Visit Of 'Seer' To Miami Points Up Need Both for Openness and For Discernment
It's an interesting epoch in the Catholic Church because it is a time of great and sometimes warranted skepticism.
Such has been the Catholic lot (and often its cross) since the philosophy of the "Enlightenment" took root in seminaries (along with a big dollop of the "scientific method").
At times, discernment and a questioning disposition is good and at other times it has turned into hyper-skepticism. This is because in the realm of mysticism, there are no set rules, as there are in situations that are based on the tangible. There is no single list one can use to see if an alleged apparition meets the standard.
But certainly there are guidelines. If a seer is haughty, exhibits an unbalanced personality, insists on a devoted following, is disobedient to a local bishop, uses visions as a base of power, sees the Blessed Mother at will, causes confusion, creates tension, and has loquacious, hopeless, or contradictory messages (especially if those messages contravene Church teaching), the situation is to be avoided.
Most seers with overly lengthy missives are suspect, at least in regard to the purity of those messages.
There are really some interesting challenges of discernment. For example, a stigmatic may exhibit extremely holy conduct in one regard and strange phenomena (such as bleeding from the eyes, which seems so gruesome) on the other. We avoided a recent book we wanted to carry because it included a visionary with that attribute and even a photo. Pending further discernment, we will keep a distance.
Many are the apparitions that involve a mix of spirits. For this reason (and not due to hyper-skepticism), we must be extremely discerning. A few years back there was a seer who was connected to a cult situation in Africa that, Guyana-style, led to killings and suicide. In Australia a seer was recently convicted of sexual abuse. Coincidentally, he had visited the seer in Africa. Caution!
But let not the problems with some taint all.
Could it be that stigmata also involves the eyes? Yes. But we don't know for sure, and in any case stigmata, like other forms of mysticism, can blend the demonic with the holy.
Most often, a seer, like any human, is a mix. There is a light that comes in the top and it is often surrounded by layers of humanness or interference from forces of darkness. Knowing this, we take from a situation that which is good, as Scripture advises, and leave the rest.
We neither buy visionaries lock, stock, and barrel nor do we throw everything out with the bathwater (unless the bathwater is a bit too dark). Look for humility, from which comes the truth. That which is not true distances us from the love of God.
Our attention turns this week to a report in the Miami Herald.
"Mileny Peņa says she speaks daily to the Virgin Mary," started an article. "Sometimes even to Jesus Christ. Believers say she cures the sick, awakens the dormant religious faith in some, and carries a Crucifix that drips blood and sweat -- 'a true manifest of God.'
"Stories of holy encounters with the self-proclaimed missionary trickled in over the past month as homes from Hialeah to West Kendall became sanctuaries for faithful Catholics hoping for a miracle or those simply curious to see for themselves.
"Those closest to Peņa say it is no hoax. 'She isn't a guesser,' said Bertha Cabase, a West Kendall homeowner who hosted the traveling Crucifix and Peņa for two weeks. 'There's no fortune teller here, no magic -- nothing.'"
In Miami, such is important because it is a hotbed of an occult practice known as Santeria -- one that mixes in Catholicism.
"The Archdiocese of Miami had no comment on the matter," continued the article. "For weeks, only a select few knew where to find Peņa -- and even they could not pinpoint her exact whereabouts. She slept at different homes during her stay.
"But Peņa unmasked herself Monday at Our Lady of Lourdes in West Kendall and nearly 500 parishioners from across the county gathered to see what all the fuss was about. County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez also went.
'''I'm here because the Virgin Mary has sent me to this city,''' said Peņa, 45, of Colombia.
As the newspaper recounted, and as we will investigate, Peņa asserts that she has experienced apparitions of Mary and sometimes Jesus Himself as if in flesh and blood for 25 years. The visions apparently started in 1981 -- which if true parallel the start of apparitions at the famed site of Medjugorje.
"She thought she was losing her mind at the first sighting, but later believed." said the newspaper.
Peņa carried a familiar message. The world is confused, she said. There is the need for faith. There is the need for family prayer -- especially the Rosary.
She said she is divinely informed as to where to travel, although no one said how she is financed. "Peņa also claims to have advised the late Pope John Paul II, and known about the tragedies of 9/11 before they happened," said the account.
And can we believe that? Would the Pope have met her?
Perhaps. Pope John Paul II was very open to apparitions. In personal letters, he expressed written devotion for Medjugorje [see article]. And in general audiences he greeted dozens of reputed seers. Meanwhile, there are several credible seers who seem to have gotten a pre-indication of September 11, especially world-famous stigmatic Maria Esperanza.
''We all have to pray for New York and Washington,'' said Peņa, according to the report -- adding she was sworn to secrecy on what terrors await the major cities.
Last week Catholics came bearing red, yellow, pink or white roses as an offering for a Crucifix she had. "They say they came by word of mouth," noted the Herald. "They had heard stories of the visionary curing people of illnesses and the Christ on the Cross bleeding. The scene repeated itself in other homes in Hialeah and Coral Gables during the week."
Indeed, so let us discern. There are those who claim they witnessed phenomena. Healings. The bleeding Crucifix. Oh, if nothing else: let us look toward Lent!
Some believe they themselves witnessed the Crucifix "sweating." Others are more skeptical. ''It's hard to believe,'' said Francisco Villa, 15. ``Where is the sweat coming from?''
We had a similar account from New Mexico just last week.
The blood? It represents suffering, Peņa told the crowd. The oil is sanctifying fluid. She joins hundreds of other seers and locutionists who have risen on the scene in the past 25 years. In South America, Esperanza and a seer from Ecuador named Pachi Talbott have been the most prominent. Meanwhile, let us warn of an alleged healer from Brazil who is ready to visit the States and who "heals" by letting deceased physicians assume control of his body. He is a "psychic surgeon," an "unconscious medium."
From this, keep a great distance.
But as for Peņa? We simply don't know enough. She was visiting an area -- South Florida -- that is loaded with good devout people and many claims of the supernatural.
Time will sort them out. For now: both openness to the Holy Spirit and caution.
"Peņa returned home Tuesday, but left behind the Crucifix and dozens of faithful followers," said the newspaper. "As soon as the Virgin Mary wills it, she will be back, she said."
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