Often when there is debate within the Church about some controversial movement or vision or person, defenders will trot out the positive “fruits” as a definitive proof that the phenomenon is legitimate and from God. For example, those who believe that the Virgin Mary is appearing in Medjugorje will note all the good fruit – conversions, increased prayer, return to the sacraments – as proof positive that it is not a hoax or delusion or something man-made. In this article, the author advocates rejecting the legitimate authority Christ has instituted – the local bishop – based solely on the fact that “the fruits, as many have said, are undeniable.”
Likewise, defenders of the Legion of Christ, founded by the fraud Fr. Marcial Maciel, note all the good fruit that the Legion has produced – thousands of priests, support of Catholic orthodoxy – as proof that even if Maciel was a deceiver, the order he founded and which is largely based on his personality is still legitimate.
The Scriptural support for such defenders is of course Christ’s words in Matthew 7:15-20:
15“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
So what should we make of these arguments? Most people take one of two views:
1) Deny that there is any good fruit. I think this is a mistake in the case of both Medjugorje and the Legion. The evidence is simply overwhelming. I myself became Catholic partially through the influence of Medjugorje and I know many faithful Catholics who have deepened their faith through their associated with the Legion of Christ. It is unquestionable that these phenomenon have produced good fruit.
2) Deny that there is any bad fruit. Again, in both the case of Medjugorje and the Legion, there are documented cases of “bad fruit.” A priest closely associated with the Medjugorje seers has been defrocked, many followers of the visions are openly advocating disobedience to legitimate authority, and there have been cases of theological errors in some of the messages from “Mary.” Likewise, the “bad fruit” from Fr. Maciel should be obvious, as news of his double life has been leaking out for months now. It is clear that these two phenomenon are not immaculate.
I think the problem is that people are using the wrong biblical passage to evaluate these events. We should not look to the “good fruit/bad fruit” passage, but instead listen to Christ’s words about the wheat and the weeds found in Matthew 13:24-30:
24Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28” ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29” ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ “
In this passage, Jesus makes it clear that things will not be clear-cut on this side of heaven. Both the wheat and the weeds will grow together and we must wait until the harvest – the return of Christ – to have them separated. Thus, God can work good out of even bad situations (and, likewise, the devil can work evil out of good situations). We cannot simply assume a phenomenon like Medjugorje or the Legion is completely evil because of the evil associated with it, nor can we assume it is 100% from God because good has come out of it. As Scripture says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28); in other words, God is not afraid to use ANY situation or person to work out His holy will – even if the situation or person is against God themselves.
This might sound quite confusing for the average Catholic – how are we supposed to evaluate these phenomenon which have both good and evil associated with them? Fortunately, we have the magisterium of the Church to guide us; it is their job – guided by the Holy Spirit – to weigh both the good and bad associated with these phenomenon and determine if it is something that is fundamentally good with some “bad apples” or if it is something that should be rejected by Catholics because the weeds are so strong that they ultimately choke out the wheat. In both the case of Medjugorje and the Legion, this is exactly what the magisterium is doing now, and we would do well to listen and follow their guidance.