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Discerning Private Revelations (Part II of II)

September 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Discernment, Fr. Bartunek, Private Revelation

…a reader asks: My question is about claims of locutions and messages on various websites. It seems to me they're threatening readers that, unless Pope Francis proclaims “the 5th Marian Dogma” very soon, the world faces social destruction and nuclear war. I feel fearfully pressured to spend all my time in prayer as the time draws near. I've spoken to other priests and laity about this. I need your advice and help.

In Part I, we looked at the basic guidelines that the Catechism gives us regarding private revelations and then examined the first consideration about them: that they are never obligatory. Today, we will look at two other important observations about private revelations and some practical guidelines for deciding whether or not to use them.

Not Adding, Only Encouraging
The second thing to note is that legitimate private revelations will never claim to surpass or correct Christ’s definitive public revelation. In other words, they can never claim to tell us Discerning Private Revelationsthings necessary for salvation that Christ himself didn’t reveal to us. This is important to recognize, because private revelations often include predictions about future events. But these are notoriously difficult to interpret properly. Predictions, received through legitimate prophetic activity, are meant to spur us on to a more fervent living of our faith here and now. They are not meant to instill unhealthy anxiety and fear and panic.

Furthermore, as Cardinal Sodano and Cardinal Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI) explained while commenting on the Message of Fatima, these types of predictions “do not describe photographically events in the future, but synthesize and compress against a single background facts which extend through time in an unspecified succession and duration… Not every element of the vision has to have a historical sense. It is the vision as a whole that matters… The center is found where the vision becomes a summons and guide to the will of God… Prediction of the future is of secondary importance…” This whole document, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the start of the third millennium, is worth reading. You can find it on the Vatican website at

Here again, when we react to private revelations with panic or violence, that is usually an indication that something is awry, either in our interpretation, or in the revelation itself. Predictions of future events are meant to move us to greater fidelity to Christ now, in our daily lives, in our pursuit of Christian virtue.

Litmus Test: Obedience
Third, since private revelations are permitted or sent by God in order to help us live more fully our Christian discipleship, the usual litmus test for their authenticity includes obedience to legitimate Church authority. This is why the Catechism specifies: “guided by the Magisterium of the Church…”

Wherever private revelations inspire disobedience to the Church’s legitimate authority (the pope and the bishops in communion with the pope), either doctrinal, moral, or disciplinary, something is wrong. God will not contradict himself.  Sometimes the spiritual battle that is always raging in the world creates some confusion and misunderstandings that stir up the appearance of disobedience, when there is, in fact, no spirit of disobedience. This is one reason why the Church usually waits a long time before recognizing these revelations. Other times, the spirit of disobedience is palpable, and is shown in acts of disobedience to legitimate ecclesiastical authority. That kind of disobedience cannot be inspired by God. Legitimate private revelations, understood properly, will always edify the Church and the individuals who make use of them. They will spur greater patience, charity, fortitude, and unity. They will foster greater devotion to prayer and to mercy and to Catholic doctrine. They will inspire the pursuit of Christian virtues and joyful love for God and neighbor.

Getting Practical
So, what is a faithful Catholic to do in the face of the many, many claims of private revelations that are out there?  Insofar as the revelations are in harmony with the basic indicators mentioned above, they can be accepted and used as gifts from the Lord. But even in that case, we are never obliged to use them.

When it comes to personal discernment of whether or not to use them, therefore, we need to follow the usual guidelines for spiritual discernment. For someone who is already on the path of Christian discipleship, gifts and motions from God will inspire interior peace and humble determination to seek the Lord’s face. If something stirs up anxiety, turbulence, and unhealthy fear, it’s hard to see how the Holy Spirit could be sending that into one’s life as a gift and a help.

But it is also important to remember that the Holy Spirit works differently in different people. One person may be deeply edified and encouraged by using the Miraculous Medal, to return to our earlier example. But another person may not be moved at all by it – for this second person, the Holy Spirit will send different gifts as spurs along their pilgrim journey.

I hope these basic and general reflections are helpful, at least a little bit. I know that they are not exhaustive, so they may be unsatisfying. I do hope and pray, however, that we can avoid entering into passionate and violent disagreements about specific revelations on this site. Those kinds of exchanges rarely glorify the Lord and often sow seeds of unnecessary confusion and discouragement.

God bless you!


Art for this post on discerning private revelations: Our Lady of Fatima Parish Church of General Mamerto Natividad, 20 February 2013, own work Ramon FVelasquez; Medal of the Immaculate Conception (aka Miraculous Medal), a medal created by Saint Catherine Labouré in response to a request from the Blessed Virgin Mary who allegedly appeared rue du Bac, Paris, in 1830. The message on the recto reads: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee — 1830”, Xhienne, 18 May 2007; both CCA-SA 3.0 Unported; both Wikimedia Commons.

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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

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