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Examining various and sundry aspects of supernatural claims is, in measure, of course, something we attempt at this news site.

The question is not whether supernatural phenomena exist.

Even diehard skeptics are starting to wonder how there could be so many claims of various current wonders for the supernatural not to exist -- and media that used to completely disregard the assertions of spiritual happenings are now reporting them on a regular, almost frenzied basis.

This itself may be why there seems to be an "eruption" of alleged miracles: There is the internet, and more reportage.

But it seems there is also a true upsurge.

The question is what it signifies.

We have reported extensively on weeping statues, apparitions, angels, and healings. What about all those photographs with strange lights in them? What about "luminary phenomena"? This too we have started to underscore because of growing prevalence -- and not just at alleged apparition sites.

Many are those who believe they have seen -- or photographed -- manifestations of light that take various unusual forms in every corner of the world. These claims -- perhaps because everyone now carries a camera in their cell phone -- are mushrooming.

In certain cases (as we have reported), orb-like lights appear -- sometimes the obvious result of moisture or dust on a lens, other times more perplexing (as when there are what seem like images in them). In others, there are unusual bands of lights around statues or objects. In still other cases, images are photographed in the sun or clouds.

The first difficulty is that of a camera, which has a lens that can cause what seem like strange reflections (but really are not). Digital units seem especially vulnerable to "unusual" effects (such as a dot appearing at the center of a light).

But luminary phenomena there are.

The images you see at the top of this page were taken at a devotional site about an hour south of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in Viet Nam, where a statue of Mary was said to "weep" tears; when photographed there seem to be unusual lights around and across the statue, which if nothing else are beautiful. Reportedly they are from Bach Lam, Dong Nai, Viet Nam.

There are several shrines that were erected in that country during the 1950s, including at the foot of  Tapao mountain where a Maria statue which was placed in 1959 in Dong Kho village, Tanh Linh district, Binh Thuan province, where it is also alleged that statue phenomena and sun miracles occur.

While we may be able to discount single photos, what about when such phenomena are video-taped -- and also observed (as in the case of Tapao) by eyewitnesses?

"Hundreds of people and I saw the sun turn round and round directly at 6 p.m. on August 12, 2007," claims one witness named Nguyen Dinh Quang. "At the same time, there was a silver disk which shaded the sunlight so that every people could look at the sun [as at Fatima].

"After a few seconds I took my digital camera to record it," blogged Nguyen, "and what a surprised it was! I recorded another scene as you have seen on my video clip. I recognized that it is one of the miracles from the God."

It's one thing to have something refracting in a lens, another when it is seen simultaneously with the naked eye. [See video].

Might it be a sign that relates to a future coming event, or a call to self-illumination -- to shine the Lord's Light deep within our consciences? It is a point we will be discussing at upcoming retreats: how crucial it is to pray at this time in this world to see ourselves as God sees us -- and make sure we know "who we really are."

If nothing else, there are curiosities. We must be very careful not only about tricks of the camera, but also tricks from deceptive spirits, who, it seems, have a knack with technology. What are we to make of holy images juxtaposed with what may be demonic ones?

What does it mean? Are we approaching a time when events will occur to open our consciences? Is it a time when small examples of Light presage a large such manifestation?

Do the images of good and evil symbolize the current battle? If nothing else, we must ponder what the Light of God sees when He penetrates our spirits, and whether we radiate light or cause darkness. What do we reflect?

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites," says the reading for August 26. "You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean [Matthew 23].

The Mass readings for this day also warn "not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a 'spirit,' or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand. Let no one deceive you in any way."

Some have seen the Eucharist light up. Others see the sun and images around it (some seemingly holy, some again decidedly less so). At left and right just above are photos taken by a devout woman in Upstate New York (where there is a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, and where other phenomena, including sun miracles, have been alleged). "Every day when I take pictures I get something," she says. "Usually it's Jesus and His Precious Blood. Through these photographs I feel like He is trying to prepare us."

We must consider that also. We receive so many photos. At right is a light that appeared on a fence in New Jersey and is posted on a website by a correspondent of ours. Even if something is "natural," can not God accent the effect to send us a message?

Of course, caution is always in order. We are not to get swept up into such seeming phenomena. Certainly, we do not obsess about them, especially ones that seem dark. These should be set aside. So should any that cause an unsettlement.

We are not to base our faith on such "miracles."

Then again, neither can we ignore them.

[resources: Cincinnati retreat, Michael Brown, September 20: signs in your life]

[see also: sun miracle video]

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