Rationalism, and the Death of Mystery


WHEN one approaches a haze in the distance, it may seem as though you’re going to enter a thick fog. But when you “get there,” and then look behind you, suddenly you realize you’ve been in it all along. The haze is everywhere.

So it is with the spirit of rationalism—a mindset in our times that hangs like a pervasive haze. Rationalism holds that reason and knowledge alone should guide our actions and opinions, as opposed to the intangible or emotion, and especially, religious beliefs. Rationalism is a product of the so-called Enlightenment period, when the “father of lies” began to sow one “ism” after another over the span of four centuries—deism, scientism, Darwinism, Marxism, communism, radical feminism, relativism, etc.—leading us to this hour, where atheism and individualism have all but supplanted God in the secular realm.

But even in the Church, rationalism’s toxic roots have taken hold. The past five decades, in particular, have seen this mindset tear away at the hem of mystery, bringing all things miraculous, supernatural, and transcendent under a dubious light. The poisonous fruit of this deceptive tree infected many pastors, theologians, and eventually lay people, to the extent that the Liturgy itself was drained of signs and symbols that pointed to the Beyond. In some places, church walls were literally white-washed, statues smashed, candles snuffed, incense doused, and icons, crosses, and relics closeted.

Worse, far worse, has been the neutering of childlike faith in vast portions of the Church such that, often today, anyone who displays any kind of real zeal or passion for Christ in their parishes, who stands out from the status quo, is often cast as suspect (if not cast out into the darkness). In some places, our parishes have gone from the Acts of the Apostles to the Inaction of the Apostates—we are limp, lukewarm, and devoid of mystery… a childlike faith.

O God, save us from ourselves! Deliver us from the spirit of rationalism!



Priests have recounted to me how more than one seminarian has had his faith shipwrecked in the seminary, where more often than not, the Scriptures were dissected like a lab rat, draining the lifeblood of the Living Word as if it were a mere textbook. The spirituality of the saints was dismissed as emotional meandering; Christ’s miracles as tales; devotion to Mary as superstition; and the charisms of the Holy Spirit as fundamentalism.

Thus, today, there are some bishops who frown on anyone in ministry without a Masters of Divinity, priests who balk at anything mystical, and laypeople who scoff at the evangelical. We have become, especially in the West, like that band of disciples who rebuked the little children when they tried to touch Jesus. But the Lord had something to say about that:

Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it. (Luke 18:16-17)

Today, the mysteries of the Kingdom are being revealed, not so much to scholars burrowed in intellectual pride, but to the little ones who do theology on their knees. I see and hear God speaking in tradesmen, housewives, young adults, and quiet priests and nuns with a Bible in one hand and rosary beads in the other.

So immersed are we in the fog of rationalism, that we can no longer see the horizon of reality in this generation. We seem incapable of receiving God’s supernatural gifts, such as in those souls who receive the stigmata, or visions, locutions, or apparitions. We perceive them, not as possible signs and communications from Heaven, but as inconvenient interruptions to our tidy pastoral programs. And it seems that we regard the charisms of the Holy Spirit, less as a means to build the Church, and more so as manifestations of mental instability.

O God, save us from ourselves! Deliver us from the spirit of rationalism!

A few examples come to mind…




As I wrote in On Medjugorje, objectively, we have in this single apparition site one of the greatest sources of conversion in the Church since Pentecost; hundreds of documented miracles, thousands of priestly vocations, and countless ministries throughout the world that are a direct result of Our Lady “allegedly” appearing there. Recently, it was made public that a Vatican Commission appears to have accepted the apparitions, at least in their early stages. And yet, many continue to dismiss this obvious gift and grace as a “work of the devil.” If Jesus said you shall know a tree by its fruit, I can’t think of a more irrational statement. Like Martin Luther of old, we too seem to ignore those Scriptures that don’t suit our “rational” theological worldview—despite the evidence.

These fruits are tangible, evident. And in our diocese and in many other places, I observe graces of conversion, graces of a life of supernatural faith, of vocations, of healings, of a rediscovering of the sacraments, of confession. These are all things which do not mislead. This is the reason why I can only say that it is these fruits which enable me, as bishop, to pass a moral judgment. And if as Jesus said, we must judge the tree by its fruits, I am obliged to say that the tree is good. —Cardinal Schönborn,  Medjugorje Gebetsakion, #50; Stella Maris, #343, pp. 19, 20

Someone wrote me today saying, “No true apparition would be happening every day for almost 40 years. Plus the messages are flaky, nothing profound.” This seems to me the height of religious rationalism—the same kind of pride that Pharaoh possessed as he rationalized away the miracles of Moses; the same doubts that dismissed the Resurrection; the same misguided reasoning that led many who witnessed Jesus’ miracles to declare:

Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?… So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there. (Matt 6:2-5)

Yes, God has a hard time working mighty deeds in hearts that are not childlike.

And then there is Fr. Don Calloway. The son of a military man, he was a drug addict and rebel, led out of Japan in chains for all the trouble he was causing. One day, he picked up a book of those “flaky and unprofound” messages of Medjugorje called The Queen of Peace Visits Medjugorje. As he read them that night, he was overcome with something he had never experienced before.

Although I was in serious despair about my life, as I read the book, I felt as if my heart was being melted. I hung on to each word like it was transmitting life straight to me… I have never ever heard anything so amazing and convincing and so needed in my life. —testimony, from Ministry Values

The next morning, he ran to Mass, and was infused with understanding and faith in what he was seeing unfold during the Consecration. Later that day, he began to pray, and as he did, a lifetime of tears poured from him. He heard Our Lady’s voice and had a profound experience of what he called “pure maternal love.” [1]cf. Ministry Values With that, he turned from his old life, literally filling 30 garbage bags full of pornography and heavy metal music. Even his physical appearance suddenly changed. He entered the priesthood and the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. His most recent books are powerful calls to Our Lady’s army to defeat Satan, such as Champions of the Rosary

If Medjugorje is a deception, then the devil doesn’t know what he’s doing.

If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself; how, then, will his kingdom stand? (Matt 12:26)

One has to question: if only the early apparitions are deemed authentic, what about the last 32 years? Is the vast harvest of conversions, vocations, and healings; the continued miracles and signs and wonders in the sky and on the hills… the result of six seers who truly encountered Our Lady… but who are now deceiving the Church—and still producing the same fruits? Well, if it’s a deception, let’s pray that the devil continues to prolong it, if not bring it to every Catholic parish in the world.

Many cannot believe that Our Lady would continue to give monthly messages or continue to appear… but when I look at the state of the world and the unfolding schism in the Church, I cannot believe that she wouldn’t. What Mother would abandon her toddler as he plays on the edge of a cliff?

O God, save us from ourselves! Deliver us from the spirit of rationalism!


The Renewal

Next is the continued dismissal of the Charismatic Renewal. This is a movement of the Holy Spirit explicitly embraced by the last four popes. Yet, we continue to hear priests—good priests in their own right—speak in ignorance against this movement as if it, too, is a work of the devil. The irony is that these “gatekeepers of orthodoxy” are directly contradicting the Vicars of Christ.

How could this ‘spiritual renewal’ not be a chance for the Church and the world? And how, in this case, could one not take all the means to ensure that it remains so…? —POPE PAUL VI, International Conference on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, May 19, 1975, Rome, Italy, www.ewtn.com

I am convinced that this movement is a very important component in the total renewal of the Church, in this spiritual renewal of the Church. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, special audience with Cardinal Suenens and the Council Members of the International Charismatic Renewal Office, December 11th, 1979, http://www.archdpdx.org/ccr/popes.html

The emergence of the Renewal following the Second Vatican Council was a particular gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church…. At the end of this Second Millennium, the Church needs more than ever to turn in confidence and hope to the Holy Spirit… —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Council of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office, May 14th, 1992

In a speech that leaves no ambiguity over whether or not the Renewal is meant to have a role among the entire Church, the late pope said:

The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church’s constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God’s People. —Speech to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, www.vatican.va

And while still a Cardinal, Pope Benedict said:

I am really a friend of movements—Communione e Liberazione, Focolare, and the Charismatic Renewal. I think this is a sign of the Springtime and of the presence of the Holy Spirit. —Cardinal Ratzinger (POPE BENEDICT XVI), Interview with Raymond Arroyo, EWTN, The World Over, September 5th, 2003

But once again, the uber-rational mind in our day has rejected the charisms of the Holy Spirit because they can be, frankly, messy—even if they are mentioned in the Catechism.

Whatever their character—sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues—charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church.Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2003

Nonetheless, those rationalists who encounter the manifestations of the Spirit (and often the emotions these evoke) often dismiss them as the fruit of hype, instability… or drunkenness.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim… They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” But others said, scoffing, “They have had too much new wine.” (Acts 2:4, 12)

There is no question that certain people in the charismatic movement have done it great damage through unguided zeal, rejection of ecclesial authority, or pride. But on the other end of the spectrum, so too, in the movement back toward the Latin Rite of the Mass, I have also encountered men with unguided zeal who have rejected papal authority, and done so out of pride. But in neither case should a handful of individuals cause us to outright dismiss an entire grassroots movement of praise or piety. If you’ve had a bad experience with the Renewal—or with a so-called “traditionalist”—the correct response is to forgive, look beyond human weakness, and continue to seek the wellsprings of grace that God wants to give us through a multitude of means, that yes, includes the charisms of the Holy Spirit and the beauty of the Latin Mass.

I have written a seven part series on the Charismatic Renewal—not because I’m its spokesman, but because I am a Roman Catholic, and this is part of our Catholic Tradition. [2]see Charismatic? But one last point, one that Scripture itself makes. Jesus said that the Father “does not ration his gift of the Spirit.[3]John 3:34 And then we read this in the Acts of the Apostles:

As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)

What you just read was not Pentecost—that was two chapters earlier. What we see here is that God does not ration His Spirit; the Apostles, and we, can be filled over and over again. That’s the purpose of the Renewal movement.

O God, save us from ourselves! Deliver us from the spirit of rationalism!


Christian Unity

Jesus prayed and willed that Christians everywhere be united as one flock. [4]John 17:20-21 This, said Pope Leo XIII, has therefore been the goal of the papacy:

We have attempted and persistently carried out during a long pontificate towards two chief ends: in the first place, towards the restoration, both in rulers and peoples, of the principles of the Christian life in civil and domestic society, since there is no true life for men except from Christ; and, secondly, to promote the reunion of those who have fallen away from the Catholic Church either by heresy or by schism, since it is most undoubtedly the will of Christ that all should be united in one flock under one Shepherd. —Divinum Illud Munus, n. 10

However, once again, the religious rationalists of our times, because they are often closed to the supernatural activity of God, cannot see the Lord working outside the boundaries of the Catholic Church.

…many elements of sanctification and of truth” are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.” Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity.”  Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 818

I think many are going to be shocked someday when they see “those Pentecostals” dancing around the Tabernacle like David did around the Ark. Or former Muslims prophesying from the pews. Or the Orthodox swinging our censors. Yes, a “new Pentecost” is coming, and when it does, it will leave the rationalists sitting in a puddle of intellectual silence in a wake of the supernatural. Here, I am not suggesting another “ism”—syncretism—but the true unity of the body of Christ that will be a work of the Holy Spirit.

The Catholic Church, which is the kingdom of Christ on earth, [is] destined to be spread among all men and all nations… —POPE PIUS XI, Quas Primas, Encyclical, n. 12, Dec. 11th, 1925; cf. Matt 24:14

Jesus did not only send us the “Spirit of truth”—as if the mission of the Church has been reduced to an intellectual exercise of guarding the deposit of faith. Indeed, those who wish to limit the Spirit to a “giver of rules” have often neutered the unction that the Lord has tried to bestow upon the Church and the world. No, He also sends us the Spirit of “power,”[5]cf. Luke 4:14; 24:49 who transforms, creates, and renews in all His wonderful unpredictability.

There is only one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. But God is much bigger than the Church, working even outside of her in order to draw all things to Himself. [6]Eph 4:11-13

Then John said in reply, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow in our company.” Jesus said to him, “Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” (John 9:49-50)

Let us pray, then, that none of us, out of ignorance or spiritual pride, becomes an obstacle to grace, even if we don’t fully understand its workings. Stay united with the Pope, despite his faults or failings; remain faithful to all the Church’s teachings; stay close to Our Blessed Mother; and pray, pray, pray. Above all, have an invincible faith and trust in Jesus. In this way, you and I may decrease so that He, the light of the world, may increase in us, dispelling the fog of doubt and worldly reasoning that so often pervades this spiritually impoverished generation… and destroys Mystery.

O God, save us from ourselves! Deliver us from the spirit of rationalism!



On Medjugorje

Medjugorje—”Just the Facts, Ma’am”

When the Stones Cry Out


Authentic Ecumenism

The Beginning of Ecumenism

The End of Ecumenism

Bless you and thank you.

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1 cf. Ministry Values
2 see Charismatic?
3 John 3:34
4 John 17:20-21
5 cf. Luke 4:14; 24:49
6 Eph 4:11-13