Church Life, Spirituality

The Spiritual Danger of Private Revelations

What is Public and Private Revelation?

Hey Catholics, stop reading books and web sites (especially web sites) based upon private revelations that are not approved by the Church. If you are putting stock in these things, and they turn out to be false, you've been building yourself up to a disaster. At best, if they get approved, they are still only private revelation. Private revelations are not meant for the Universal Church, but for a specific time, place, or group. It ain't Gospel and never will be. Yet, often the followers of private revelations try to demand universal assent of faith to these unapproved apparitions and locutions as if they were the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception or something akin to it.

It is not a healthy spiritual practice to dive into these texts or web sites until they are approved. My advice is to stay away until the Church deems them credible. Let the Church guide you. Don't be a jerk, but be cautious, and look out for those red flags that something's fishy with a message.

Public Revelation: The Deposit of Faith

All public revelation ceased with the death of the last Apostle, who was John the Beloved. The fullness of all divine revelation is the person of Jesus Christ. With the preaching of the Apostles, both in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the Deposit of Faith is completed. Our understanding and application of this once-for-all Deposit unfolds throughout human history, but the Deposit itself remains unchanged. If any private revelation challenges this immutable quality of the Deposit by seeking to add to public revelation, like the Book of Mormon claims, you ditch it. Here's the Catechism on the matter:

Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father's one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. ...Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries. (CCC #65-66)

Private Revelation as Prophecy

Private revelation is what Scripture calls "Prophecy" and its presence in the early Church was commonly offered during liturgical celebrations for the specific community it was spoken in. Believers, animated by the Holy Spirit, would commonly be heard praising in tongues and uttering prophecies during or surrounding the Mass. St. Paul is adamant that prophecy belongs to the Church and is a part of her life as a charism of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 Paul speaks to the Christian community these words regarding prophecy:

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good.

Respect it, but test it. False prophets are common. People can have real experiences of God in contemplative prayer, but miscommunicate what they received. Some people just make stuff up, too. And others are deeply decieved. It takes discernment, education in the Faith, and prudential judgment in deciding what is or is not edifying, correct, and holy, which is why we need the guidance of the Church.

Here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about it under the title, "There Will Be No Further Revelation": 

Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.

Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfilment, as is the case in certain nonChristian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations". (CCC #67)

As Pope Benedict the XIV stated clearly about approved private revelations:

It is not obligatory nor even possible to give them the assent of Catholic faith, but only of human faith, in conformity with the dictates of prudence, which presents them to us as probable and worthy of pious belief. (De canon., III, liii, xxii, II)

So if you are reading something that tells you, "Hey, your sonship in Christ is really incomplete unless you..." and that additional piece is something utterly novel, claiming to surpass what the Church always taught, you should just walk away. Keep your sanity, hand the book back politely to whomever lent it to you, and walk away. 

The Sensational Is Not Sustainable

I do not understand why we ignore Sacred Scripture and chase after these tomes of uninspired, non-binding, non-anointed words that may be extremely damaging to one's faith if judged a fake by the Church. We have the greatest gift in the Bible, God's own words, but we prefer fancy things that tickle our ears instead. We need to correct this knee-jerk mentality that seeks out such things as the bread and butter of our Faith. Prophecies, even if true, remain partial. The definitive word is Christ, in Gospel and in Eucharist.

Saint John of the Cross, no amateur in the realms of prophecy, ecstasy and other amazing and miraculous events in his life, said this about Christ being our final, fullest revelation:

In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel 2, 22, 3-5, quoted by CCC # 65)

The Conclusion, Take It Or Leave It

Scripture tells us that God the Father already gave us every blessing in Christ Jesus. Is He not enough for us? Is His Word too weak? The lure of the sensationalism of private revelations ought not to substitute the Church's desire for all her children to be biblically literate. We need to cultivate in our hearts a desire for God that transcends the need for ecstatic utterances and astounding miracle stories. In their Q & A on Private Revelation[pdf], Catholics United for the Faith state quite clearly:

...seeking after extraordinary signs is disordered when such enterprise takes priority over the less glamorous daily demands of the Gospel.

If true, surely they will build up our Faith, but it is not the task of every believer to seek these things out. This is the best advice that Father William Most offers in his article, Private Revelation and Discernment of Spirits:

It is, then, a sad mistake to center one's spiritual life about recounting and hoping for special revelations. Yes, we do well to follow those that have been approved by the Church, such as Lourdes and Fatima... But even there, they should not be the center of our spiritual lives except in so far as they are an exhortation to what the Gospel already calls for. 

Often when approved, these good things tend to spread out to the Church in positive ways, like the Miraculous Medal or the Divine Mercy Chaplet. When proven false, such prophecies can have detrimental affects on the lives and faith of those who followed after them.

Seems the good money goes to those who wait and see.