking if you agree with what is alleged to have happened in these places, but what are wise guidelines I might use as I evaluate these and other private revelations and whether or not I might adopt any specific devotional practices related to them? I might also say that I am completely committed to submit to the magisterial directives on these kinds of things. Thanks for your help.

This question is more easily answered than you might think. But to understand the answer, it will be helpful to consider briefly two spiritual principles.

The Church Is Alive!

First, as Pope Benedict XVI put it in his first public homily as pope: “The Church is alive… and the Church is young!” Unlike merely natural organisms, which grow to maturity, then flourish, and then slowly decay and die, the Church continues to grow. The Church as a whole never grows old, never stops branching out, bearing fruit, and expanding. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, and the Holy Spirit constantly surges forth from within the heart of the Church and gives rise to new saints, new associations, new evangelizing efforts, new faith communities, new religious orders and apostolic institutes… This is the history of the Church, and this is the present moment of the Church, and this will be the future of the Church.

Think about it. Every religious order that exists in the Church today, from contemplative nuns to missionary priests, began as a small association of faithful Catholics who were following the lead of the Holy Spirit, but who did not have official Church approval. Every approved Marian apparition began, as you allude to in your question, as a non-approved apparition. The life of the Church is not bureaucratic, but organic. The ever-flowering newness of the Church flows from within, like new branches growing from the trunk of a tree or a new season of fruit ripening on its limbs.

This is why there is always room for new devotions. The dazzling variety of devotions and traditions within the Catholic tradition reflects the dazzling variety of beings in the universe, because it flows from the same source: the infinite and infinitely creative love of the Triune God.

The Holy Spirit Will Never Contradict Himself

Second, the Holy Spirit will never contradict himself. Private devotions, apparitions, new congregations and associations – if these are truly from the Holy Spirit, they will harmonize with the life of the Church and eventually receive explicit approval from the Church. A beautiful detail from the Gospel of John illustrates this point.

If you remember, on the first Easter Sunday, when St. Mary Magdalene informed the Apostles that Jesus’ tomb was empty, St. John (the “beloved disciple”) and St. Peter “… set out to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple [St. John], running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, [and] went right into the tomb…” St. John is the younger disciple. St. Peter is the leader of the Apostles. St. John arrived first, but waited to go in – he allowed Peter to enter first. In a similar fashion, new movements of the Holy Spirit within in the Church arrive at a new experience of God’s grace more quickly than the Magisterium of the Church can approve them. But an authentic new movement or devotion will always be recognized, before its official approval, through its obedience to the Church’s legitimate authority. It will always submit to that authority, throughout the entire process of investigation, because that authority is also an expression of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit’s guiding action within the body of the Church, and the Holy Spirit will never contradict himself. If individuals or groups show stubborn disobedience to legitimate Church authority, it would indicate the presence of a different spirit.

You may be interested to read the Church’s official guidelines about investigating apparitions and other extraordinary phenomena. They are published on the Vatican website, here.

In our next post on this topic, we will talk about what you should do after considering the two spiritual principles presented in this post, we will take a look at two indicators (from God or only curiosity), and how to stay on track when dealing with new and private revelations.


Art for this post on private revelations: Detail of Lucia Santos, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, the three children whom the Virgin Mary revealed her famous “three secrets” in Fátima, Portugal, attributed to Joshua Benoliel, official photographer of King Carlos I of Portugal, 1917, PD-US author's life plus 80 years or less, published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!

  • New Name

    Thank you, Father John, for this marvelous explanation. I love that it has a scriptural basis.

    Yes, disobedience to legitimate Church authority indicates a different spirit than that of God. Throughout Church history, true apparitions have told the seer(s) to submit to Church authority…always. Obedience to the Magisterium is one of the hallmarks of the saints…no matter how much it costs the individual.

    Self-promotion, as well as material gain, from the revelation also indicate a different spirit than that of God.

  • Jborrman

    I love this article and am passing it on to many. I love your description of the Church. It says so much more than ever-changing, ever evolving! Ever new and open to the Holy Spirit.It made me feel the life of the Church.   
    Thank you

  • Father, I do not know where to post this so I looked for the most recent post to ask, Father my prayer life is poor, I want to pray more but something always blocks my even mere thought of following through, This is hard as I am still a relatively new Catholic, and I lost my hunger for the Rosary, please help

    • Becky313

      Hi Ron, Until someone can answer your question more specifically, here’s a link to some posts on prayer that might be helpful:

      You can also review the posts according to category – look for “Categories” in the far right-hand column.

      Your desire to improve your prayer life and the act of reaching out for help are very good signs that the Lord is working in your soul to help you do just that!

      I am praying for you! 

    • New Name


      After you read the first link (Part I) that Becky sent, there is also a Part Il:

      AND a Part III:

      God bless you. Your desire to improve your prayer life is itself a gift to you from the Lord.

      • Becky313

        Now why didn’t I think of that…..? 🙂

        Thanks New!!

    • judeen

      hi, I am not a preist.. but I do have problems consintrating… there is a saint that only said the our Father…. from the heart… the most important thing is to pray from your heart…. and pray for others.. when I pray each bead is for a group of people.. or for some healing or forgiveness… and glorify God on the big beads… make it your own the rosary is a weapon of protection.. the chaplet of mercy is shorter,, faster.. yet I still pray almost each bead for a healing.. it is you and God.. that is important… your love for God. use your beleif… ~~~

  • judeen

    this is so important.. test all things…mary would appear to padre pio , yet 1 time she seemed different… He praised the Lord than asked her to.. it turned into a angry demon and dissappeared.. how do not care how close you are to God test it.. when spiritual really test it.. all appearations should glorify God.. and bring people back to confession and church… the church is on a wigglily line when it goes to the right all kinds of saint come to straighten it out then to the left again saints of all kinds to get it back on track… we are spiritual beings we will expereince spiritual things at times.. test it.

  • Mary@42

    Thank you, Fr. John……in this Statement, you have said all that needs to be said about Private Revelations:

    “But an authentic new movement or devotion will always be recognized, before its official approval, through its obedience to the Church’s legitimate authority. It will always submit to that authority, throughout the entire process of investigation, because that authority is also an expression of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit’s guiding action within the body of the Church, and the Holy Spirit will never contradict himself.” 

    It is so very true……disobedience to the  Church Authority – The Magisterium – is a sure sign one is dealing with other spirits and not The Holy Spirit.

  • Please see our FAQ’s for positing policies.

Skip to toolbar