Apparitions, Private Revelations, & Miracles

“Scripture gives us many passages that call us to reflect on the role of the supernatural in our lives of faith. St. Paul encourages us to be open to the supernatural when he reminds us, “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything, holding fast to what is good” (Thess. 5:19-21).

Although Christ worked many miracles of healing, He did not encourage the search for miracles: “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given them except the sign of Jonah” (Matt. 16:4). Christ hints in a parable about Lazarus that even otherworldly revelations will not persuade the world: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 17:31). When the resurrected Christ addresses Thomas, He seems to be addressing us if we seek signs and wonders in our own day: “Have you come to believe because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

Despite asking us not to rest our faith entirely on miracles and to not get swept up in pursuing them, Jesus used miracles to draw people to him and encourage their faith. Even in our modern world, for many people, miracles are a connection to the supernatural that might inspire or enliven their belief and participation.

From the beginning of Scripture, God reveals Himself to humanity in major moments, from interactions with Adam in the creation account to Noah at the time of the Great Flood, to Moses, upon whom he bestows the Ten Commandments. There are at least 120 instances of revelation (dreams and visions) mentioned in the Old Testament.vi

Perhaps the Bible’s most famous dreamer was Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel, who shared his revelations with his family, which resulted in his brothers plotting his death (Gen. 37:1-11). In one dream, the brothers of Joseph gathered bundles of grain that bowed to his own bundle. In another, the sun (his father), the moon (his mother), and eleven stars (his brothers) bowed down to Joseph himself.

Revelations continue in the New Testament. At the baptism of Christ, a voice from the heavens said, “This is my beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). At the Transfiguration where Jesus is transformed on the mountaintop and becomes radiant, the prophets Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus (Matt. 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36). A voice from the sky again calls Him “Son.”

The most famous apparitions in Scripture are the numerous times Christ appeared to the apostles (1 Cor. 15:5) and other times to various disciples, including on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). In the early Church, the deacon Stephen saw a vision of the heavens open and Christ at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 7:55-56). The “visions and revelations” from the Lord (Cor. 12:1-6) are the impetus for the conversion of Saul (Gal. 1:11-16), setting him on the path to become Paul, the greatest missionary in Christian history. The final book of the New Testament, Revelation, relates the visions of St. John.

The revelations of the Bible received by prophets and apostles showcase a supernatural connection between the Church and the divine. Throughout Christian history, there have been stories of visions and divine messages, the most common being those attributed to the Virgin Mary. Some Protestants, skeptical of the power and significance that Catholicism affords her, may doubt these reports, but the scriptural basis for Mary’s role in her Son’s saving work cannot be ignored:

  • Through her God the Father sent Christ to us physically.
  • Elizabeth received the grace of God through the mouth of Mary (Luke 1:44).
  • Jesus’ first miracle—the wedding feast at Cana—and the beginning of his public ministry came at her request (John 2:4).
  • From the cross, Jesus entrusted her to the care of St. John and symbolically to the care of all believers (John 19:26-27).

Although Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5-6), St. Paul has no problem asking the rest of us (including Mary) to be subordinate mediators as he asks us to pray for each other (Rom. 1:9, 1 Thess. 5:25, 1 Tim. 2:1). When we embrace the messages of Church-approved revelations of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, and reflect on the scriptural accounts of God’s tangible intrusions in the human experience, we appreciate more deeply God’s fatherly care for us and better understand His plan for salvation and our participation in it.”

Love, Lord, Holy Mary, all ye holy men and women, be near to me,
Matthew

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