I am getting more concerned about the existence and prevalence of cults, and, importantly, the appearance of a new acceptance of cults. Cults were big news in the 1980s and 1990s, when some people rushed off to the Moonies, or when international groups waiting for comets and the alien space ships committed suicide. I do not have to go into detail, as there were several infamous situations. I lost a friend to the Moonies and I have another friend who was rescued from a cult years ago. Another friend of mine had to help the children of a woman who got so involved in Scientology that she neglected to feed her children. That group broke up her marriage. My heart has been broken by the friends of mine who have suffered manipulation at the hands of cult-leaders. I have tried to help by love, praying for the healing of the scars of abuse, in some cases.
My concern is that cults are proliferating with prophecies of the end times, with the problems in established religions, and with the popularity of New Age ideals. Cults are usually defined as religious worship or a community surrounding a charismatic leader with bizarre teachings. This covers many groups today which have not been labeled as cults. In Ireland, there seems to be more than enough self-professed seers who are not "real" visionaries, as the Church would define, and there are groups which pander to wealthy, religious families in order to sustain certain hidden, sometimes, extravagant lifestyles. One thinks of Christina Gallagher.
My concern is that Catholics are not immune to cultic thinking. I have good friends who follow private visionaries to the point of not reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or the encyclicals, or even the Bible in some cases. Now, these people are intelligent and good, but lacking in discernment, chasing yet the next elocutionary or visionary on the scene. I have warned friends in America about this. This is not to say that many people are not in tune with the signs of the times, and have some discernment over an above common sense. What I am concerned about is that these private revelations are becoming more important than the teachings of the Church,
I had a long discussion with an excellent priest from New York on this point last year, as I was trying to steer some friends away from certain private revelations and from being so caught up in the phenomenon. He said that something was missing in their spirituality, some type of understanding of the deep and long history of mysticism in the Church -- that their search for experiential Faith indicated a lack of catechesis. I could not agree more. The problem is that these people are frequently on their way to holiness, but get side-tracked by private revelations, some, even most of these revelations or visions, not affirmed by the Catholic Church. In fact, I think that some of these experiences tend to divert attention from the affirmed messages, such as at Fatima, and lead people into confusion.
My rule is this. If the Church approves something, I shall look into the revelations, maybe. If the Church has not approved something, I can use my time in better ways, such as studying the teachings of the Church and reading the greats such as SS. John of the Cross, or Teresa of Avila. I can wait and maybe some current visions will not be approved in my lifetime. It does not matter. My second rule is that if there is a whiff of disobedience to either bishops or priests, or even the Tradition and Revelation of the Church, the seers are wrong. Obedience and meekness mark a holy man or holy woman.
My concern centers on why intelligent people seem to need these things. My answer is that it is a form of the oldest heresy in the Church, Gnosticism. For centuries, some have wanted special, private knowledge to affirm their Faith. They have needed to identify with certain groups, or to pursue holiness in a way outside the ordinariness of the lay life. Gnosticism is a form of pride. Gnosticism is also connected to the great Modernist heresy of our age, relativism. One can just accept one's own opinion of what is real religion, or approved visions, or philosophy, whatever. Gnosticism and relativism have entered the Church again.
I can admit freely that I am an ordinary Catholic, albeit traditional, trying to work with grace and the Sacramental Life of the Church to get to heaven. Simple really; prayer, rosary, daily Mass, frequent Confession, spiritual director if I can find a trad one, and so on. If I just read, outside the encyclicals and catechisms, Aquinas and Benedict XVI for the rest of my life, that would be sufficient. Of course, the Divine Office and the Bible are essential. By the way, I highly recommend the Navarre Bible. Fantastic.
When Padre Pio was declared St. Pio of Pietrelcina, I read more about him than I did before he was declared a saint. He provides an example of approved and obvious holiness as well as spiritual gifts and elocutions. I am concerned at the number of good Catholics straining after private revelations, as there is simply no need with the wealth of saints and the Tradition, the Teaching Magisterium of the Church given to us, not to mention the Traditional Latin Mass, the greatest gift to the Church for our growth in holiness.