Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Why Some Fall Into False Devotions

by Fr. Hugh S. Thwaites, S.J.


In this article Fr. Hugh S. Thwaites discusses some of the negative addictions humans get hooked on, including false devotions to Medjugorje, and the reasons why it is so difficult to turn away.

Larger Work

The Wanderer



Publisher & Date

The Wanderer Press, June 28, 2001

There is something which has been puzzling me for years: Why it is that so many good and holy Catholics, including priests who in every other respect are completely sound, are totally hooked on Medjugorje? Or Vassula. Or Patricia. Or Montichiari. And so on.

A partial reason could be this.

God gave us various appetites, which make for health of mind and body and guide us toward our eternal salvation. Appetites such as for food and drink, for marriage, and for God. We all have this ineradicable hunger for God, a hunger, which we need to awaken in souls that seem closed to Him.

If we satisfy these appetites licitly, by eating ordinary food, by Christian marriage lived in a Christian way, and by seeking closer union with God through His Church and her sacraments, then indeed these appetites can lead us safely toward salvation.

But if we try to satisfy them illicitly, they can become an addiction and then we can find ourselves hooked. Here, I extend the meaning of addiction to cover the strange fact that if the will is bound the intellect can become blind. Our minds, given us by God to discern the truth, can instead be used merely to justify the choices of our wills. Dazzled by an inordinate love, our judgment can be blind to self-evident facts.

There was an old fish who understood well the importance of making a well-informed choice, and he was trying to give some fatherly advice to a young fish. "Listen, son, there are worms and worms. Some worms are floating free, and they are meant to be our dinner. Other worms have a hook in them, and they are meant to turn us into someone else's dinner. The worms come from God. The hooks come from an enemy. If you gulp down a worm that has a hook in it, before you know what's happening, you'll be hauled out into the fresh air, dropped into a frying pan, and sizzling over a fire."

The young fish laughed. "Ha, ha, ha. Who has ever heard of fresh air or frying pans or fire? Ha, ha, ha!" Just then a worm with a hook in it floated past and the young fish gulped it down. And as it was hauled out of the water it cited, "Och, I dinna ken." ("I didn't know." They were in Scottish waters.) And the old fish called back, "Well, ye ken the noo." ("You know now.")

Now just as there are worms and hooks, there are appetites and addictions. Our appetites, as we have seen, come from God and help us toward self-fulfillment and salvation. Our addictions are one of the many sad effects left in us by original sin. Like the young fish, we can ignore advice and turn toward those things that appeal to us and attract our fallen nature. And we may find ourselves unexpectedly hooked.

Also, just as there are worms and worms, so there are seers and seers. Within a few years of our Lady appearing to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, there were dozens of people in France who claimed that our Lady had appeared to them in each case, after appropriate investigation, the bishop concerned stated that it was not supernatural in each case it must have been either demonic or hallucination.

Just as in Old Testament times, so too under the New Covenant, God does indeed send His humble messengers to His Church in times of need. There was Blessed Juan in Mexico, who saw our Lady at the place we now call Guadalupe. There were St. Margaret Mary, St. Catherine Laboure, and St. Bernadette in France. There were Blessed Jacinta and her brother Blessed Francisco in Portugal. There was St. Faustina in Poland.

But (and this is the key question) how do we know that they were true seers, true prophets? We know, because the Church has told us so. And how did the Church know? Because the local bishop, after due investigation, had decided so.

If you go into the Upper Basilica in Lourdes, above the altar on the right as you go in, there are two large marble plaques which tell the visitor that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous eighteen times in the grotto down by the river. I forget what else it tells us. But I do remember the name at the bottom of the second plaque. It is that of the then bishop of Tarbes, who had jurisdiction over the then small country town of Lourdes.

In the world of spirits, the Church knows her way around. Demons, who after all are angels, can outwit any human being. If they outwitted, albeit briefly, St. Catherine of Siena and Padre Pio, they could outwit anyone. But they cannot outwit the Church. In every country and district, the Church gives her God-given authority to govern and to judge in spiritual matters to one man, that is to the ordinary, as he is called, the local bishop or archbishop.

How the Devil envies God's power! How he hates God and hates our Lady and hates us! He cannot overcome God. But he knows we all have a flawed nature, we all suffer from the effects of original sin. He knows how curious we are. That tree of the knowledge of good and evil still holds a fascination for us. We still want to know more — more, perhaps, than we should. And we flock to hear what the seers have to tell us. Clearly, Satan would not be running true to form if he did not try to break into that market himself. And so even though the Church, speaking through the local bishop, may warn us not to go somewhere, we poor children of Eve still feel that we must. These self-proclaimed seers — and of course Mohammed is the outstanding example — are so much bait with hooks inside them. And the people who give credence to them are hooked.

In a book I once read about Cardinal Manning there was a sad example of this. When he was an Anglican rector, he converted a Catholic to being a Protestant. When he had become a Catholic, this naturally weighed on his conscience and he tried to convert him back, but he could not. The poor man was now an "addicted" Protestant.

God made us to satisfy our bodies with good food and drink and with observance of the natural law, our minds with truth, and our souls with Him. Seeking illicit satisfactions can end up with our being hooked on an addiction.

A practicing homosexual is hooked. Sometimes he may wish he could break with his lifestyle. But without extraordinary help from God he cannot. He's hooked. People who flock to a place where they think our Lady is appearing, even though the local bishop keeps telling them that it's not our Lady, are hooked. No amount of reasoning, no amount of evidence, can shake their certainty that it is our Lady who comes there. They are well and truly hooked.

How do people get that way, at least as regards false apparitions? Maybe it is that they have not paid enough attention to our Lord's warning that unless we make ourselves as little children, we shall not have the right approach to salvation. Little children ask their mother if something is all right. Catholics should ask Holy Mother Church. It is our chronic and unconscious pride that leads us to choose independently of the Church.

There was nothing wrong with Satan's intellect. His pride was his downfall. Pride is the sin that most of all we should fear. And when it comes to the teaching of the Church or, as in this case, the authenticity of a seer, it is to the ordinary we should turn. Failure to do this and relying on one's own judgment in such matter, can lead, and indeed has led, to many people being hooked. Hooked by an addiction.

Maybe I am pushing it too far, but it seems to me that there is a demonic factor in this area of addictions. Just as in fishing there is a human being at the other end of the line, controlling the hook, so in addictions it could be Satan or one of his demons who is the active and aggressive agent.

The demons know that we have been made in the image and likeness of the God whom they hate, and so they take an evil pleasure in seeing us degrade ourselves. They take an evil pleasure in seeing a creature, so beloved by God, groveling in a drunken stupor. Especially, I think, is this demonic influence seen in the addiction to homosexual actions. Hating human beings as they do, they seek to frustrate God's plans by preventing our very existence. Contraception and homosexual lifestyles play into their hands — that is why they are such an abomination to God.

Perhaps the role of demons in all that damages marriage and the producing of more souls for Heaven explains the success of St. Dominic in fighting the Albigenses with the rosary. They followed a Manichaean heresy, which in the 12th century came into the south of France from Bulgaria. It encouraged abstention from marriage, which led to homosexual lifestyles, and it praised suicide. It was a culture of death. Our Lady told St. Dominic to preach the rosary, and although there was necessarily the military side to the conquest it was the rosary that ensured the destruction of the heresy. Which suggests of course that today's fight against the culture of death will avail nothing without the widespread saying of the rosary.

Satan hates and fears the rosary today as much as he did in the 12th century. Anything that reminds him of all that God has done for us poor, sinful human beings by the Incarnation and redemption makes him seethe with rage. That was why, in the old days, priests would sometimes exorcise people simply by reciting the first 14 verses of St. John's Gospel, starting with "In the beginning was the Word . . . " and ending with "the Word was made flesh" — words which the priest would know by heart since they came into his daily Mass. And of course Satan and all the demons are terrified of our Lady. They know they have lost the battle once they see the Immaculate Mother of God come to our aid.

Perhaps this explains the hatred you sometimes see in the faces of the poor people who shout abuse at us when we are at Catholic rallies or doing pro-life work. Perhaps that hatred of chastity and innocence and of the true faith is fueled by the same frustrated envy that burns the poor souls in Hell.

They say that in time of war you should find out what annoys the enemy most and then do it as often as you can. So in fighting all these negative addictions that are hostile to the faith and to true Christian marriage, the rosary is an indispensable weapon. The rosary and the Miraculous Medal.

Because of the unsleeping hostility of the Devil and his demons, because of the frailty of our fallen human nature, we do need to be on our guard lest we become addicted to anything untrue or harmful. If we allow our minds to accept something that is according to our fancy but untrue, that untruth can become an addiction. If we welcome into our bodies something that is pleasing but also damaging to health, then it can become for us an addiction. In something the same way an untruth can become an addiction.

And, as I have said, addictions can blind our judgment and weaken our wills. Both our minds and our bodies can have their addictions. But how addicts love their addictions! How they love their slavery and kiss their chains!

There's the sad story of the man who had the habit, every day, of smoking 70 to 80 cigarettes. One day his wife came across a magazine article, which described the effects of heavy smoking. It explains that the lungs gradually become coated with tar, and the large color photographs showed first occasional flecks of black, then more black, until finally you could see hardly any lung at all — it was almost all black. Then it described the onset of lung cancer, and this part was really gruesome. There were the occasional sharp stabbing pains. These grew more and more frequent, until they were almost continuous. These led to choking fits, until finally the poor victim died in agony, choked to death. Delighted, thinking this story could cure her husband, she gave the article to him to read. He read it slowly, with growing horror. Finally, he put the magazine down. He had made a firm resolution. On no account would he ever read magazine articles again.

It seems that addictions can quite blind our reason. If we are held bound by an addiction we need to exert our will. After all, it is with our will that we approach God or withdraw from Him. There was nothing wrong with Satan's intellect. His intellect was not weak; it was his will that was perverse. I think it was St. Ambrose who said "Non in dialectica complacuit Deo salvum facere populum suum": Not through reasoned argument did it please God to save His People.

The attraction of some of those silly serial TV programs lies in their showing us a way of life that panders to our lower nature and satisfies the sinful desires left in us by original sin. But the TV programs do not have God as their goal. There is something inordinate about the pleasure we have in watching them. And before we know what has happened we have acquired another addiction. So weak we are!

This explains, perhaps, how seemingly impossible it is to talk people out of their going to Medjugorje or some other such unauthorized places of pilgrimage. The Devil knows of our God-given hunger for all that comes from God. He knows that all that is deepest in us longs to see and enjoy Him. So he exploits this hunger with his counterfeits in the hope that we will accept them as the real thing. And we all know how successful he has been,

We must thank God for this hunger for Himself that He has placed in our hearts. But we should be suspicious if anyone offers us shortcuts. The only shortcut to God is the way of the cross. And as for wanting to see things! How very dangerous! We are meant to spend our time here in the darkness of faith. St. Augustine tells us that during this life we are in the womb of the Blessed Mother. Then, when we die, she delivers us into the light of eternity. But, in this life, the dark way of faith is the safe sure way the saints have trod. And we know that, if we stay faithful, God will eventually give us the reward of our faith: the sight of Him in whom we believe.

So the bottom line must be: If we really want an addiction, we should become addicted to God. It is the only addiction we can satisfy all our life, here and in eternity.

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