I was asked, recently, to comment upon apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here’s how I responded (in case anyone else is interested):
It’s difficult to know what to say about the Virgin Mary. Protestants contend that reverencing her borders on polytheism while Catholics take offense at any slight (as you would if somebody said something bad about your own mother). It is my opinion that Mary was a virgin until after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:25). I believe that when the Gospels talk about Jesus’s brothers, they mean just that (John 7:3).
I think that Mary was fallible, just like the rest of us, and needed salvation through her Son just as we do. I think of the time that she and her other sons came to take Jesus away because they thought he was acting crazy (Mark 3:20-34). I also think that she jumped the gun with her request to do something about the wine shortage at the wedding feast; but then, God the Father must have told Jesus to go ahead and change the water into wine—as Jesus had told Mary beforehand that his “hour has not yet come” (John 2:1-12).
I think that most Protestants pay too little attention to Mary as a model of faith, obedience, and perseverance compared to Jesus’ other male disciples. I also think the Orthodox Church has a better perspective on Mary than the Catholic Church. You’ll notice that, in Greek Orthodox iconography, Mary is never pictured without Jesus. I think that’s healthier. Mary must always point to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Thus, the sightings of the Virgin Mary, alone, at Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, and Medjugorje present me with slight problems. One of my problems is: why Mary and not Peter, Paul, James, or John? Is it because she’s a woman and sometimes the church needs a more feminine touch? Why are there no records of Mary’s supernatural visitations earlier in church history? Why is it predominantly a Roman Catholic thing? All that aside, I believe that God could send Mary as an ambassador if He thought it would bring people closer to Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life” because no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). So, I would look at the fruit of the apparitions – do they point people to Jesus?
Look at the span of her life and see where Mary ends up. She ends up with the believers in the Upper Room waiting for the Holy Spirit to fall upon them (Acts 1:12-14). We would be wise to do likewise. She must have become part of the community of the faithful that shared with one another as each had need and she must have devoted herself to prayer and to the Apostles’ teaching (like the rest of the church in Acts 2:42-47).
If a vision of Mary leads people closer to Jesus himself, I have little issue with it; if it leads people into a greater devotion to Mary apart from Christ, then I am highly skeptical. Ultimately, Mary falls at her Son’s feet with the rest of the saints, thanking Him for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Revelation 7:9-10)