Homily 10th Sunday C – Miracles!
Our readings today are about healing, but not just the regular, run-of-the-mill, standard-course-of-antibiotics healing. We’re talking about miracles. Dead-one-minute, walking-around-the next miracles. Even the epistle is about miracles, as St. Paul explains that his deep understanding of the faith came directly from God by a miraculous revelation. It’s as if he’s standing there saying, “I didn’t need to go to a seminary for six years, and I wasn’t taught by Jesus’ apostles– although I’ve met them. No, God told me all this personally.” Well, excuse me!
Miracles are difficult, slippery things. We believe that miracles happen, but also believe that it’s not appropriate to presume upon them. Faith shouldn’t rely on proof, or it’s not faith, exactly. At the same time, God does give us inexplicable experiences that at least subjectively appear to be miraculous. So, just for fun, and without having to explain anything, how many of you believe that you, or someone close to you, has experienced a miracle? [show of hands] OK. I wish I could listen to your conversations in the car on the way home!
Science can demonstrate our tendency to see miracles where they aren’t. All those reports like the face of the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich, or the image of Jesus in a rust stain on a highway over-pass? These are examples of paraidiola and apophenia: our brains are hard-wired to see faces in random visual data, and we appear to be similarly hard-wired to ascribe meaning– some times deep, religious meaning, to such perceptions. That doesn’t disprove the existence of miracles, nor does it mean people are easily duped. It just means we’re interesting.
Jesus himself seems to have been suspicious of miracles, even as he was performing them. He often asked, to no avail, for people to keep their healing quiet, knowing that when the word got out, the situation would rapidly become unmanageable. Which is exactly what happened.
So, just to be thorough, what does the Catechism say about miracles?
- “What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe ‘because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived’. So ‘that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.’Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability ‘are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all’; they are ‘motives of credibility’ motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is ‘by no means a blind impulse of the mind’.”
Isn’t that surprising? The Catechism says that miracles– which appear counter to physical laws– rather than being irrational, are actually a gift from God that allows us to use our reason and intellect to perceive the credibility of God’s truth. The difficulty here is that this introduces a potential counter-argument. Specifically: the absence of a miracle, with the presumption of a God who loves us, might lead one to conclude that God does not exist. What might the widows of Zarephath and Nain have concluded if these holy men had not managed to resurrect their sons? Suddenly we’re out in the deep end of the pool, theologically speaking.
One way of backing away from this potential problem is to fall back on subjectivity, and say that miracles are in the eye of the beholder. It might seem pretty miraculous that the car speeding through the red light just missed you by this much. It may seem considerably less miraculous to the person in the car behind you that just got t-boned.
Or, we can broaden our categories to say that miracles happen all the time, and we just take them for granted, or don’t pay enough attention. A baby born three months prematurely who grows up to become an olympic athlete is a miracle. Antibiotics are a miracle. Those little snickerdoodles filled with caramel you can get at Whole Foods? Totally miraculous! The very existence of life itself is miraculous. Of course, if everything is miraculous, then ultimately nothing is.
Many of us, much of the time, pray for miracles. When we pray of world peace, or even a sane, functional political system of government, we are praying for miracles. If we’re approaching prayer with any level of maturity, we know that such hoped-for miracles don’t diminish our responsibility to work for these things. “Trust in God but tie up your camels” is still a wise aphorism.
Miracles are also part of how the Church discerns sainthood. To be declared “blessed” and “saintly” require miracles– usually documented, medically inexplicable healings, as proof that the saint is present in God’s kingdom, interceding for us. As the Paulist Fathers pray for the canonization of our founder, Fr. Isaac Hecker, we are asking people to pray for his intercession, so that his holiness can be recognized by the universal church. And we have had some reported: one was the healing of an infant that while joyous, didn’t rise to the level of proof. Another might have, but was reported anonymously, forestalling any investigation. Please, if you’re reporting a miracle, sign your name!
Miracles do happen. Some times it may be a private little reminder of God’s care for you. Some times it may be an occurrence that supercedes natural laws, something literally supernatural. But our faith tells us that these are all glimpses of God. Not just God’s power, but God’s compassion and love.