Sunday 02 April 2023
Omissions? Blank pages? Changed Messages? (fr. John Abberton)
It has been suggested, on one web site in particular, that Vassula Ryden cannot be a genuine instrument of God because of certain proposed anomalies in her writings. To begin with, there appear to be “gaps” caused by the removal of some “messages”, and in some cases the order of words has been changed. It is suggested that if these writings are truly inspired by God such things should not occur.
I write as a priest who has had over twenty-five years experience as a spiritual director of a mystic soul. Some who read this may want to ask how I know she is a mystic. The answer is that according to the usual rules of discernment in these matters, and through my own experience, and the experiences of others who know her, along with the general acceptance of those who have read her writings that she has not deviated from the teaching of the Church, my considered opinion is that she is genuine. A priest who gained his doctorate in a specialised study of mysticism agrees with my judgement, and she was accepted as genuine by a bishop who told her that he had never really understood the “Song of Songs” until he had read her writings. I do not mention this lady to distract from Vassula but in order to show that I have some knowledge and experience in these matters.
As a spiritual director I have often acted as an editor of mystical writings. Is that possible? Is it allowed? When I say “editor” I am referring to nothing more than changing words which are obviously wrong (usually this is a case of bad spelling), and changing punctuation so that sentences are more easily read and understood. I did not change the meaning of sentences, but tried to make the meaning clearer. Those who write inspired messages are not always accurate in their choice of words, their spelling or their punctuation (although it has to be said that these faults do not seriously distort or obscure the meaning of the messages themselves).
God sometimes chooses people who are of average ability, or lower than average, in the use of language and in their writing skills. Certainly there are cases of people who have had hardly any theological formation who write the most sublime things, often in a style suggesting that the “messages” are not coming from their imaginations or their subconscious minds. At the same time, God works through their humanity, and certain weaknesses remain. Sometimes these can jar a little as when a badly misspelled word or an example of bad punctuation appears in a passage of great poetic beauty. In my judgement, where the meaning could be made clearer by simple changes in such cases, it is in no sense interference to make the necessary corrections. In his book, “When God Gives a Sign”, Fr. René Laurentin stresses the importance of punctuation in mystical writings. I agree. What I have said above needs to be understood correctly. There is a vast difference between removing or ignoring a crucial comma and thereby destroying or changing the meaning of a theologically important phrase, and employing wise judgement in making the meaning clearer. Having said that, I have to admit to making one or two mistakes; changing a word or phrase only to discover on reading my correction that the meaning of a sentence or phrase was better conveyed by allowing the original mistakes!
Such writings as those we are discussing are not so easily categorised and need to be handled with care. It is clear that there are different kinds and degrees of locutions and inspired writings. Although there are similarities between the writings of Vassula Ryden and the kind of thing I have been dealing with for over twenty-five years, there are also differences.
In my judgement, the writings of Vassula are of a quality and importance that places them alongside the writings of St. Catherine of Sienna and, more recently, St. Faustina. I cannot say this about the writings of the mystic to whom I act as spiritual director.
I have also been privately consulted about other cases. One young man impressed me with his theological knowledge and his appealing style of writing. He had hardly any theological formation and had not written anything since leaving school. His writings were clear and spiritually challenging. One priest looked no further than his apprehensions and told him to go to a psychiatrist (thus betraying ignorance even in medical matters). This case is interesting because nothing could be done to publicise his writings owing to an unusually dominant parent who wanted to take control. God does not overrule the free will, and the enemy is always there ready to disturb things. Having received authentic spiritual gifts does not free the individual from all contradictions, misunderstandings or even persecutions. Those who think like that are not, as we say, living in the real world.
Mystical Theology is a vast area, and it is clear that many who seek to pass judgement on the kind of writings we are discussing here have hardly any knowledge of how to discern such things. Wild statements are sometimes made – often with an apparent authority which, however, cannot be backed up with references to books, journals or so-called experts in the field. Critics say, “Vassula cannot be genuine because of…”, and what follows is often nothing more than misinformed opinion or simplistic judgement presented as the absolute truth. As Fr. René Laurentin has pointed out, discernment in these matters is a matter of (informed) opinion. We follow a certain scientific approach in discerning such things, but we cannot claim infallibility. I know of one modern example of an apparently genuine “mystics” who has since turned out to be dubious. This is not to say that this person was not genuine from the beginning. The enemy is not automatically vanquished because someone has received charismatic or mystical gifts, and even a saint such as St. Teresa can be fooled by the Devil. This is a case where a combination of serious mistakes made by the spiritual director, the credulous adulation of “followers” and a careless self-confidence on the part of the “mystic” has led to tragedy. In the case of Vassula the overwhelming impression is that she is consistent, well- balanced and continues to grow spiritually. There is no departure from the central themes of the “messages” and, although the “messages” challenge the Church and the clergy, she does not present herself as a theologian and does not argue against the generally accepted doctrines of the Church.
In the matter of changes or omissions in the writings known as “True Life in God”, Vassula has presented her own defence which is included with this article. The matter is clear. The removal of certain passages from mystical writings or spiritual diaries is not that unusual. One can find references to this in the Introduction to the Diary of St. Faustina, and I remember hearing Fr. Gobbi of the Marian Movement of Priests saying that his spiritual director had exercised his judgement as to which of his writings should be made public and what should be withheld. At the same time, it is useful to recall that in approved apparitions, Our Lady gave “secrets” to the seers which were not for public consumption. The idea that absolutely everything communicated by God in such cases has to be seen by everybody is mistaken, and, once again, reveals a certain ignorance – and even naivety – in this area. As Rene Laurentin has pointed out, the charge made against Vassula that she has “hidden” some important passages or pages is false. In one article she is quoted admitting that she burnt some pages. When I see this I have to smile. I would like to show the critic all the writings I have personally collected over twenty-five years. Some of them, in my judgement, need not be kept. What am I to do with this mass of paper? In the beginning, Vassula was not using notebooks, but scraps of paper. I know from experience that it is very difficult to keep such scraps and, in particular, to protect them from others who may happen on them and misunderstand them. Not all such writings are of equal value. The spiritual director has to decide whether some pages are better burnt. Why should this be a problem? In the Catholic Church we often burn sacred things such as old bibles, worn-out picture cards, and even holy oils. Some things are thrown onto the ground. Why should it suddenly be an offence to burn scraps of paper containing mystical writings? If some of these things are not to be released and if the meaning is actually expressed or repeated in subsequent writings (often the case) why should we try to keep unsightly piles of scrap paper? Is it not better – and more reverent – to consign redundant pages to the flames?
As we can see from Vassula’s explanation, and from the assurances of Fr. Rene Laurentin, early passages have not been hidden otherwise they would not be in circulation (as they are on one critical web site). The simple admission that some things were burned does not mean that important or vital messages were destroyed. As I have just explained from my own experience burning pages is sometimes necessary. What is needed in these areas of uncertainty or doubt is a more discerning dialogue. I have the impression that some of Vassula’s critics are just waiting for what they see as the next mistake or faux pas so that they can point the finger and say, “look at that!” Unfortunately for them, some people look more carefully and with greater discernment than these critics. In truth, as a Catholic priest of thirty-four years experience, an exorcist of over ten years experience and the spiritual director of a mystic soul for over twenty-five years I can find no substantial criticism against Vassula and the writings known as, “True Life in God”
Fr. John Abberton B.A.
Recommended reading: “When God Gives a Sign” by Fr. René Laurentin. (It can be obtained from: AATLIG, P.O. Box 413, East Amherst, NY 14051 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (There are those who refuse to read anything that Fr. Laurentin has written, but in justice we cannot judge unless we actually read his own words. Far too many judgements are based on third, fourth, or fifth hand information, and some of the information people pick up is inaccurate or biased. This book is a very thorough and reasonable defence of Vassula, and deserves to be read.)
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