I am currently taking an LSAT preparation course two nights a week downtown. One of the sections of the exam focuses on arguments. The test taker must analyze a few sentences or a short paragraph and either resolve, strengthen, weaken, supplement, undermine, or compare and contrast the components of the argument. One of the more common flaws in the arguments present on the LSAT is that the argument compares the components of the individual parts to the components of the whole (for instance, an Olympic team created by taking the very best player of every team in a league cannot be considered analogous to a division of a company that interviews top candidates in a field and chooses those to create a new division). Essentially, this argument flaw advises us to be mindful of the nuances of the parts of a whole rather than simply look at the similarities in our considerations.
Monday’s lecture and discussion focused on three particular personal experiences of Mary. The modern-day apparitions of La Salette, Lourdes, and Fatima each seem to bear a certain resemblance to one another when considered in tandem, but to merely consider them alongside one another would be akin to comparing an Olympic team to a new division -- it only focuses on the whole rather than the parts and makes the comparison ill-suited.
I know I am guilty of falling into the trappings that many other readers perhaps also fall victim to. In reading these accounts in preparation for lecture, it proved to be slightly more difficult than I assumed it would be to parse out specific details and attempt to keep the minutiae of each narrative straight in recollecting. The stories were all different, of course, yet, not unlike the accounts of Mary as healer previously encountered, there seems to be some repetition, or at least commonalities. By lumping these tales together, this may inadvertently lead to some level of reductionism. If we as readers choose to reduce the stories to a more simplistic, narrative arc, certain trends emerge, and this can obscure the perception of the reader and make it difficult to look at the microscopic effects of the specific, particular vision.
Likewise, these similarities present an analytical problem. As implied, the various apparitions tend to blur together and create a sort of apparition genre, which means that an astute reader may look for literary significance to make and construct meaning. We bring certain premonitions and expectations to our reading. We as literary readers expect a youthful protagonist, possibly of limited financial means, who has been forced to occupy a low societal position. There is skepticism embedded within the narrative, as someone -- typically someone with means and authority -- attempts to undermine the protagonist, and therefore launches an investigation with the aim of proving the underdog wrong, perhaps intending to tarnish his or her reputation along the way (though, truth be told, there might not be much of a reputation to protect in the first place for an impoverished child). Not unlike the story of Juan Diego and the Marian apparitions from pre-modern Spain, there is a portrayal of the Church as self-serving, greedy, perhaps even tainted.
Though it is problematic to overlook the details in many, if not most circumstances, it may, at times, be useful to neglect the wisdom of the Princeton Review’s LSAT preparatory course and look at the broader, sweeping scheme of the stories. When looking at these apparition narratives in tandem -- all of which are tales that been have been confirmed as worthy of belief by the Vatican and therefore, have been validated and confirmed through a rigorous process -- the obvious question is what makes these instances three of only twelve recognized by the Vatican.
The question that remains, then, is what is the alternate storyline? If the Marian apparitions that have been verified and deemed by the Holy See to be worthy of belief are the few rare exceptions and are few and far between in number, what are we to do with these other tales? I’m interested in this question because I think that comparing a few different apparitions that have since been rejected or await confirmation could illuminate precisely why these three accounts of La Salette, Lourdes, and Fatima are so compelling.
In class, I made a comment regarding the mass following that these apparitions are able to gather. That’s really what I find most interesting about these tales. The event itself is obviously interesting in that it is antithetical to the norm of daily life. However, equally astounding is that idea that a following develops and is able to sustain belief in the initial apparition itself. The construction of the magnificent shrines themselves requires continued financial assistance. The mystic of and devotion to the Marian apparition would cease to exist without the journeying to pilgrims. Word would cease to spread without a captivated public and keen interest and observation on the part of the observers. Unless there is some credibility bestowed on the vision by religious and secular authorities, the entire apparition itself is undermined. Additionally, there needs to be some sort of adherence to piety or devotion on the part of the visionary. If any of the visionaries themselves somehow falter, then the entire cult seems to lack authenticity.
Though in most cases, comparisons seem to reduce some of the detail of the individual components, in the cases of these apparitions, it seems to be vital to look at both the macro and micro.