PARISH LENTEN MISSION 2018: "THE MIRACLES OF CHRIST"
Conference I, February 16th, 2018
“And again going out of the coasts of Tyre, [Jesus] came by Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. And they bring to Him one deaf and dumb: and they besought Him that He would lay His hand upon him. And taking him from the multitude apart, He put His fingers into His ears: and spitting, He touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven He groaned and said to him: Ephetha!, which is, Be thou opened. And immediately his ears were opened and his tongue was loosed and he spoke right. And he charged them that they should tell no man. But the more He charged, so much the more a great deal did they publish it. And so much the more did they wonder, saying: He hath done all things well. He hath made both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.”–Mark 7:31-37
This past Sunday, February 11th, which was the Feast of the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes, the Bishop of the French diocese of Beauvais formally declared (and I quote) “the prodigious miraculous character” of the healing of a religious Sister as a result of her pilgrimage to Lourdes. The nun in question is named, quite appropriately, Sister Bernadette–Sister Bernadette Moriau. She is a French member of the Franciscan Oblates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She is now 78 years old.
In 1966, when she was only 27 years of age, she began to experience lower back pain, the first symptoms of a disease which would leave her partially paralyzed and in pain for more than 20 years. She underwent four surgeries, none of which was able to stop the progressive deterioration caused by her underlying condition.
This year is the 160th Anniversary of the Apparitions at Lourdes. Ten years ago in 2008, on the occasion of the 150th Jubilee, Sister Bernadette went as a pilgrim to Lourdes. Praying at the Grotto, she reported later, “I felt the mysterious presence of Mary and little Bernadette.” She went to Confession and received the Anointing of the Sick during her pilgrimage, but she was not asking for a cure from the sickness she had borne so long. “In no case did I ask for healing,” she said, “ but only for the conversion of heart and the strength to continue my journey as an invalid.”
A few days after returning to her convent, however, she felt an unusual feeling of relaxation and a mysterious warmth throughout her body. An inner voice told her to remove the rigid corset that helped hold her upright, the splint that kept her foot straight and the neurostimulator she used for pain control. She then got up and walked unaided, without pain. She was cured.
It was a miracle. It fit the criteria for a miraculous cure set by the Lourdes Medical Bureau, that is:, “complete and lasting”, involving a “serious illness which is incurable” and involving a sudden “indisputable change from a precise medical diagnosis of a known illness to a situation of restored health.” (“Nun’s Recovery Recognized as 70th Official Miraculous Healing at Lourdes”, by Cindy Wooten, Catholic News Service, February 12th, 2018)
From our perspective as religious Catholic believers we have no hesitation in calling this nun’s healing a miracle. It is by the power of God that this was done, that divine power, showing itself in an extraordinary and sensibly perceptible way. In this respect, we are just like the people in the Gospel who saw that the Lord Jesus had healed a deaf-mute man. “And so much the more did they wonder, saying: He hath done all things well. He hath made both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.”
That Jesus of Nazareth actually did miracles in great numbers and to great degrees is a crucial and indispensable part of our faith life as Catholics. The Miracles of Christ are a motive for faith, by Christ’s own testimony. At one point in the Gospels, when the enemies of Christ are menacing Him in the Temple, He turns it back on them by appealing to His miracles. “The Jews took up stones to stone Him. Jesus answered them: Many good works I have shewed you from My Father. For which of these works do you stone Me?...If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not. But if I do, though you will not believe Me, believe the works: that you may know that the Father is in Me and I in the Father.” (John 10:31-32, 37-38) His “works” are the miracles He has performed: the innumerable healings of people from their illnesses, the cleansing of lepers, the miracles of nature such as the feeding of thousands of people by multiplying a few loaves of bread and a few fishes, the deliverance of demoniacs. If you don’t like Jesus’s teachings...if you don’t accept His authority–look at all of these miracles! Who could do them unless He was a Man of God? Unless He was Himself God!...
The modern age does not much care for the idea of miracles. Miracles are somehow an affront to Science. If you say that you believe in Miracles well then you must be in denial about Science. Why, in this day in age only a naive, superstitious, uneducated person could seriously believe in God doing miracles in the world. “Get real!” But this is just another example, I think, of the “shout-down” of dominant popular opinion. (The writer George Orwell had a great word for it: “Groupthink”. Just think like everybody else does. Keep your head down.)
When it comes to the possibility of miracles, however, if the evidence at hand, using all of the tools of science, shows that something has actually occurred which defies any explanation according to what we know of the possibilities of nature, and moreover if that fact shows itself to be so precisely something which points back to the mystery of God, then it is quite in keeping with a mature, rational person to be in awe, and to think, “Miracle”.
It is characteristic of the Modern Age, centuries after Christ lived, to deny that Jesus Christ ever really did the miracles as they are recorded for us in the Gospel Books. Christ’s contemporaries who opposed Him, however, they never denied that He did the miracles, that He was a wonder-worker. They only denied that He did them by the power of God.
Over the next five Friday Conferences of our Lenten Mission here, we will consider further these Miracles which Christ did, and how they are meant both to inform and to sustain our personal Catholic faith. We get nowhere by trying to dilute the content of Christ’s Gospel Miracles nor by pushing their due consideration aside for a more “spiritual” religious experience, as we might imagine it.
Jesus Christ really and truly did literal, authentic miracles, and through His Catholic Church He does them still. May we ourselves be open to them as God meant for us to be. “And so much the more did they wonder, saying: He hath done all things well. He hath made both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.”