By Celia Coates
Perhaps the most famous reported case of bilocation occurred in 1774, when Saint Alphonsus de’ Liguori, then a bishop in southern Italy, celebrated Mass in the small village of Arienzo. After the liturgy, he fell into a prolonged spiritual trance, and his vicar-general told people not to disturb him. When he finally came to a day and a half later, he saw the worried looks on the faces of his household staff and asked them what was wrong. They told him how long he had been transfixed. To their astonishment Alphonsus replied that he had been to Rome to visit Pope Clement XIV, who had just died. His aides thought he had simply been dreaming, until a messenger brought news of the pope’s death, which had occurred at the very moment Alphonsus regained consciousness. Later, multiple witnesses claimed to have seen the saint in Arienzo and in Rome during the same time frame.
This story comes from THE VATICAN PROPHECIES by John Thavis, a book I happened to find at a dollar store a couple of weeks ago. It would be easy to make too much of how lucky it was and see it as some sort of super serendipity, but it was just a lucky – and good – find. John Thavis has some very useful things to say about the way the Roman Catholic Church decides what constitutes a genuine sign, vision, or revelation. The secular study of subtle energies has its own separate process for distinguishing what’s real from what’s not. Of course there are many who think that everything that has to do with paranormal experiences and anomalous events is unreal, but they’re not likely to be reading WINN, so we’ll just keep going.
I know very little about the Catholic Church and its history so I’ll rely on what Thavis has written:
For centuries, the Catholic Church has not only accepted mystical experiences but also viewed them as particular signs of holiness, frequently elevating mystics to sainthood. At the same time, the church has developed criteria for distinguishing genuine visionaries from those who are deceiving others or themselves about supernatural contact. Private prophecy, in particular, requires careful discernment, because by its very nature it has great potential to attract the curiosity of believers and influence their spiritual health.
Being able to differentiate the real (supported by valid evidence) from the not real (events that are perceived with wishful believing or superstition) is vitally important whenever we are exploring the paranormal. Thavis quoted Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Vatican astronomer, about a fundamental mistake that people make:
“First, they think that both science and religion are big books of facts that you have to believe, and these two books are supposed to agree. But science is not a big book of facts. Science is a conversation about the data, and how to understand them. Religion is even less a big book of facts. It’s the exploration of a relationship with God.”
Some say that “science” has become a religion in itself with a fixed belief that only objective data that is measureable and reproducible under laboratory conditions can be considered valid. The study of subtle energies combines both valid objective and subjective data, but that’s a full discussion for other posts.
To return to how the Catholic Church has dealt with mystical events:
Following the classifications established by Saint Augustine, the church has traditionally divided mystical visions and other experiences into three categories: intellectual, imaginative, and corporeal. An intellectual vision involves perception of a higher truth or concept without aid of a visual stimulus. An imaginative vision works through an image that is produced only in the imagination. A corporeal vision is actually perceived through the eyes and can leave physical effects.
In 1978 the Vatican prelates…devised a brief set of norms and circulated them privately among the world’s bishops. Whenever a new revelation or apparition was reported in his diocese, each bishop was instructed to judge it according to both positive and negative criteria….
The list of positive criteria included –
- facts about the event or experience that have been verified
- the psychological health and moral qualities of the experiencer
- healthy spiritual behaviors that occur afterwards such as a return to a normal life of faith and acts of charity
The negative criteria included –
- factual errors or evidence of dishonesty or fraud
- financial motivation
- psychological disorders or evidence of group hysteria
- immoral behaviors by the experiencer or their followers
The Church wants its followers to avoid “unhealthy curiosity” about coming events, and to refuse all forms of divining the future – fortune telling, horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, clairvoyance, or consulting mediums all of which are equated with paganism and considered sinful. Curiosity about these areas, on the other hand, is central to the study of subtle energies and the exploration of the many dimensions of reality.
Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze expressed some of the Church’s caution about an upsurge in reports of supernatural events in a speech that has been viewed often on YouTube:
It’s very difficult to know in practice if a reported apparition is really from God, or if it is only the fruit of somebody’s over fertile imagination, somebody’s pious ideas, somebody who does not distinguish between reality and dream…. It is very difficult to know when they are the result of deceit or the devil.
Thavis also wrote that:
The golden rule when investigating such visions, therefore, has always been Jesus’s dictum in the Gospel of Saint Matthew: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them.
And this is the reason that there are so many posts about kindness in WINN. The results – the fruits – of experiencing and exploring paranormal or psychical events most often involve an increase in understanding the central reality of love, generosity, charity, and unselfishness in human existence. In this the ancient traditions of the Catholic Church, mysticism, and the study of subtle energies are in deep agreement.
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THE VATICAN PROPHECIES: Investigating Supernatural Signs, Apparitions, and Miracles in the Modern Age, By John Thavis, Viking/Penguin Random House LLC, 2015.