Holy Thursday, April 2 2015 – Michelle Wiener’s account
Previously in a post entitled “On Yom Kippur” (2015), I wrote about a sacred experience in which I encountered three mysterious Hispanic women by a waterfall in the mountains of North Carolina. I mentioned briefly in that post that I had seen these women two other times.
Today, I am going to share the details of the third appearance; it’s now been two years, and I am just now writing about it. Such sacred experiences are not easy to write about because few people believe you anyway, and yet you know what you experienced was something profound beyond description.
One might wonder what a Mormon convert from a Baptist background was doing in a Catholic Church, but that night I was there with two of my friends, Tim and Kelly, a married couple of nearly thirty years. I sometimes visit their church for special evening services, although my faith remains Mormon. They have also visited my church, as of recently. That particular night I visited their church was Holy Thursday, the Mass (Sacrament Meeting, in Mormon terminology) right before Easter, which included a foot washing ceremony.
My story, as far as the apparition is concerned, is fairly simple, and therefore relatively uneventful, as far as apparitions are concerned. That night, we took a seat, and I noticed three Hispanic women sitting behind me who looked vaguely familiar. My heart skipped a beat, and I did not look directly at them. I thought to myself, “This can’t be.” I comforted myself with the thought that this could be anybody; Sacred Heart does house a Hispanic congregation. But at the same time, I had a strange feeling it was them, so I was thinking, “Oh, no….here we go again.” I said nothing and got ready for the service.
While I was sitting in the service, I continued to look around me and considered the all-male priesthood; it reminded me so much of my own church, also male dominant with only men serving Sacrament. In that moment, I longed for Heavenly Mother. I had all but forgotten about the three mysterious women sitting behind me.
Then at one crucial point in the liturgy, which switched back and forth between English and Spanish, I got lost in the Spanish. Something prompted me to turn my head around, and the lady standing directly behind me pointed me to the correct place in the liturgy so I could follow along. Afterwards, she winked at me. I suddenly knew.
Later as I was reflecting on the evening’s activities with my friends, I asked them if they noticed the women behind us. They both had noticed the three Hispanic women, but did not get a good look at them. However, my friend Kelly did say that she could tell I had experienced something very sacred in my interactions with those women. I was taken back; I had only interacted with one of the women, and very briefly, at that!
For a while I questioned it. Could it really have been them? Nah! I was just imagining things. By this point, I had told my husband about it, so he knew. One night as I was ironing my clothes, I mentioned the woman to my husband, and added without thinking that she had winked at me. My husband just stared at me dumbfounded and asked why I had never mentioned that. Later he admitted that she had winked at him last time we saw her! Apparently, that was her signal.
A year and a half later, again on the eve of Yom Kippur, I found myself in the parish priest, Father Eckert’s office, with long-time friend of mine, Mark Sells, another ex-Baptist, sharing the story. In that meeting, I bore my testimony of Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon – to the Catholic priest, along with sharing my story of visiting the Sacred Grove and how much it meant to me. This is a “missionary opportunity” most Mormons don’t even receive. However, nobody in my own church knows about this, because how would I even begin to explain this whole scenario away to my Bishop, or others in the ward, for that matter?
Now here is where the story gets crazy! My Catholic friends believe this was indeed an apparition, but it was the Virgin Mary, not Heavenly Mother! However, I have always stood my ground, and I explained to the priest my thoughts on this, pointing out the consistency with Mormon doctrine. What I have never doubted – and I told my friends this – was that one of the women very well could have been the Virgin Mary! I never denied it outright; I just don’t believe the one I spoke to was Mary. I never have.
What made the story even more intriguing was how the services are always taped, yet the priest looked through the archives and could not find a copy of the tape from that particular service! She obviously did not want to be caught on tape.
Today, my devotion to our Mother in Heaven remains strong. I do believe it was Her, although I am certainly not closed off to Marian devotion, whether to the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene (as the Bride of Christ), as I believe both to be earthly manifestations/representations of Heavenly Mother.
Response to Michelle Wiener’s account of Holy Thursday 2015
by Mark Sells
I have had the privilege of knowing Michelle Wiener as a friend since we were both members of Franklin Baptist Church. Michelle and I both struggled with our religious upbringing. My fundamentalist background led me for a while to embrace atheism, but ultimately–and largely through the help of C. S. Lewis, I was brought for the first time to historical Christianity and finally, more specifically, to the Catholic Church. Michelle went through a similar time of doubt and exploration and her journey has brought her to the Mormon faith. Because the events that Michelle describe took place at Sacred Heart Catholic Church where I am a parishioner, she has graciously invited me to offer my own interpretation of what happened or might have happened that night. For the record, I can attest that despite her generosity and her eagerness to meet with me and with my pastor, Michelle has not in any way renounced her Mormon beliefs.
Let me begin by saying that I do not doubt the reality of the experiences Michelle describes. It is possible that the women behind her in Mass also met with her by a waterfall in the mountains of North Carolina. There are no coincidences in life, only God’s Providence. It seems to me that only two questions remain: Was this a heavenly visitation? And, if so, what is its significance?
Catholics certainly believe that the saints in Heaven can appear–in accordance with God’s will–to those on earth for the edification of our souls. Fortunately, though, we have a simple test as to whether such a visit or any private revelation is divine in origin: Does the apparition contradict what God has already publicly revealed to the faithful in the Deposit of Faith, that is through Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Teaching? If it does, then the apparition cannot be of God. I believe that Joseph Smith’s own claims of heavenly visitation and private revelation in which much of this Deposit of Faith was explicitly contradicted shows that his teaching and the subsequent development of the doctrine of Heavenly Mother are therefore unhistorical and false.
However, I am not claiming that Michelle’s experience was false or that it was not of God. If her experience was supernatural, I am only claiming that there is a more likely interpretation of what happened which I will get to in a moment. In the meantime, I will admit that I don’t have the space here to adequately defend the all-male nature of the priesthood. I will say that the historic Church has reasons other than chauvinism for holding to it, reasons rooted in Divine Revelation and in particular rooted in Christ’s ministry and in the Church that He Himself founded. Christ was not a slave to the mores of the time and place of His earthly ministry as can be read plainly in the Gospels. The honor that He gave to the women of His day and His treatment of other marginalized groups shows that He transcended these cultural restrictions as we would expect the Incarnate Son of God to do. Yet He chose twelve men for a special calling and gave them a special authority to speak and work sacramental wonders in His Name. That authority and the sacraments that follow from it have existed in the Catholic Church down through the centuries to this very day.
I believe that if Michelle’s experience was supernatural that it was, in fact, of God. When she first shared with me the account of her mysterious meeting with the Hispanic women at the waterfall, my mind immediately turned to Our Lady of Guadalupe, an appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary that is credited with the miraculous conversion of Mexico. (We have a stained glass representation of her appearing to St. Juan Diego in our church.) I further believe that if Michelle’s Holy Thursday experience was a visitation that since it took place during the offering of Holy Mass and therefore in the presence of the Holy Eucharist under the auspices of the Catholic Church, that it was likely also an appearance of the Virgin Mary. Michelle has more than once shared with me the yearning in her heart for what she calls the Divine Feminine. I believe that this yearning is a good thing, a natural–even supernatural–longing. And I believe this yearning, once properly understood and channeled, is gloriously fulfilled in the doctrines concerning Mary. For Catholics and for many Eastern Orthodox, the most holy created being who ever lived is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was chosen by God to bear His Son, but she was not a passive vessel. The Early Church Fathers of both the East and West rightly called her the new Eve as Christ is similarly called the new Adam. Her YES to God’s plan in the prayer of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) was described as the untying of the knot of disobedience that bound mankind. Her cooperation with Divine Grace opened up the world to the Incarnation and to the possibility of Redemption.
This is only the beginning of the recognition that historical Christianity has for Our Lady: She is the Theotokos, the God-Bearer, the Mother of God. She is the Ark of the New Covenant who carried in her womb, the literal Word of God, the Bread of Life. The original ark, though inanimate and perishable, and though carrying only inanimate and perishable things, was treated with enormous reverence, so much so that to touch upon it unworthily could lead to death. How much more reverence then does the Church rightly show for the person Mary, made in God’s image and preordained to give birth to and to raise His Son. And so there is an even better reason to suppose that those who are seeking a “heavenly mother” will find her more aptly in Our Lady: Mary is the Mother of Christ. We are members of the Body of Christ. She has long held the title Mother of the Church. Thus every Christian is invited by the Church to call on her as Mother. In our First Saturday Devotions, we even refer to Our Lady specifically as “heavenly Mother” and offer reparations on behalf of those who would turn “children against Mary as their heavenly Mother.” These teachings and this title long predate any Mormon doctrine of “Heavenly Mother. (“All generations shall call me blessed,” Mary prophesies in verse 48 from the Magnificat, and so all generations of Catholics have done so, most often referring to her as the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is blessed by God in a unique way, but to clarify, she is not a goddess. Polytheism is completely alien to Judaism and to historical Christianity.)
Finally, Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox believe that Mary was taken to be with the Godhead at the end of her natural life and that she now reigns as the Queen of Heaven. The Church Fathers from the beginning taught that Revelation 12:1-3 describes Mary. She is the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet.” It is true that Christ chose twelve men to represent the twelve tribes of Israel who were in turn aligned with the twelve male heirs of Jacob. But in the end, in the final unveiling, these twelve are revealed as an adornment to Our Lady, “a crown of twelve stars on her head” which she wears along with the sun and moon. Thus every humble priest ordained by a bishop who in turn received his authority from the Apostles through Succession gladly venerates the Blessed Virgin Mary who is also known to us as Queen of the Apostles.
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Photo Credit: Robert Wiener