On Saturday, I was looking through various news reports, still trying to make sense of what had happened in Japan on Friday, when I came across an item of interest about the Shrine of Our Lady of Akita.
In 1970, the Bishop of Niigata, Most Rev. John Shojiro Ito, erected a second-order religious institute, the Seitai Hoshikai (Institute of the Handmaids of the Holy Eucharist), with their motherhouse to be set in the northeastern hills near the Soegawa district of Akita. Among the postulants of this new order was an older lady, Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa, who had recently lost her hearing.
(By the way, I don’t know whether Japanese Catholics take on Western Christian names at the baptismal font or only when pursuing a consecrated vocation; I would be grateful for enlightenment on this point.)
In 1973, Sr. Agnes began to have a series of visions, culminating in three apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, who gave her some apocalyptic warnings and injunctions to pass on to her superiors. She also received a stigmata in her left palm, in the shape of a cross. Two years later, the statue of the Blessed Virgin in the chapel began to shed tears, as well as blood from a similar stigmata. Scientific analysis showed that the tears and blood were human. This recurred over one hundred times between 1975 and 1981; at least once, the phenomenon was viewed on national television.
In doing the research on this matter, I came across one claim that Sr. Agnes was a “known alcoholic” who’d had several visions of demons trying to eat her soul, and that “Later on, all the NUNS admitted to cutting themselves and applying the blood to the Idol in hopes of inspiring locals to attend church.” Amazingly, I couldn’t find any further documentation of these “well-known facts”. Given the misuse of “nuns” (the Handmaids aren’t cloistered), the capitalization of “idol” and the respondent’s crack about “chrisatans’” attention to detail, I suspect these “well-known” facts have the same source as the papal miter with “VICARIVS FILII DEI” written in gemstones on it—the fertile imagination of some anti-Catholic fundamentalist bigot “lying for Jesus”.
In fact, the late Bp. Ito investigated the matter for several years prior to formally authorizing the veneration of Our Lady of Akita on April 22, 1984, and was one of the witnesses to Sr. Agnes’ stigmata. In doing his due diligence, he obtained the official records from the doctor who diagnosed Sr. Agnes’ deafness, which was miraculously cured on May 30, 1982, on the Feast of Pentecost at the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. In his letter authorizing the veneration, +Ito wrote:
I have known Sr. Agnes Sasagawa for more than ten years. She is a woman sound in spirit, frank and without problems; she has always impressed me as a balanced person. Consequently the messages she says that she has received did not appear to me to be in any way the result of imagination or hallucination.
There is a difference, my friends, between an institute and an institution. One of those minor details we Catholics pay attention to that various anti-Catholics and anti-Christians tend to skip over.
In the context of the years from 1973 to 1984, it was easy to read a prophecy of nuclear war and nuclear winter into the text. And even now, such a possibility hasn’t disappeared; we get an ugly reminder of that fact every time Kim Jong-Il decides to rattle his atomic sabers.
In that same period, though, the abandonment of the priesthood and consecrated religious orders wasn’t a prediction but an ongoing fact. Knowing this kind of fact tends to impose a reserve even with a formally approved private revelation.
Nevertheless, it would be foolish to completely discount Sr. Agnes’ revelation. For one thing, like Fatima (and unlike Medjugorje), the apparition was limited in time and scope, and offered nothing offensive to Catholic dogma. Second, at least two healings—that of Sr. Agnes and that of a Korean woman who was dying of an inoperable brain tumor—have been verified and attributed to Our Lady of Akita, and +Ito’s letter alludes to more. (The cure of Teresa Chun-sun Ho was particularly dramatic, as she woke up from a vegetative state into complete health.)
But mostly, besides the nuclear power that resides just to the east of Japan and which is in the control of a total nutjob, the reactor explosions and core melting at the Fukushima Daiichi plant remind us that we humans are perfectly capable of setting our own Ragnarök into motion. Too often, we attempt to utilize a technological advance before we fully understand the implications and the possible consequences; we constantly fool ourselves into thinking that we know just about everything, when the ground truth is we don’t know how much we don’t know.
I’d not heard of Our Lady of Akita before, and I knew very little about the Fatima prophecies, when I first wrote my fears about the fall of the West. Nor did I know last Monday, when I wrote about the possible Dystopias hidden inside the technological advances projected for the future. So I guess you could say reading about Akita while looking at the photos of Friday’s calamity didn’t make me feel any more optimistic … especially if you read my post on Impractical Catholic.
But as Mark Shea has pointed out, most prophecies aren’t visions of what must be but of what may be. The difference between a Jonah and a Cassandra is whether the prophet is heard and believed in time or not. And the Scriptural evidence shows that God can be haggled down by a saint, that it doesn’t take a lot to stay His hand.
If there’s anything we should be skeptical of, it’s not apparitions and personal revelations. We should be skeptical of Technological Man, who despite his self-description Homo sapiens isn’t very wise at all.
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