Believe it or not?
Patrick Archbold asks why bother with it if it is not binding to believe it in the first place?
He makes an excellent point.
He also cites the message of Fatima - a message which has been approved, and one that has been interpreted by the Holy See, with commentary from then Cardinal Ratzinger on the contents of the secret, or message given by the Blessed Virgin:
A careful reading of the text of the so-called third “secret” of Fatima, published here in its entirety long after the fact and by decision of the Holy Father, will probably prove disappointing or surprising after all the speculation it has stirred. No great mystery is revealed; nor is the future unveiled. We see the Church of the martyrs of the century which has just passed represented in a scene described in a language which is symbolic and not easy to decipher. Is this what the Mother of the Lord wished to communicate to Christianity and to humanity at a time of great difficulty and distress? Is it of any help to us at the beginning of the new millennium? Or are these only projections of the inner world of children, brought up in a climate of profound piety but shaken at the same time by the tempests which threatened their own time? How should we understand the vision? What are we to make of it? - Vatican
The document may be found on the Vatican website. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Pope St. John Paul II, published the theological interpretation of the 'secret', explaining the theological significance of private revelation in the section following the above quote. I urge everyone to read it. It is what the faithful wait for when it comes to private revelations and messages.
Prudence suggests we should pay attention to prophecy and private revelations, though one is not bound by it.
Private revelation is a help to this faith, and shows its credibility precisely by leading me back to the definitive public Revelation. In this regard, Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, the future Pope Benedict XIV, says in his classic treatise, which later became normative for beatifications and canonizations: “An assent of Catholic faith is not due to revelations approved in this way; it is not even possible. These revelations seek rather an assent of human faith in keeping with the requirements of prudence, which puts them before us as probable and credible to piety”. The Flemish theologian E. Dhanis, an eminent scholar in this field, states succinctly that ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation has three elements: the message contains nothing contrary to faith or morals; it is lawful to make it public; and the faithful are authorized to accept it with prudence (E. Dhanis,Sguardo su Fatima e bilancio di una discussione, in La Civiltà Cattolica 104 , II, 392-406, in particular 397). Such a message can be a genuine help in understanding the Gospel and living it better at a particular moment in time; therefore it should not be disregarded. It is a help which is offered, but which one is not obliged to use. - Vatican
As I noted, Pat Archbold correctly points this out. I would also add that it may be helpful for the reader to read the Vatican documents on Fatima more closely, so that any remaining confusion on the role of private revelation may be cleared up. The Catechism explains private revelations as well.
I do not suggest that we ignore possible mystical revelations or purported apparitions or locutions, rather we ought to be careful and discerning, guided by the Church.
While alive, St. John Paul II has been quoted saying the message of Fatima is still relevant today as it was when Our Lady revealed it in 1917, and Pope Benedict XVI has alluded to the same. I happen to believe it is too, and the Vatican Document on the secret and the apparitions at Fatima allows such an understanding, at least in so far as the essential aspect of the message remains, as it always was, repent and believe in the Gospel, pray and amend our lives - do penance and make reparation. The essential part of the message has yet to be implemented by the faithful. Additional conjectures about the secrets are additions by men, not from heaven. As St. John of the Cross points out, the consequences of sin can be known naturally, through natural law as well as divine Revelation completed in Christ.
Pat Archbold goes on to cite the revelations of Our Lady of Good Success, a devotion connected to Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres. As far as I know, only one scholar has published any sizable research on the alleged messages for 'our times' - and the translations available are attributed to her. It is claimed these all have imprimatur's and the approval of the local bishop - 400 years ago - however I believe it is the devotion to Our lady under this title that was approved, I'm not sure the messages have been. Be that as it may, one one level they curiously correspond to the writings attributed to Bl. Katherine Emmerich. Not a few traditional Catholics who study such things have suggested these messages may comprise at least part of the third secret of Fatima, which they claim points to the current crisis in the Church. This is conjecture and added on to what is already approved.
Likewise, as St. John points out, "not all revelations turn out according to the literal meaning." It is extremely important to understand this when dealing with such messages. It is also important to understand that sometimes, spiritual directors have been equally mistaken when approving the messages related from their penitents.
"God desires not that we should wish for such visions, since He makes it possible for us to be deceived by them in so many ways." - St. John of the Cross
That is where I become skeptical and fall back on the writings of mystical theologians such as John of the Cross. It is also at this point that I get the sense some people who follow such things do so more literally than they do the Gospel or accept the teaching authority of the Magisterium - the Pope and Bishops and priests in union with him. Especially when one reads devout people claiming Vatican II was evil, The Novus Ordo is illicit, and the Holy Father is an anti-pope or a heretic.
Devotees of Fatima and other apparitions take the messages and add to them - suggesting the Holy See is hiding the full message. (The essentials of the message can be found here.) They put words on Our Lady's lips, they add to what she said, extrapolating from the revealed text an extended text either taken from other dubious messages attributed to Our Lady, or those which mystics have dictated to scribes. The messages themselves become idols, taking on greater importance than Church authority.
Even Sr. Lucia of Fatima said that the 'secret' was for the Church to discern and interpret. In response, the purveyors of dissent and division claimed the real visionary had been replaced by an impostor. People will believe fantasies such as that rather than accept the Church's theological interpretation of the secret of Fatima. By all means, we should heed those apparitions and private revelations that carry Church approval, but we need to do so with great humility and detachment, avoiding all curiosity and anxiety, always subject to the discernment of the Church.
Remember even saints have been deceived false mystics and false holy men: St. John Paul II believed Fr. Maciel was a holy founder. Fr. Robert Fox was convinced Fr. Gino was an authentic mystic and stigmatist. St. Therese of Lisieux and her entire Carmel were convinced the conversion story of Diana Vaughan perpetrated by the con-man Leo Taxil was authentic.
I just wrote a post on this topic for the feast of St. Elijah:
I think private revelations such as those attributed to Bl. Anna Katherine Emmerich, as well as the revelations attributed to Our Lady of Good Success in Quito, and even the dubious message of La Salette, may have influenced much of the resistance we see today from traditionalists to Pope Francis as well as just about everything written by the Council Fathers at Vatican II.
One reads direct quotations from spurious apparitions and private revelation in the com boxes of blogs which 'shun' anyone with a contrary opinion to their decoding of the Great Apostasy, while even the posts on such blogs suggest Francis is an anti-Pope, and false prophet, based on the same spurious prophecies. As if God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, is going to trick Christians with a false Pope. - Prophet of the end times.For years Joey Lomangino believed Our Lady would heal his blindness and he would see the promised miracle at Garabandal - of which he was assured he would be informed of beforehand so he could get to Garabandal to witness it. I know monks and nuns and priests and lay people who wait every spring for the warning, which was foretold to occur sometime between March and June. I also know a guy who has devoted his entire life to Necedah, convinced it is true. Some people let these things take over and direct their lives - think of Fr. Gruner and his group and their criticism of the popes. Think of the Baysiders and the crazy signs and myths told about Paul VI.
I can't imagine God is pleased or served by those who rely on, or use prophecies to condemn or attack the hierarchy, the papacy, or the liturgical rites of the Church. Some of these folks will even question the authenticity of canonization, yet follow dubious revelations on the state of the Church in our time.
Visions and locutions, even though from God, can mislead us.
St. John of the Cross in Chapter 19 of the Ascent lays out proof from Scripture on how this can be, for the sake of brevity, I will only high light a few passages to help explain the dangers and misunderstandings locutions can and do generate.The Letter kills, the spirit gives life.
John goes on to cite several passages from Scripture, explaining why and how the recipients got it wrong and events turned out not as human nature expected. John then explains:
V. Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini. / R. Qui fecit caelum et terram.
Sister Magdalena of the Cross, once esteemed by many in Spain,
confessed, one day, that the Devil had been visiting her in her cell.