July 15, 2011

ABC Got Lost on the Way to Medjugorje

God bless the ABC News Nightline team for trying. Their recent broadcast of “The Miracle Mysteries,” regarding Marian apparitions in Medjugorje and elsewhere risked what Blessed Pope John Paul II called “the mocking and ridicule of the Pharisees of these apocalyptic times.” They tried, and the special could have been far worse. However, it could have been far better.

I travelled with the ABC news crew on my recent pilgrimage to Medjugorje. My stay there was unforgettable and life-changing. So, perhaps foolishly, I hoped that Nightline would capture the Spirit of that trip. They didn’t.

At least I can say that the show did not end as badly as it began. It had to start, of course, with the mainstream media’s favorite Marian stories of people who see the Virgin in stumps, grilled cheese sandwiches, salsa stains, and on the bellies of turtles. That waste of air time seemed like trying to discredit Picasso’s paintings, for example, by citing the very mediocre quality of forgeries.

Host Bill Weir explained, “This journey will prove that for true believers physical evidence is almost beside the point. To them, proof of Mary is everywhere, especially when faith has been a constant since the cradle.”

So, from the show’s early moments, the tone was set. Viewers could reasonably conclude that believers lack evidence and that they are either childishly na├»ve or barking mad.

Then the doubting intellectuals were interviewed. The one “New Testament scholar” emphatically assured viewers that, regarding Mary, “Jesus could have been her fourth or fifth child, for all we know. There is absolutely no data in the New Testament to even tell us that.” Later, the same expert added, “There is no reason to think that Mary was pregnant before her marriage, except for two out of four Gospels saying that she was a virgin.”

Whoa! That’s a pretty big exception! Apparently, this “New Testament scholar” does not believe her source material.

The next Biblical expert explained, “I’m not really big on ‘virgin birth’ as being scientifically viable.” So, either he does not understand that a miracle, by definition, is an act of God outside the laws of nature, or he simply rejects that miracles are possible. Armed only with his personal opinion, he shot down even the written record of the Virgin Mary by citing its  “mythical content.”

It is a shame that ABC can only find Biblical experts who believe that the Gospel is a fairy tale.

Bill Weir made clear that we Christians are hopelessly in the dark regarding the truth about the Virgin Mary. He said, “Early Christians, hungry for information about the mother of their Messiah, began filling in Mary’s biography.” But he did have another source to recommend: “In fact, there is more information about Mary in the Qur’an than in the Bible.”

Those comments seemed, to me,  childish slaps at Catholic Marian beliefs for which he said, “The truth is that there is no evidence to support any of these traditions.” Why cite, as a credible source, the Qur’an – a book that was dictated by Mohammed six centuries after Mary – while attempting to discredit Christian revelations that have been accompanied by miracles, fulfilled prophecies, and abundant fruit for the faith? It seemed to demonstrate either a real ignorance regarding his subject matter or a disdain for the beliefs of his audience.

At one point, in Jerusalem, Weir stood over the place where Blessed Mother is believed to have laid for three days before her Assumption into heaven.  With a smile, he comments, “In the United States, the joke is ‘George Washington slept here.’” Yeah, we get the joke, Bill.

When he interviewed author Christine Watkins, he used her words to hammer home his theory that some people are “hard wired to believe.” (Translation: “A mental defect?”) But he ignored the fact that Christine, herself, had grown up adamantly rejecting Christianity. In fact, she admits that she was an anti-Christian, atheist before her conversion. Likewise, another guest, Father Donald Calloway, was not “hard wired” to believe. He is well known for his amazing conversion story, from prison-bound young punk to the priesthood. These converts, like millions more, have no special “hard wiring.” Conversion is Spiritual, not physical.

However, Spiritual healings are not the only ones that ABC glossed over. Medjugorje is a place that also brings physical healings. Approximately 600 miraculous healings are on record there, with supporting documents that render conclusions that are scientifically inexplicable.

As the program progressed, the Medjugorje half was better, but still plagued with superficialities and understatements. Bill Weir said that “several researchers” have studied the visionaries. In fact, for many years, an army of specialists studied them -- including psychiatrists; psychologists; neurologists; cardiologists; eye, ear, nose and throat specialists; and even a neurophysiologist who journeyed there to prove it all phony and now is an atheist-turned-catholic.

Bill Weir claimed that after investigating the visionaries, themselves, the  “studies have been inconclusive.” Perhaps a better description would be that they have produced results that are unexplainable by science. In Michael H. Brown's book, "The Final Hour," I read that no abnormal ionizing radiation occurs during the apparitions but that an electroscope recorded millirads p.h. of energy that were 5,000 times normal. The visionaries have been through batteries of tests for detecting neurological, psychological, intelligence, and personality disorders. During the apparitions, their pupils remain dilated, even when a 1,000 watt bulb is shined into them. Their EEG and EKG readings indicate a state like no other: not sleep, coma, hypnosis, or waking. In fact, their brainwaves indicate that they are “hyper-alert” during the ecstasies. They also feel no pain, as was the case when the visionary named Vicka was repeatedly stabbed in the shoulder with a large leather-working needle during a vision. Still, psychologically, they all test completely normal.

In the end, I felt that ABC missed the point, almost entirely. They wasted valuable air time on doubting “scholars,” "believing" dreamers and on superficial questions like, “What do you think she looks like? and “Does she tell jokes?” Instead, they should have focused on “What is the Blessed Mother telling us?” It was as if, for example, they had done an hour-long special on the Bible -- explaining everything from the paper to the ink to the printing to the binding – but never mentioning what the Bible teaches.

So, what did they miss? Blessed Mother’s urgent pleadings in Medjugorje tend to be centered around these major points:

1.       *Surrender your life to God with constant prayers that are from the heart. Prayers can change the course of wars and even the laws of nature. The rosary is a particularly powerful weapon against the evil one.

2.      * Boost the power of prayer by fasting every Wednesday and Friday on bread and water. However, Blessed Mother recognizes that a transition period may be necessary before one can fully commit to this fast.

3.       *Take full advantage of the Sacraments. Attend Mass as often as possible, not just Sundays. It is where we can go to truly meet with her Son. She says that a blessing from a priest is more valuable than one even from herself because the priest’s blessing is from her Son. Confess at least once a month. Even when there are no major sins to confess, it is valuable to use the priest as a Spiritual director in moving further in the faith.

4.       *Read the Bible every day.

Over the few days that the ABC network crew joined our group, Bill Weir and his two coworkers seemed like nice and capable individuals. I don’t mean to judge them personally or to blame them for falling short of my expectations. It would be wonderful if that special turns out to be instrumental in bringing more people to the faith. But ABC's report and my pilgrimage only vaguely resembled each other. In contrast, Primetime Nightline's recent show on "Twin-tuition" gave more credence to the "telepathic bond" between twins than to the miracles of Medjugorje.

Granted, with all the responsibilities of producing a show weighing them down, it must have been almost impossible for the crew to experience the Spiritual peace of Medjugorje. I pray that, some day, each of them will return to Medjugorje for an extended stay, just as anonymous pilgrims. Then, they might learn how to properly cover the most important news story of our time.