It's both curious and distressing in our time how the devil has attacked religion, first, for decades, from the liberal side and now, too often, not just from far-left liberals but certain "religious" conservatives. He is a spirit of extremes (is the devil)!
Be on guard, therefore, for those who sow division. It's a (bad) "fruit," a telltale sign. Seek balance. As Scripture says, Satan comes to deceive even the elect. Great deception -- what Sister Lucia called "diabolical disorientation" -- there is now all around us.
Often we gain that balance through the Blessed Madonna. We gain inspiration. Discernment is made easier. Sometimes, we gain vocations (at top, priests at the apparition site of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina).
The way men can be touched by Mary is powerfully told by California author Christine Watkins, who has penned book called Of Men and Mary, which we are pleased to make available -- fascinating and often miraculous accounts of how men are touched by the Virgin. "Turn these pages," says the preface, "and you will find yourself surprisingly inspired by a murderer locked up in prison, a drug-using football player who dreamed of the pros, and selfish, womanizing dare-devil who died and met God -- and lived again."
One case: that of Wisconsin priest Michael Lightner, of whom we have written before, but about whom there are amazing details with which we were not familiar.
When he was eight, Father Lightner recounts, he had an unusually lucid dream in which he saw himself playing for the Philadelphia Eagles against the Phoenix Cardinals. In the dream there were specific plays. He saw the faces of opposing linemen. He could hear the roar of the crowd.
Football seemed Father Lightner's destiny: by age fourteen, he was six-four and 286 pounds, eventually weighing more than three hundred.
"My faith was influenced more by a sports rival than by family," he told Christine. "When my mom would come home from a kooky place called Medjugorje, with packs of twenty-five brown Scapulars, I refused to wear one because, like all things related to faith in the family, it was forced on me."
Granted a football scholarship (to Eastern Michigan University), he became involved, as so many youth do, in drugs, alcohol, and general carousing. For loose change he worked security at heavy-metal concerts -- bands like "Rage Against the Machine," "Metallica," and "Nine Inch Nails."
He would later find out that the nails that pierced Jesus were nine inches.
While that was going on, his mother was traipsing back and forth to Medjugorje (leading pilgrimages, which Father Lightner considered "uncouth screwball behavior"). But when he got caught by her, at home, with marijuana he had stashed under a couch, she told him, in no uncertain terms, that he was going with her on her next pilgrimage, and Michael acquiesced.
That was the beginning of a series of miraculous events -- events that would propel him into the priesthood (along with a friend, Rick Wendell, who was on the same trip!).
During Confession there, Father Lightner spilled out "every grizzly detail" for about thirty-five minutes, and when he was absolved, felt as if a spear were plunged into his chest. Screaming out loud -- in agony -- young Lightner felt the "spear" yanked out, and with it, his sins.
But that was hardly the most amazing aspect of the trip. At one point, visiting a monastery at Siroki Brijeg, he and Wendell -- who despite his playboy lifestyle, and a fiance, also decided to become a priest -- both experienced the sensations and sights of being shot and burned to death -- as they later learned had actually happened, decades before, there -- at this precise place -- to Franciscan martyrs.
In the church, Father Lightner helped "catch" people who were being "slain in the Spirit," and when a woman in a wheelchair came up for a blessing (she had been in a car accident that separated her spinal cord, leading to the complication of spinal meningitis, which for seven years had prevented movement of any muscle below her waist), Lightner heard God say, "Michael, if I get this woman up and make her walk, will you enter the seminary?"
What a question! And how could this man who dreamt of playing pro football possibly answer in the affirmative?
Absolutely not, he said at first. Give his career up?
"But I decided to change the rules, so I said, "Okay, Father, if you get her up out of her wheelchair and walk her around this entire church, I will enter the seminary!'"
In several seconds, the woman was on her feet without anyone telling her to do so, and more astoundingly, she began walking around the church.
"A few expletives escaped my lips, and I walked out of the church to sob," recalls the priest. "'You know my dream, Lord,' I cried. 'Why would you take it away from me?'"
A battle raged in his soul. But God put out a red carpet for him. Affirmations came by the truckload. And when Lightner went to see the mystic, Maria Esperanza, before he left she stopped in mid-translation, grabbed his arm, and said, "You have the face of a priest."
A linebacker, Lightner was recruited by the Cleveland Browns. But he took more trips to Medjugorje, "where I saw many more marvels -- the blind seeing, the deaf hearing." How sad, if critics of this place have dissuaded potential priests.
During his final college football game, Lightner was stunned when those across the line of scrimmage from him -- the opponents -- looked entirely familiar, even though he had not physically see them before.
He was remembering something that never happened.
For twenty minutes, "I could literally see the next ten plays in my mind before they occurred," he says.
He knew exactly what would happen next, and that night, after praying a Rosary, he fell asleep and at three a.m. had a dream. It was the same ten plays from the game that day. "While I slept, God showed me that this was the same dream I'd had when I was eight years old."
As it turned out, his college's uniforms were very similar to those of the Philadelphia Eagles, and the opponents had worn uniforms similar to the Arizona Cardinals!
"Then God spoke to me again," says Lightner. "'This was your dream. It has been fulfilled. Now mine -- priesthood."
What a call! In 2005, he was ordained by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, "and I've never been happier," he says.
Priesthood turned out to be "life to the fullest."
Can you imagine, if someone had discouraged him, through criticisms, of going to the apparition site?
Food for thought -- in disoriented times.