Infallibility, The Magnificat, Revelation 12, and Mysticism

Posted on August 19, 2021

I have been working on a meaty piece. It’s not quite soup yet, though, so I figured I would review a few basic issues before getting it out. I have always figured that before walking into obvious decisive moments, it is good to review fundamentals. And we are heading straight into an obviously decisive moment.

But first, as promised, here is the link to Steve BC’s protocols for Covid and report on the mRNA shot.  This information has also been put into a permanent link under the menu on this site (2 Protocols for Covid).

Also, there was a problem with the email address for registering to come to the Houston Right to Life (TRTL) dinner on Sept. 18. If you want to come to this great event with complimentary tickets, please email Laura at Bilot.lambfam@gmail.com. You must be a CORAC member to participate (you can sign up for free here) and you are responsible for your own transportation and lodging – though TRTL will send you info on discounted rooms from their bloc. You will also have a pass to the VIP Brunch the day after and a CORAC meeting in the afternoon.

I am getting a lot of people sending me (sometimes nonsensical) material on Covid and other things assuring me the material has lots of data. When I say replicable data, that does not just mean it has lots of numbers and charts. It means I must be able to verify the numbers through independent sources. I don’t know why so many people are so eager to jump into exotic theories and become vested in them without knowing how to vet them. You get no gold star for solving the puzzle box. Reasonable people can judge whether the risk of an experimental therapy is justified given the mortality rate of Covid. Our commentator, Chris Deacutis, gave an excellent case for why rational people can choose the shot based on sound data in the comments section of the previous piece. My judgment is that the risks remain too great based on sound data. Thanks be to God, though, we are working from some reasonable – and replicable – data on the subject so you can make the best prudential judgment for your particular circumstances.

And now, to the meat of this piece…

Infallibility

When I was first considering coming into the Catholic Church, the doctrine of infallibility was a stumbling block for me. After studying rafts of formal Church documents, I realized that was because I did not understand what infallibility actually is. Very few Protestants know what the doctrine actually is. Unfortunately, very few Catholics do, either.

The first thing to know is how limited and rare the authority is. It only applies to general Church Councils or to when a Pope explicitly speaks from his Petrine authority on a matter of faith and morals binding the whole Church. The last time the latter happened was on November 1, 1950 concerning the Assumption of Mary. I was startled to find the power was so rare and limited that most Protestant assemblies I attended assigned their own pastor greater infallibility than formal Church teaching assigns the Pope. It does NOT mean the Pope doesn’t sin, that his every word is true, that even formal documents from him are infallible, or even that he is a good man.

Even with these limitations, it is fundamentally a negative power. It does not mean that the Pope will get everything right in the matter of faith and morals; only that in the rare circumstances upon which it applies, he will not get it wrong. When I was teaching RCIA, I invited catechumens to imagine, for a moment, that the Pope was infallible on mathematics. If that is so, given the formal definition of infallibility, how many mathematical questions on a test of 100 is he guaranteed to get right? Everyone always said a hundred – and were surprised when I said zero. It does not guarantee that he will get anything right, only that he will get nothing he chooses to formally answer wrong. He might not be able answer any at all.

When the Pope does speak in such a manner, his answer does not become right because he said so. Rather, he is given the gift of finding the objectively right response in the carefully prescribed circumstances. Rarely should he speak at all on such things until controversy makes it necessary. Carrying the analogy further, let us imagine we are primitive on the matter of mathematics. For centuries, we have all agreed that two plus two equals four. Now a dissident sect arises that maintains two plus two equals 22. As tumult rises, the Pope is called to speak. If, after careful consultation and contemplation, he invokes the power of infallibility and declares that two plus two equals four, it does not become so because he said so. It was always so – and God prevents him from using that authority to formally teach error.

It is a sorrow to me to see so many people assigning authority to clerics that they do not and have not ever had – while simultaneously denying the authority they actually do have. This confusion has been compounded by so many clerics neglecting their actual responsibility while simultaneously pretending to authority they don’t have. It has created chaos and undermines all authority. Yet God does have a plan to restore proper order out of the wild chaos that threatens to consume us. Come, Lord Jesus.

The Magnificat

Other than the Lord’s Prayer, my favorite Biblical Prayer, even from my Protestant days, is the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid; for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; Because He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name; And His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him. He has shown might with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has given help to Israel, His servant, mindful of His mercy – Even as He spoke to our father – to Abraham and to his posterity forever.” – Luke 1:46-55

It was while contemplating the heart of the sanctity of St. Joan of Arc that I more fully realized the magnitude of this prayer. Saints come in a great variety. Some are pure, others are passionate; some are temporally docile, others are warriors; some are simple, others are geniuses; some are peasants, others are kings. Yet they all share this common trait: their souls magnify the Lord.

As I said, I realized this while contemplating St. Joan of Arc. She certainly had the gift of prophecy, but in the heat of battle, she made more than a few errant prophecies. She was burned at the stake, but she was technically not a martyr. It was in the midst of this contemplation while I was reading the Magnificat that a light bulb went off in my head. The citizens of France were completely demoralized, resigned to their country becoming a mere province of England after nearly five generations of existential war. When Joan came on the scene, it re-invigorated the despairing multitudes who had lost hope and filled them with new heart and new resolve – sufficient to save their nation and crown their king. Why? Her soul magnified the Lord – and ordinary people could feel His warmth through her.

Ah, but that magnification is a double-edged sword. It profoundly heartens those of good will who have lost hope, but enrages those witting and unwitting servants of the satan who have placed all their hope in the things of this world. The price Joan paid for being a willing vessel through which the Lord’s light could shine more intensely was to infuriate those whose only concern was power and temporal influence and make them committed enemies – of her, of the people she heartened and, ultimately, of the Lord, Himself. It was these who killed her.  These enemies were both outside of and inside of the Church. Joan’s passion revealed many hearts.

God always has the final word, though. Even as some Church authorities excommunicated Joan for sordid, temporal reasons from the Church Militant, she was ultimately rehabilitated – and her tormentors excommunicated themselves from the Church Triumphant for profaning what is sacred for temporal gain. The final irony? The ecclesiastic Nicholas Midi gave a length homily preceding Joan’s execution in which he declared her to be a “leprosy” upon the Church. The only way to be rid of such a leprosy, he declared, was to burn it out. Shortly after Joan’s execution, Midi contracted leprosy and died a lingering, horrible death. God always has the final word. Woe to those who have made a solemn oath to proclaim the Lord but use their position, borne of that oath, to accommodate the world and gain influence.

Revelation 12

My original spiritual director, the late Msgr. Bill Stetson, was a towering intellectual of equally towering integrity who was profoundly uncomfortable with mystical things. It was one of the main reasons I chose him to be the first to share mystical experiences with. It was not that he did not believe in the approved apparitions in the Church. He was deeply devoted to Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, and Our Lady of Tepeyac (commonly Guadalupe). He just preferred that someone else deal with mystical matters.

It often made for uncomfortable encounters, for all the affection and delight we took in our relationship. In the fall of 1995, he greeted me at one of my visits by presenting me with a battered, old, blue prayer card and told me I should have this, that it would become very important to me. It looked more like a bookmark than a prayer card – and it had on it the “Woman cloaked with the sun…” passage from Revelation 12. I was puzzled and asked him what he had in mind in giving it to me. He just kept saying he was moved to give it to me and felt very strongly about it. Finally, my eyes went wide with astonishment and amusement and I asked, “Are you playing the prophet with me, now, Fr. Bill?” His face went crimson red. It was one of only two times I ever made him blush (on that score, he got me a lot more often). He dipped his head and repeated that he was just convinced that I needed it.

Of course, I believe that the Revelation 12 sign that appeared in the sky on Sept. 23, 2017, was both our entry into the fullness of the Storm and the beginning of the process of Rescue from it.

Over the last few years, I have come to have great regard for Fr. Richard Heilman’s contemplations on how certain temporal signs point to greater spiritual realities. Fr. Heilman is not a mystic. We have talked about it. But I think he has extraordinarily keen discernment on these matters – and his contemplations on such things have been a huge help to my own contemplations, both sharpening them and opening them up to new insights. Whenever he writes on such things, I pay close attention – and sometimes talk privately with him in greater detail.

Contemplation on Revelation 12, then, is important for all of us, for we are surely living much of it right now. A great place to start is with Fr. Heilman’s contemplation of it published at U.S. Grace Force a few days ago.

Mysticism

I think we have entered a time when, “your sons and daughters shall prophesy…and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

It has given me new insight into why God is so sparing in making such direct contact with people. I have met and known many people this last year who, I believe, have had authentic mystical experiences. Certainly, God sometimes uses this to console a person. On some occasions He will send someone from heaven to carry a specific message – verbatim and without interpretation. I have no experience with such a thing. When He sends someone on a specific mission, such as Abraham, Moses, Jonah, Isaiah, and others; it is usually a lifelong series of interactions, designed to expand their hearts and minds so that they can hear Him better to accomplish their mission. It involves a lot of missteps, false starts, misunderstandings, and forging real courage combined with humility and docility before the Lord. It allows no small measure of discretion to the one called, but heavy responsibility at each step. If you doubt it, look at the price Moses paid for striking the rock to bring water when he had not been given leave to do so. It is agonizingly heavy, for even the one called to such a mission remains such a frail vessel that he knows he will err – but is not allowed to just be silent for fear of error. He must do his best, using all his mind, heart and soul, and then take full responsibility for what he does, blaming none of it on God.

I have met a raft of people this year who have had supernatural experiences that seem plausibly authentic to me. Some are well humbled and awed. All too many, though, having been taught the spiritual equivalent that five plus five equals 10, suddenly fancy themselves spiritual quantum physicians and imagine they are now master of the secrets of the universe. If they have had an authentic mystical experience, their vanity is twisting it to their own destruction.

I won’t get into much detail on my approach to such things, except to offer a few prudent rules for discernment. First, if a heavenly being tells you you are exempt from some lawful decision of Church authorities, it is not a heavenly being, but a demon – no matter how consoling the message might otherwise be. If you tell me that you can always tell whether it is from God or not, I tell you your vanity has unhinged you. Do you believe yourself to be a greater saint than Padre Pio, St. Teresa of Avila, or St. John of the Cross, among others, who have confessed that the devil deceived them for a time? Do you not believe St. Paul when he says that the satan “…disguises himself as an angel of light.”? (2 Corinthians 11:14). Do you think that an angel would tell you to disobey the lawful authority of the Church which Christ founded? If you deny these fundamental truths because of what a spirit told you, your vanity is collaborating with the devil to your destruction. God does not speak to anyone so as to make that person a divine Teacher’s pet.

If the heavenly personage is only telling you what you already believe to be true, you are deceiving yourself so as to blame God for your errant vanity. When God is comfortable enough with you to start smacking you around a bit and disabusing you of your errors, it may be an actual heavenly being speaking to you. If you seek to control people by telling them that God told you to tell them what they must do, you have allowed the father of lies to seduce you into lying to yourself and to others. God does not revoke anyone’s free will. If you think that you are His instrument to do just that, you are almost hopelessly deceived. Take responsibility for what you say, whether you believe it to be divinely inspired or not. Give counsel where appropriate, understanding that you can be deceived or just plain wrong. Take responsibility for it, yourself, lest you blame God for your own errors. If it is prudent, it will be seen to be so – and all of real faith know that all good things come from God.

Know that, except for matters of pure consolation, any encounter with heavenly beings does not confer special status, but heavy responsibility. The authentic prophets of old were pushed to the limits of their endurance by their call – and often sought to escape it. Jonah’s attempt to evade his responsibility was why he was swallowed by the whale. Jeremiah’s anguished lament beginning at Jeremiah 20:7 is a profound commentary on the heavy burden the one who is authentically called bears. In all things, virtue is to be found by living your duty before God with docility and humility. If you think you have been visited from above and become puffed up with pride, remember what Jesus said to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe?” (John 20:29) Except for consolation, authentic apparitions, and guidance on a special mission, a visitation is less likely to be a reward for your belief than a palliative for your disbelief. So be not proud of any visions or visitations you might have, but of your simple fidelity to Scripture and the Magisterium and your obedience to the lawful authority of the Church Christ founded.

Acknowledge God, take the next right step – knowing humbly that sometimes it will be the wrong one despite your best efforts, and be a sign of hope to those around you – both heartening the faithful and defending the faithful as needed. These are the things that will lead us to the beatific vision.

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