Everyone knows† about† the† destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the nuclear weapons that ultimately ended World War II.† However, very few people realize that in all† of †Japan there† were only two large Catholic communities† and† both† of† these were in the cities that† we destroyed.† Even fewer people had heard† about† the amazing miracle that took place in Nagasaki when it was leveled by the atomic blast.† Just 100 yards from “Ground Zero” was a Jesuit mission with a church, school and rectory.† The 7 priests† were† very fervent† in† spreading the gospel† and had made many converts. This was† during the time when the Church was still healthy and the people practiced many† devotions† that strengthened† their faith.† The Jesuit priests had a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima and promoted with great zeal the daily recitation† of† the Rosary and† the† devout wearing† of† the Brown Scapular.† When the nuclear blast hit, everything was leveled around this mission but it was left unharmed.† The 7 priests, who were also unharmed, never suffered from radiation† sickness†† nor† the aftereffects of radiation such as leukemia, etc.† They have all since died of natural causes, but were studied by over 200 scientists† for† over† 30 years.† These scientists wanted to know “the secret” of their apparent† immunity† from the† effects of a nuclear blast.† Their answer was† always† the same. They were protected, they said, because they prayed the rosary every day and devoutly wore the Brown Scapular as Our Lady requested at Fatima.† The scientists† failed to come up with any other logical explanation.
Now,† one of the many† aspects of Catholicism that confuses our non-Catholic brethren is our use of “sacramentals”; such as holy water, medals, scapulars, statues† and the like.† Because we live in a culture that was originally Protestant in nature, many of our own Catholic people have lost sight of the reasons for the use of† these† signs and symbols which† reflect† individual faith, and,† sadly,† many of them have adopted the Protestant attitude that these things are superstitious. Recently a controversy was generated by “The View from the Pew” a local lay Catholic underground newsletter in the diocese of San Jose, California. In the April 1995 issue there was an article on the promises that Our Lady gave to Blessed Alan to those who faithfully pray the Rosary. Some Catholics who have been† influenced to one degree or another by Protestant misconceptions were “scandalized” by what was supposedly said by Our Lady; in addition the language used in these promises tends toward† exaggeration. Because† of this I have decided to write this article as an explanation in order to set the record straight and correct any errors or misconceptions these kind of Catholic “things” may generate.
The† following† principles† must be remembered when discussing or describing the “promises” or “graces” attached to various Catholic devotions.
1.†† The Church† may say that† a par-ticular devotion is worthy of prac††††††††† tice† and† may† even† give permission ††††††††† for† the† publication† of† "promises" that may have been received within† a "private† revelation”† but† it has never said† that† those promises are guaranteed.
2.†† For†† a† person† to† receive† the† graces promised by the practice of† a particular devotion it is absolutely† necessary† that they be in the state of† sanctifying grace.† This† is† accomplished by making a sincere and good confession of any mortal† sins† one† may have committed† and by the worthy reception of Holy Communion.††
3.†† No† devotion, no† matter how laudatory† or† worthy,† can, in and of itself, be† sufficient† to save someone from eternal† damnation no matter how† faithfully† they may practice it. This† is† especially true if† that† person† is† living† a† sinful and unrepentant life.
4. † No† private revelation† is† ever† given† the† same† authority† or necessity† as the public revelation of Jesus Christ preserved for us through† holy† Tradition and Sacred Scripture. Therefore, the† Church† has† never† commanded anyone to† practice† a private devotion.† In fact, if† anyone claims† that† a particular devotion† is necessary for salvation (by the authority of† a"private revelation")† this† indicates† to the Church that this† particular revelation is not from† God and the† Church† will automatically†† condemn† it† as being contrary to the Christian† Faith† and† to be rejected.†
Now,† taking† into† consideration these 4 principles, let us analyze a particular† devotion† and† any† promises given† to† it† by† a “private revelation.”† A very common and† laudatory devotion, practiced by many Catholics throughout the world, is the wearing of† the† Brown† Scapular† of† Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.† It has been recommended† and† worn† not† only by countless saints and ecclesiastics† throughout† the† centuries,† but† even† by many Popes.† In fact, this† is one of† only 3† private† devotions† that† have† special† ritual blessings† attached† to† it† in† the Ritualae Romanum, which is the official book of rituals used by the Church.† Wearing the Brown Scapular† signifies† two things; first† it† is† a visible sign of our belief in the maternal protection and love of the Blessed Virgin Mary and secondly, wearing† it† is† a† sign† of† one’s love† for† and devotion† to† her† as† the† Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ and consequently our Mother.† By wearing it devoutly it should strengthen our faith and be a means toward greater virtue. It becomes a constant reminder to us of our Catholic Faith and the commands of Christ. It must be remembered, especially by us sinners, that we gleefully and humbly† accept† any help offered to us.† Our perseverence in devotion is pleasing to God† even† when† we† fall† short† of our resolutions. God does not expect perfection overnight but He does expect progress and persistence.† The devout wearing of the Scapular should be sign† of our desire to† progress† in† doing† His will above our own.
The† promises† attached† to† the† devout† wearing† of the Brown Scapular were given† to St. Simon Stock around the 13th century.† According to St. Simon, the Blessed Mother appeared to him in a vision in which she presented to him the Scapular that was to be worn by all Carmelites and she said, “Anyone who dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”† Now that’s a pretty strong promise.† In† private† revelations† to† other† saints†† (the most† recent example of which was at Fatima) Our Lady has†† also said that those who devoutly wear her scapular will be protected from harm.† There are some very spectacular miracles associated with the Brown Scapular, one of† which† you† read† about† at† the beginning of this article.† Nonetheless, even with such wonderful proof of the Blessed Mother’s† promise,† the Scapular† is† not† some kind of† magic† talisman† that has the power† to† protect† and† save† in† and of itself. If a person† is living a life contrary to the gospel† it† doesn’t† matter† how† many† rosaries† and† novenas† a† person† may pray† or† how many† scapulars† and† medals† a person† may† wear; †these things† will not† protect† someone† from eternal† damnation if† that† is† what that person deserves† due to† their sins. God will† not† be mocked nor† will† He† allow those things He gives us to assist us in our pilgrimage toward Him be used to subvert His justice.
One last comment:† All the devotions and sacramentals of the Church are designed† to† enhance† our love for God and neighbor and to give us both the strength and discipline to† live out† the† law of God and cooperate with His grace. Even †though† they† are not† essential† to† the† Faith they are still very important.† We are† tangible beings† and we need tangible† signs and symbols to assist our intangible faith.† The Church recommends these signs† and practices† for this very reason. Not, as some Protestants may claim, as† a kind† of promotion of idolatry† or† superstition† but rather as an assistance and a means toward living the way God wishes us to live. Because† of our fallen nature obedience† is not† easy;† therefore, we need† all the help we can get. To deny the efficacy of these means of grace is to deny the very humanity that God has created† the† way He† created it.† We are not† Puritans† or† Quakers† who† deny† the reality† and† goodness† of human nature.† The religion† of† Jesus †Christ is† a tangible,† sacramental† religion that uses the reality of our tangibility to bring us to spiritual union with God.