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|This is an opinion article from a user of WikiChristian.|
A grilled cheese toasted sandwich was sold for US $28,000 in November, 2004, on the electronic auction site, ebay.com. The toast was said to bear an image of the Virgin Mary on it. Can you believe that?! The woman who sold the cheese toast claimed that she grilled it 10 years ago. She said that she was about to take a bite into it when she saw the face of the Virgin Mary looking up at her - so she kept the toast, and it hasn't gone mouldy in 10 years. She also claims that it has brought her good luck, and that she has won over US $70,000 at the casin o because of it. To me, something sounds awfully wrong about the whole story.
Visions of the Virgin Mary have been occurring for a long time now. A quick search on the internet will find that there are hundreds of sites dedicated to these apparitions. Search again for apparitions of other people or things, and suddenly the list of websites becomes very small. Almost all the websites are of so-called Christian visions and apparitions. There are a few websites dedicated to the phenomenon of seeing big dark animals, called "black dog apparitions". These apparitions have apparently been going on for centuries in England, but apart from these, there isn't much else out there being reported except by psychiatric patients. I couldn't find any literature of apparitions of Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist origin, although I'd guess that visions to followers of these religions do occur from time to time.
Most apparitions of the Virgin Mary tend to occur to members of the Roman Catholic Church, although not all of them are accepted as true by the Roman Catholic heirarchy or indeed most parishoners. When a apparition is reported within the Roman Catholic church, often either the local bishop or a panel from the the Vatican formally investigates the claim These investigation typically include initially examining the lifestyle and forming a judgement of the mental state of the person claiming to have seen the vision as well as ensuring the apparition doesn't contradict the church's doctrine. If no problems have been found in the initial investigation, then further investigations are often conducted by the congregation before any final conclusions are made. One Catholic website stated that there were 386 cases of Marian apparitions reported in the 20th century. Of these, the Catholic church made "no decision" about 299 of the cases, made a "negative decision" about 79 cases, and stated that "yes", a supernatural cause was behind 8 of the cases (Fatima in Portugal, Beauraing in Belgium, Banneux in Belgium, Akita in Japan, Syracuse in Italy, Zeitoun in Egypt, Manila in the Philippines and Betania in Venezuela). Even Pope John Paul II believes he saw a vision of Mary whilst recovering from an assination attempt in 1981. Apparitions, of course, are not exclusively reported within the Roman Catholic church. There have been numerous reports of visions of the Virgin Mary in the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, and a few in the Anglican Church. Visions of the future and hearing the voice of Christ are also reported in Pentecostal churches and in various Christian cults and off-shoots.
Apparitions tend to fall into one of the two categories. There are those that stick around for other people to see, and those that don't.
The vision of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes in France in 1858 is probably the most famous of the don't-stick-around type of apparitions. Here, a young girl named Bernadette Soubirous claimed to see Mary, who introduced herself as, "The Immaculate Conception". Her companions with her could not see the vision, nor does anyone see Mary there today. However, millions of people visit the Lourdes each year, some out of curiousity, others as a personal pilgrimage after a religious experience.
Many of the apparitions that appear however, do not disappear. These apparitions often only bear a vague resemblance to what they are claimed to represent. In South Australia, in the small town of Yankalilla, some Parishioners of the local Anglican Church noticed one day in 1994 that there appeared to be a impression of the Virgin Mary on the wall. Since then, this story has made the news on several occasion, and the parish priest, Father Nutter, has spoken of the numbers of people that have been healed of their illnesses when praying at the site. Many people who have visited the church have reported that they cannot see any impression of the Virgin Mary and that it simply looks like some peeling plaster. I've driven through Yankalilla a few times (I live in a city a couple hours away by car), and I certainly can't see any divine contribution to the plaster work of the wall. My personal opinion is that people see what they want to see in the wall, in the same way that if you stare at clouds for long enough, you can start to imagine you're looking at pictures of well, pretty much what-ever you want. But maybe that's just the sceptic in me.
People who claim to have seen an apparition are often seem completely convinved that they have been witness to a miracle. But a bit of common-sense logic immediately reveals that a number of possibilities could account for these apparitions
The whole story could be a hoax
How do you prove that an vision such as the one in Lourdes was a hoax? You can't. However, there have been quite a few instances in recent years where statues of Jesus have supposedly bled from the hands, or tears have been shed from the statue's eyes. With these sort of phenomenon it is often possible to examine for hoaxes. In May 2004, news spread of a plaster statue of Mary that was apparently seeping scented oil from its eyes. Thousands of people went to see this apparent miracle and so the Catholic Archibishop of Brisbane organised for the statue to be investigated scientifically to ensure this wasn't an elaborate hoax. A retired chemistry professor headed the investigation and found that the rose-scented oil was probably a commercially available preparation and that two very small holes had been drilled into the statue and that oils and other liquids could have been injected into these holes and slowly seeped out. The conclusion was that this "miracle" was a hoax.
The person or people who tell the story have psychiatric disorders
Some people with psychotic disorders or very unusual personalities hear voices and sometimes see visions. Often these voices or visions are believed to be Jesus or Mary or other religious figures.
The person or people who tell the story are simply misguided and wrong
People occasionally read more into an event or imagine more into a picture than is really there. On the wall in the church in Yankililla, some say that peeling plaster forms an image of the Virgin Mary and is a sign from God. Others can't see any particular image in it, and say that it is merely peeling plaster.
In Jeremiah 23:16, God saws, "Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you. They fill your heads with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds and not from the mouth of the Lord."
There really is a supernatural occurrence happening, but God isn't behind it
If there is a devil or there are many evil supernatural beings, then perhaps visions that are seen could be from these beings, and not from God. There were occasions in the Bible when the prophets of God were misled by evil. In Jeremiah 23:13, God says, "Among the prophets of Samaria I saw this repulsive thing - they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray."
God is source behind the apparition or vision
God appeared to Abraham, Jacob and Joseph in the Old Testament. Christ appeared in a vision to Paul as he was on the road to Damascus in the book of Acts. He sent a messengers to Mary and Joseph in the New Testament. I believe he still appears to and sends messengers to people today. There is a book called "I dared to call him Father" in which a Pakistani woman describes her conversion to Christianity from Islam after Christ visited her in a dream. Accounts like hers are not uncommon in the strict Islamic societies of the Middle East, and places like China where religious freedom is suppressed.
I believe that the miracles described in the Bible occurred. I believe that Jesus healed the sick. I believe that God spoke to people in visions - at the end of this article some references of this in the Bible are listed. I believe that God still speaks to people in visions and heals the sick today. However, I also tend to be sceptical, and I think that most of these so-called modern day miracles are usually hoaxes or people's misguided conclusions. Some of the questions that come to mind are
What is the purpose of an image of Mary on a wall or a similar phenomenon?
I do not understand why or how God would use an image of Mary to increase faith on earth. I do not know of any occasions in the Bible where God spoke through a picture. The closest example I can find is in the book of Daniel when God spoke to the king Belshazzar by writing a message on a wall - the message although unreadable to the king was explained by Daniel. In other words, there was a specific point to the message - and this is something that I cannot see in image of Mary on a wall.
Why does the apparition almost always involve Mary?
Some people believe that Mary deserves a place of special honour by Christians. Some people even believe that she petitions God on our account. I think this is a false teaching, and that Mary was no different than any other person - she was a sinner who needed God's salvation through Christ's death on the cross. Taking that approach, then the fact that Mary is appearing doesn't make any sense at all - there is no special reason why the apparition should be Mary. And when the vision of Mary makes claims that I believe are false doctrine, such as the one at Lourdes where the vision claimed to be the "Immaculate Conception", then I do certainly cannot believe that the vision is genuine or that it is of Mary. However, for people who place a special emphasis on the Virgin Mary and believe in the truth of teachings such as the Immaculate Conception, then there is no reason to immediately be dubious of a claim of a vision of Mary. Indeed, in the Bible, many of the visions where of messengers from God - we often call them angels. Not much information is given about these messengers in the Bible. However, all of the accounts in the Bible seem quite different from the accounts of apparitions of Mary today. Interestingly, all of the messengers are men. Most do not give their name and none of them are recognised as people who had previously lived and died. The messenger who comes to tell about the coming birth of John the Baptist and Jesus is called Gabriel, but again, he isn't recognised as an important figure from Old Testament times. The only occasion where people from the Old Testament are seen is in the account of the Transfiguration, where Peter, James and John see Jesus talking with Elijah and Moses. So it seems that there is nothing similar in the Bible to today's apparitions of Mary.
Why does the apparition of Mary only slightly resemble her?
When the appearance of Mary is photographed, the picture often looks like it could be anything. I had to laugh as I was crawling throug the web for photographs taken of apparitions. There was on description of an event that happened in Zeitoun, Egypt in 1968 where thousands of people, the website claimed, saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary outside a Coptic church. The website prowdly displayed a photograph entitled "Actual Picture". Take a look below and see the photograph - do you think it looks genuine?
I'm not even sure what I'm looking at in that photo. But I'm convinved that when God performs a miracle, it is obviously a miracle. A light that is vaguely in the shape of a person, or some plaster or marks on a wall that look a bit like a woman's face don't sound genuine to me.
We don't hear about apparitions and visions very often. Christ isn't calling for us to put our faith in a vision or an apparition. He calls us to have faith in him, to follow him and to proclaim what he's done and is doing today.
Some times God sent visions or messengers in the Bible
Genesis 15:1 - After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield
Genesis 46:2 - And God spoke to Israel (Jacob) in a vision at night
1 Samuel 3:1 - In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.
Isaiah 1:1 - The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw
Jeremiah 23:16 - This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD
Ezekial 1:1 - In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God
Ezekiel 13:6 - Their visions are false and their divinations a lie
Daniel 4:5 - I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in my bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me.
Daniel 5:5 - Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote.
Joel 2:28 - And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
Zechariah 1:8 - During the night I had a vision-and there before me was a man riding a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.
Matthew 17:1 - After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Luke 1:19 - The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.
Luke 24:4 - While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.
Acts 2:17 - In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Acts 9:10 - The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered
Acts 9:12 - In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.
Acts 10:3 - One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!"
Acts 16:9 - During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."
Acts 18:9 - One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.
Revelation 9:17 - The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur.
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