As some of you may have noticed from my Facebook page, I frequently post articles from First Things, the preeminent journal of Roman Catholic orthodoxy. I find that its writers often teach out of the best wisdom from the philosophical and theological heritage of that Church.
But I had a sad experience about the negative side of Catholicism watching TV recently. It was the PBS program, “Earth’s Sacred Wonders.” It was divided into several segments. For instance, one was about a dedicated Buddhist crew that maintains the Angkor Wat Temple complex in Cambodia. Another segment was on a festival for the Indian Goddess Vishnu in England at a recently built temple there. All I found interesting. Yes, the people were “lost,” and did not know the true Gospel of love, forgiveness and life in Jesus, but I can also believe in God’s ultimate mercy for them.
Strangely, the darkest segment for me was about a yearly festival in Malaga Spain to the Virgin Mary, the “Virgin of Hope,” It detailed how in a Catholic Church in Malaga a statue of Mary is stored for a once yearly procession. The statue is seated on a large throne, with much elaborate gold leaf woodwork, a renaissance type dome, plus hundreds of candles, etc. The whole assembled structure, weighing almost 11,000 lbs., is processed through the street in by a team of 264 men drawn from a Catholic brotherhood dedicated to this sole event. The structure is not wheeled, so it is lifted on the shoulders of the volunteers. The procession takes six hours, leaves the men exhausted, and some faint along the way.
As I watched I was struck by how similar the cart and procession was to the huge Hindu Juggernaut carts that are processed in various Indian cities and dedicated to their gods. I felt sympathy for the Reformers’ revulsion at “Catholic idolatry” and any sort of religious procession – they especially disdained the festival and processions of “Corpus Christi.” (I should also remark here that the Reformers went too far in critiquing Catholic processions and holidays, as in outlawing the celebration of Christmas. They really did not understand the role of the Old Testament festivals in authentic spirituality, and by extension why some Christian festivals, such s Thansgiving, can be grace-giving. )
The Virgin of Hope sequence focused on one man, and his participation as a carrier. He found the challenging event as the way he could do penance for his sins. He said “Life has no meaning without going out for the Virgin.” There was not one word about Jesus, his atoning sacrifice, or anything that could be related to Biblical spirituality. I have heard fundamentalist Protestants claim that Catholics are not Christians and dismissed such remarks, but here was a good example to believe their assertion, at least in some cases.
I was raised in a form of Catholicism similar to that. I had almost forgotten about it. More accurately, like Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, I hid it away – “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” For me, extreme Marian devotion was “pre Vatican II stuff,” and no longer a problem in Catholicism.
In my boyhood parish in New York, (1950s, Pre- Vatican II) the “Legion of Mary” was very active, and my mother a leader of it. They carried out Marian devotions via a statue of Mary that was passed from house to house where people met to say the rosary. I remember a special group who were “slaves of Mary” and lived a life of prayers to Mary, without any attention to praying to the Father or Jesus – Lord have mercy on them.
When my brother was hospitalized for an accident that paralyzed him my mother set about organizing novenas and rosaries for his recovery. After a month in the hospital with no improvement, a blood clot developed, eventually broke lose, and went to his heart. As his heart was shutting down he received “Extreme Unction,” and died. My parents were devastated, besides being the beloved first-born, he had much musical talent and carried the family’s ambition for fame in the classical music world.
An additional sad thing about his death is that the priest who gave him the last rites, and nuns who visited him in the hospital, had no clue about healing prayer. None did the Biblically mandated prayers of laying hands on him in the faith-expectancy that he would recover, nor did they command the blood clot to dissolve in Jesus’ name. That was beyond the pale of consideration for Catholics in the 1950’s. Healing prayer was done via candles to St. Ann or some other saint, and rosaries and novenas to the Blessed Virgin. I assume most of the men who carry the statue of the Virgin of Hope in Malaga would do the same type of healing prayers, as the “Pentecostal heresy,” i.e. the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has had little penetration in Spain.
For some reason I was not comfortable about Marian devotion as a boy. I suspect that discomfort came from my mother’s “smother love” that made me feel uncomfortable – or maybe the Lord had given me a special grace of discernment. But I did have some measure of devotion to Mary as proper to an orthodox Catholic of the times. For example, my first girl friend and I lit a candle at St. Patrick’s cathedral at the start of our dating relationship. Actually though, as long as I believed in God, Jesus was primary in my prayer life. But I became an atheist for a season some years after college after being exposed to dreadful varieties of trendy theologies – the “Death of God” apostasy was then popular. But that is a story I have told elsewhere.
My childhood as a Catholic was lived under the cloud of the ominous “Fatima prophecies” that came from apparitions that were supposedly from Mary at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. These included a series of tree ‘secrets” about the future revealed by Mary to the visionaries. The (Pseudo) Mary prophesied the end of World War I, but warned against a more terrible war in the future unless the world repented. But the 1950’s the message had become that Russia had to be dedicated to her sacred heart or else… The widespread understanding among Catholics was that the “or else” would be a nuclear holocaust with the Communist Russia. The last secret was to be revealed in 1960, and I remember several conversations in school with the nuns and brothers who taught us that we would be safe until 1960, but then….who knows. All of this fuelled many rosaries for the conversion of Russia, including a family rosary at our house many evenings.
1960 came and went, and the third letter was not released. The rumor was that it was too terrible for public release. It was finally published in 2000. It was a banal and confused dream-like document which could be interpreted in many ways. I find it similar to many spiritualists utterances that I encountered in my years in the occult (yes. I have passed through all sorts of trouble). But by that time the Fatima devotions had dwindled considerably among Catholics.
As a young man, I spent the summers with my aunt in Mexico where I saw first hand the piety and devotion of Mexican Catholics toward the Virgin Many. It was a devote Catholicism, flamed by the persecution of the Catholic by the secular, revolutionary governments of Mexico during the 1930’ and 1940s. I found taht refreshing in comparison to the less fervent and all too often nominal Catholicism that I saw among my relatives in Puerto Rico.
But in Mexico I also noticed its endemic corruption, which even then (1961-1963) manifested in the police and government at practically every level. By now, half a century later, what was a common fault of Latin American governments has morphed into a titanic problem and may result as Mexico as a “failed state” divided up into narco-cartels. Its current president, Andres Obrador, has shown himself unable to confront the cartels. Mexico already resembles some of the kingdoms in medieval Europe, with a weak king surrounded by powerful barons.
It is highly significant that Mexican Catholics have dedicated countless prayers to the Virgin Mary to reverse this situation, but it has not happened. Here perhaps is one of the demonic purposes of the extreme Marian devotion. It channels devote, passionate prayer, to a source that cannot bear fruit – Mary is not the fourth person of the Blessed Trinity. What if Mexican Catholics had had a widespread charimatic awakening in the 1950’s and focused their prayers to the Father in of the name of Jesus and with power of the Hoy Spirit,? A hint of how Mexicans could have escaped their present dire situation is demonstrated in what happed in the city of Juarez. There a Pentecostal pastor, the Rev. Pancho Murguia, led a multi-church prayer campaign. This brought the murder rate down, and influenced the police and government structures of that city for the better.
At the beginning of my return to faith and journey into Spirit-filled Christianity, in 1974, I alighted at a Catholic Charismatic group. Many of them worshiped in tongues, and the corporate prayers were to Jesus and the Father, as biblically normative. Many members but still had very high reverence for Mary, but it did not overshadow their true worship.
One friend and confidant of this period was an older Catholic charismatic lady, “L R,” who had a prophetic gift. But after a while I saw it morph from speaking for the Holy Spirit, as is authentic prophecy, to automatic writing of messages and exhortations supposedly from Mary. I was suspicious of those revelations then, and in retrospect I am confident they were from a deceiving spirit. The exhortations were mostly banal moralistic stuff, and placed God’s mercy towards humanity entirely in the hands of Mary, who was supposedly withholding the wrath of God on the US from coming to pass.
One of L.R’s messages from (Pseudo) Mary, was that coming soon there would be a world-wide electrical blackout as a sign to non-Marian believers. Candles dedicated to Mary would be the only way to get nighttime illumination during this period. (Yes, absurd and childish, but believed by a large circle of Marian devotees.) L R was kind enough to give me a Marian candle for this purpose – an expensive vase-like candle with the Virgin pictures on it. I used it later during summer storm black-outs. Rather than considering LR’s Marian message as an eccentric and extreme case of Marian revelation, it manifests a common pattern. That is, those who believed in the prophetic messages were “special” Christians and mightily blessed with special privlidges.
Decades later, in the 1990s, in Conyers Georgia, not far from where I lived, there was an outburst of Marian apparitions. They proclaimed the usual messages of doom unless prayer to Mary increased. By that time I was thoroughly convinced that Marian apparitions were most likely of demonic origins. Thankfully the Catholic hierarchy put a damper on the Conyers apparitions. For a while I kept receiving the newsletter from the Conyers group, and it confirmed in my mind the Gnostic-demonic spirits behind the apparitions and messages. By then I was an Episcopalian, and shortly became an Anglican, and eventually Anglican priest (2000).
My life as a charismatic Anglican has had many things in common with Catholicism, as in the sacramental life, the Eucharistic liturgy and the religious calendar, and many other similarities, but I have stayed away from any sort of Marian devotion. I should note that, in fact, there are “Anglo-Catholic” congregations that have a very traditional, Catholic-like devotion to the Blessed Virgin, statues and all.
My contact with present day Catholics have been with Charismatic Catholics. They mostly have a good grasp of scripture, the Holy Spirit, and where their salvation comes from. I have frequent communications with the Alleluia Covenant community in Augusta, Georgia, which is eighty percent Catholic, and I have sensed their spirituality to be Spirit-filled and Biblical and as a covenant community, the best I have seen.
In my first decade as a charismatic, 1974 to 1984, I would frequent the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers for various three dayretreats. It was a center of instruction on charismatic matters for Catholics at that time. But the last time I visited it, about 1997, Marian devotion was ascendant and the Holy Spirit sidelined.
In fact, several prominent Catholic theologians have consistently warned of the dangers of excessive Marian devotion to the revivals of the Holy Spirit. The Jesuits priest, and historian of the Catholic Charismatic renewal, Fr. Peter Hocken, warned that excessive Marian devotion is a danger to authentic revival and true reverence of Mary.
One particular danger [to renewal] may be mentioned here. It is the combination among some Catholics of a charismatic emphasis on contemporary revelation and Marian devotion of a strongly apocalyptic character. In some places, this combination has almost taken over and displaced Catholic charismatic renewal. Its fruits appear to be highly questionable. It seems to have happened to Catholics touched in some way by God through the charismatic renewal, but who have a very weak knowledge of the gospel. Instead of their renewal experience opening them to the saving work of Jesus on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform, they have majored on revelations and messages. Bringing this fascination into the context of traditional Catholic Marian piety has often been disastrous both for the charismatic renewal, in which all inner revelation needs to be submitted to the objective faith-revelation “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) and for the older forms of Marian piety, which were not focused on constant messages but, in their better expression, on penitence for sin and the call to holiness.
Several years ago at a meeting of the Charismatic Leaders’ Fellowship, I made the acquaintance with one of the leaders of the original Catholic Charismatic Renewal (1967) at Notre Dame, Kevin Ragahan. He is now a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church and still active and a prominent leader among Catholic charismatics. He was a long time friend of my sister, a Catholic nun and one of the first in her order to embrace the renewal. Our conversation turned to Marian devotion in charismatic Catholics, and specifically the aspirations in the Bosnia-Herzegovina (formerly Yugoslavian) town of Medjugorje. He told me of a conversation with a Catholic Cardinal from the Roman Curia who told him to warn American Catholics off of that particular devotion, as it was not from God.
A year later my sister went to Medjugorje for a week and she came back believing the messages from the apparitions were authentically from the Blessed Mother. We had a conversation about it and she told me in enthusiastic terms that the Blessed Mother said, among other things, that the person closest to God in the area was a Muslim woman. That was a “nice” New Age message, but obviously contrary to the Gospel, where Jesus is the one way to the Father. I did not have the heart to argue with her – maybe I should have.
Now back to the PBS program, “Earth’ Sacred Wonders.” To see the old form of extreme Marian devotion it alive and an important part of Spanish Catholicism made me sad and mad at the same time. Tellingly, the narrator said, in an incidental remark, that Catholicism in Spain was in fast decline. It was following the pattern of Quebec and Ireland, where attendance at Catholic churches went down in just a few decades from about 90% to less than five.
So here is the crux of the issue. On the level of formal theology and ecumenical dialogue, much progress has been made in Catholic-Protestant communications about Mary and the honor due her. Formal Catholic theology has backed off declaring Mary as the “mediatrix” of all graces. And some Catholics theologians are now saying that Mary should not be prayed to, but with, to address the Father. At the other end, some Evangelical theologians are realizing that the Protestant tradition does not honor Mary enough. She is, after all, “Blessed among women” as the angle Gabriel declared.
My own opinion is that there is no way to dialogue into a “midpoint” that all will agree upon. Catholics will venerate Mary to a degree that Protestants feel uncomfortable with, and Catholics will not be content with the degree that Protestants consider and honor Mary. I believe that will be so until the Lord comes back and straighten us all out on our varying and only “approximately true” theologies.
Now to the “take home” of this essay. It is my belief that soon a new wave of the Holy Spirit will touch the Catholics in the United States. The first wave began in 1967 and expanded greatly, and it seemed as if the whole of the American Catholic Church would become charismatic. That did not happen, and by the 1990s a decline set in, as Mariean devotion ascended. Interestingly, the Catholic Charismatic renewal has continued strong in many Third World countries, especially in Africa and in Brazil. But the stagnation in the United States is unabated.
When this new wave comes in, it is important that the Catholic leadership be vigilant in channeling the enthusiasm of the new charismatics into authentic worship and manifestations of the gifts of the Sprit, and cut short any deviation in extreme Marian devotion, and especially in “messages” from Mary, etc that have been outlined above.
In the Southwest there are still bounds and avenues of communication between the remaining Catholic Charismatics and their Mexican counterparts across the border. We should all pray that these bounds be strengthened, and a new wave of Holy Spirit revival begin to reform and cleanse Mexico of its terrible present narco status.
It is also important for the Catholic charismatic to prophetically correct and admonish the Catholic triumphalism that is present some areas of Latin America, and especially Mexico. For instance, recently an article appeared in Christian Today showed how Evangelicas in Southern Mexico are persecuted and discriminated by government officials and Catholic lay persons, denying, for example, common government services like access to clean water to force them to renunce their Evangelical Christianity.
To return to Fr. Hokin’s suggestion (above), what would a moderate Marian devotion look like for Catholic charismatics? Perhaps a devotion centered on praying with Mary and not to Mary would be proper and normative. In any case, the Holy Spirit constantly surprises when a new revival begins, and this may be true of Marian devotion in the future. The Pentecostals of the 1960s were astounded when the Holy Spirit enlivened the mainline denomination into what became the Chairsmatic Renewal. They thought the mainline churches were too far gone into apostasy to be renewed. The Pentecostals were further astounded when the Catholics began experiencing Holy Spirit revival in 1967. They were sure the Catholic Church was the Biblically prophesied “hoar of Babylon” and could not be redeemed from its idolatry. They were wrong about that too. One can only wonder what the Spirit will do in the coming revival.
As I finish this article most Americans are on home lock-down due to the covid-19 virus. This is an excellent, perhaps providential opportunity for exercising and expanding sustained intercessory prayer.
Let me suggest several teams of prayer in regards to the present problem of extreme Marian devotion.
• That a new wave of Holy Spirit revival come soon, refreshing all branches and denominations of Christendom.
• That this new wave especially impact those Catholics who are enmeshed in extreme Marian devotion, and the Holy Spirit lead them to true worship and devotion to Jesus and the Father.
• That the Catholic clergy and especially charismatic leadership, not be content to allow extreme forms of popular Marian devotions to continue, but model and preach what would be biblically acceptable.
 In an earlier blog posting I had outlined how consensus Christian theology has eliminated the Biblical understanding of Sheol, which is not hell, and thus ignored the teaching in 1 Peter 3 & 4, on the possibility of eventual mercy and salvation on Pagans, See my, “More Mercy” Pneuma Review. Posted March 5, 2017. http://pneumareview.com/more-mercy/
 See my work, Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). Some Protestant evangelicals rediscovered the biblical meaning of festival, which was at the heart of Old Testament spirituality, in the Scottish communion revivals of the 17th Century that ultimately led to the Second Great Awakening.
 Probably Fr. Ivan Illich, who was very close to my mother. I was not there so I can’t swear he did it. He is remembered today for his book Deschooling Society. (New York: Harper & Row, 1971) and other works on revolutionary but non-violent change in society.
 Forgotten Power, chapters 1-2.
 See the excellent summary of the Fatima apparitions and “secrets” in the fine Wikipedia article, “Our Lady of Fatima.”
 A fairly good movie on the Catholic persecutions in Mexico is, “For Greater Glory” (2012), also the older movie adaptation of “The Power and the Glory” (1961) starring Laurence Olivier as an on the run Catholic priest,
 See my blog posting on the spiritual roots of corruption: “The World Wide problem of corruption – and it Biblical remedy.” Posted Nov 2, 2019. http://www.pentecostaltheology.com/the-world-wide-problem-of-corruption-and-its-biblical-remedy/
 Jenny Rose Spaudo, “The Sicarios Pastor,’ Charisma (April, 2020) 22-28.
 An excellent Catholic critique of apparitions and false messages from Pseudo-Mary is in a chapter in a book by Fr. Herbert Thurston, “The False Visionaries of Lourdes,” in his Surprising Mystics, ed. By J. H. Crehan (Chicago: Henry Regency 1955).
 Se my description of the Alleluia covenant community in Augusta, GA, in my report of the 2020 Charismatic Leaders Consultation, “Charismatic Leaders’ Fellowship, 2020,” Pneuma Review. Posted March 30, 2020. http://pneumareview.com/charismatic-leaders-fellowship-2020/
 Peter Hocken, The Glory and the Shame; Reflection onthe 20th Century outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Eagle: 1994) 188-189. This work is a masterful evaluation of the successes and failures of the Charismatic Renewal.
 On the collapse of Catholicism in Quebec, Preston Jones, “Quebec After Catholicism,” First Things (June/July 1999) https://www.firstthings.com/article/1999/06/quebec-after-catholicism, On Ireland, a succinct article by First Thing’s George Weigel will do: “Downsizing to Grow in Ireland,” Posted Nov, 23, 2011. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/11/downsizing-to-grow-in-ireland
 See the summary of decades of ecumenical discussion on Mary: Fredric M. Jelly “Mariology and Ecumenism-Reflections Upon 1965-1990,” Marian Library Studies, 17/23 combined (1985-1991). https://ecommons.udayton.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1192&context=ml_studies
 Christianity Today, “What Evangelicals Can Love About Mary,” Christianity Today, Posted https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/december-web-only/what-evangelicals-can-love-about-mary.html and, Timothy George, “The Blessed Evangelical Mary,” Christianity Today, Posted Dec. 1, 2003. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/december/1.34.html
 Emily Featherstone, “Mexico’s Persecuted Protestants Lack Simple Coronavirus Defense,”
Christianity Today, Posted April 3, 2020. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/april-web-only/mexico-covid-19-coronavirus-protestant-catholic-clean-water.html