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What happens when there is an enormous amount of edifying information from a seer or mystic but one or two things that ring wrongly?

Do we toss out the whole thing (in some cases, yes), or do as it says in Scripture: test the spirits (1 John 4:1), "keep what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and leave the rest?

"Delusion and deception are invariably possible in matters of spiritual phenomena," says a footnote in the New American Bible (for 1 John). "Discernment between a true and false spirit of prophecy depends on acceptance or rejection of sound doctrine."

But that sound doctrine is basically defined as whether a mystic acknowledges Christ as Savior. What about those who make this confession but still have questionable aspects in their alleged revelations?

It is very difficult terrain, for while the devil can be behind an entire vision, more often, perhaps, he enters a legitimate case of mysticism and tosses in just enough to spoil it, or try to spoil it. All it takes is a little poison.

This is true with locutions, apparitions, angel experiences, and near-death episodes, some of which have references that imply pre-existence, for example, or even reincarnation, which is clearly to be rejected.

Often, the problem comes in how an "experiencer" interprets the experience.

Such has been noted in many places including Ireland -- which has had more than its share of mystics in the past two decades and more than its share of seers who seem to have "gifts" but also question marks.

Some seemed good. Some seemed mostly good. Some were very questionable, or became so.

Most recently, a New Age-style seer had hundreds flocking to the old site of Knock for new and dubious "apparitions" (there were reports of eye damage during sun "miracles").

And so we see how tricky it can get, and how we must prayerfully evaluate a mystic by the final fruits in the spirit. Most mystics have gray areas whereby there is a mix of Divine inspiration, subconscious input, and twists from deceptive spirits. This has been the case in Ireland, where starting in 1984 dozens of visionaries rose as apparitions were reported at many roadside grottos.

Similar issues plagued major historical visionaries such as the two visionaries from LaSalette -- whose apparitions were approved, but whose personal lives were subject to question and whose messages from the Virgin were partly rejected by the Church. (The Church took what it deemed was good and left the rest -- including what were supposed to be direct "messages.")

Whatever the imperfections, the flurry of Irish mystics (locutionists, seers, stigmatics, the angel-seer) is intriguing because they have risen at the same time that Catholicism in Ireland has faced an historic challenge. Could it be that while there may be certain specific problems in parts of a message, it is their general thrust -- the general warnings -- that we should heed? Is the rise of mystics itself a sign of coming mayhem?

Once the most Catholic of countries, the "Land of Saints and Scholars" (sending missionaries around the world, and producing as many clerics as Italy), the Emerald Isle is now wrung by a priest-abuse scandal as acute as what hit the U.S. and now has to import priests (from places like Africa).

If the trend keeps up, the numbers will have dropped by two thirds in the next two decades, "leaving parishes up and down the land vacant," as a newspaper put it (perhaps somewhat gleefully).

Every day, the media in Ireland takes shots at the Church.

Notre Dame. Knock. St. Patrick. The great Irish monks!

If it keeps up, it will all soon be a vague memory.

We need only contemplate that bishops from the 26 dioceses will meet the Pope and senior Curia cardinals this month to discuss the implications of the clerical child abuse crisis -- so severe is that crisis.

According to a report, since 1940 more than 400 children had claimed to have been abused by at least 152 priests in just the Dublin area.

Last week it was reported that at least seventy Irish priests accused of abuse had worked in the U.S.

In the wake of a report on the mishandling of abuse priests (very similar to how they were handled in  the U.S.), a majority of the Irish -- who once revered clergy -- now believe that the Church should give up its control of the primary school system!

Meanwhile, in the north, an openly homosexual Episcopalian bishop is about to "marry" his partner. And abortion "rights" are now big in Ireland. This nation where every small village seems to have a Lourdes grotto at its entrance and where there is even a statue of the Blessed Mother at one of its major airports is quickly and sadly following in the footsteps of the U.S. in materialism, immoral entertainers, and lewd public behavior (especially in that same media).

Our sad time. We see the need for prayer. And we ask: was all the mysticism part of the same wave of darkness, or Heaven providing signs to guide Catholics through the current trial of Irish faith?

[resources: The Final Hour and Spiritual Warfare Prayers]

[Announcing St. Augustine, Fl. retreat, March 6 and Michael Brown retreat, San Francisco: future events, afterlife, new world order: February 27]

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