We’ve spent this season in hoping, tender anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ, which we celebrated on Christmas Day. It is incredible to think of the miracles that have been performed through faith — people healed unexpectedly, people having the chance to see God, people meeting Jesus or the Virgin Mary — and something about their testimonies buoys our faith, which is not always the easiest to maintain. As human beings, we seek “proof” and “facts,” and it can be hard to remember that God doesn’t work in proof or facts; He is so much more.
But what happens when it seems like God is quiet? When no matter how hard you pray (for big miracles or small miracles), God doesn’t seem to be moving? This can feel especially evident when dealing with the loss or struggle of a loved one. How can God be ignoring these prayers, when they are so raw, so heartfelt, so open? And, if it seems that others’ prayers are being answered while yours are not, the whole experience can feel even harder.
Luckily, our faith offers so much comfort for these feelings; first and foremost is the counsel that God never leaves the side of His people. Our God braves the wilderness for each and every one of us, following us out into the night as many times as we leave. Human definitions are constrained by a series of limits that simply do not exist for God; we cannot and will not ever be able to understand the magnitude of His devotion to us. But, we can bask in its light and its love.
For the big miracles, an oft-quoted lesson offers some comfort. God has three answers to prayer: “yes,” “not yet,” or “I have something better.” While this perspective can be hard to grasp in the depths of the trenches, it can be a ladder out. God, who knew and loved each and every one of us before we were even Earthside, always listens. The “something better” answer stings, especially when what’s already there is pretty great. But, just as we cannot comprehend the love of God, neither can we comprehend the workings of God.
As Catholics, we are called to keep the flame of faith burning brightly. When that faith flickers, it might be a good point to stop and take stock — the prayers for big miracles are quickly replaced with prayers for small miracles, but we must make sure that we are praying with intention always.
For the smaller miracles we ask for, Matthew Kelly from Dynamic Catholic invites us to think about what we are asking of God: “Too often when we pray, we pray for tweaking. We want God to tweak this and tweak that . . . We don’t necessarily want our lives transformed. Transformation may seem attractive in a moment of blissfully holy idealistic exuberance, but . . . we like to distance ourselves from the inner work required to bring about such a transformation.”
“We pray for tweaking, and then wonder why God doesn’t answer our prayers. God is not interested in tweaking. God is in the business of transformation. He wants to turn your life upside down, which as it turns out, is right side up. If you want to see something incredible, start praying for transformation.”
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Chances are, if you’ve heard of a miracle attributed to a saint or holy person in the last hundred years, that miracle is going to be one of healing. Unexplained healing of cancer, paralysis, brain injury, or other terminal illnesses are some of the most incredible stories that we hear today. Even for Catholics like ourselves who put our faith in God wholeheartedly, there’s something reassuring about hearing these stories — they’re like the proof we don’t need for God’s existence, but are happy to know and experience.
Over 90 percent of the miracles that have qualified holy men and women for sainthood in recent years have been related to healing. Why? They’re often some of the easiest to verify. When the Vatican begins the sainthood process for any person, there are two criteria that must be verified before the person is officially canonized. First, it must be proven that the person “led an exemplary life of goodness and virtue worthy of imitation, or were martyred for their faith or experienced a powerful conversion process that inspired them to replace a life of immorality with outstanding holiness.” Second, and more central to our discussion today, is that there must be two verifiable post-mortem miracles associated directly to them.
In order to limit speculation among non-believers, the Vatican is extremely strict about the cases it dubs “miraculous.” Massive teams of investigators, both within and outside of the Vatican, including doctors, forensic scientists, detectives, historians, and lawyers are called on to explore supposed miracles. Often, it’s not until a source completely unaffiliated with the Vatican accepts the miraculousness of an event that the miracle can be attributed to a candidate for sainthood.
Why miracles? Well, we venerate saints because we see them as intercessors on our behalf — they bridge the gap between us and God, which sometimes (in spite of God’s overwhelming mercy and love) can feel pretty daunting. Saints are people, like each of us (imagine one of those spreads in a tabloid magazine: “The Saints! They’re Just Like Us”), who knew the challenges and humility of humanity. The Vatican sees miracles as “proof” of a person’s capabilities as an intercessor. After all, if you can pray to someone for guidance and healing and those prayers are answered in a big way, it’s likely that they have been bringing those intercessions to God (because all healing comes from God).
Two women helped Pope John Paul II become a saint (from his track record as pope, it was hard to deny that he’d lived a life of exceptional holiness): one, a French nun named Sister Marie Pierre who was miraculously healed of Parkinson’s disease, and two, a Costa Rican woman, Floribeth Mora Diaz, who was miraculously healed after a brain aneurysm left doctors telling her she had less than a month to live. You can read more on these miracles. There’s incredible documentation about the process of their verification.
It’s undeniable that living a life of holiness is probably the most important part of the canonization process (Pope John Paul II reduced the miracle requirement for canonization from three to two). But there’s something to be said for a “verified” work of God that just can’t be explained away.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Holy places and objects can have such power in our intercessions. Sometimes, these things can help us connect with God in just the right way. Take, for example, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. Thousands of people have traveled there, seeking peace and healing in the spot where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette. Though the committee on miracles at Lourdes has only officially recognized 70 cures as “miraculous,” thousands more individuals have drawn both spiritual and corporal comfort from visiting the shrine.
That is not to say that we venerate the shrines or the objects; we venerate Mary, Jesus, and the saints that have appeared in these places and things, and sometimes, the physical item or location can help guide us in our spiritual conversations.
If traveling to Lourdes isn’t quite possible, there are some other incredible things to look into that have all been said to facilitate miracles — among them, La Médaille Miraculeuse (the Miraculous Medal). Designed by St. Catherine Laboure after an apparition from the Blessed Mother in 1830, it said that for “those who wear [the medal] with confidence, there will be abundant graces.”
In 1830, St. Catherine Laboure was living in Paris, France, a young nun and a member of the nursing order of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. During evening prayer on November 27, she reported that the Virgin Mary had appeared to her, the Blessed Mother displaying herself in an oval frame, standing on a globe, with rays of light shining out of her hands. The words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee” appeared around the edge of the frame.
When Catherine asked why some of the rays didn’t stretch as far as the others, Mary reportedly replied, “Those are the graces for people who forget to ask.” Catherine said that the image then rotated, revealing an “M” with a cross, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary encircled in a border of 12 stars. Mary asked Catherine to bring these images to her confessor, with the request that they be turned into a medal. This she did, and the first medals were produced in 1832.
Thousands of Catholics today wear the Miraculous Medal, which is said to be most effective when worn around the neck every day. And, it has certainly been attributed to some incredible miracles, including the 1948 healing of a little boy, who had been in an accident that caused “irreversible brain damage.” Doctors told his parents that their son likely would not survive and that, if he did, he would never speak, move, eat, or be the same.
Fr. John A. Hardon, who was sent to be a chaplain for the boy’s family, decided to try the medal as a last resort. He found one, tied it around the boy’s neck with a scrap of blue ribbon he’d found, and had not even finished reading the prayers associated with the medal before the little boy opened his eyes.
The first thing the little boy did after this miraculous healing? Ask his mom for ice cream.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Some of the most incredible miracles we hear of involve the accounts of people who claim to have seen heaven or met God, and have had the incredible ability to come back and tell us about them. Called near-death experiences, or NDEs, these stories are highly contested and fraught with disagreement. But, it is impossible to deny that the stories of those who seem to know the unknowable — a firsthand account of God and heaven — are comforting. As Advent is a season of calm, comforting, and reflective faith experiences, it seems like a perfect time to learn about these fascinating stories.
The bestselling book and movie of the same name, “Heaven Is For Real,” tells the story of Colton Burpo and his NDE after he underwent an emergency appendectomy at the age of four. His doctors didn’t think he’d survive. But he did, against all odds. His parents were thrilled and buoyed by the strength of their prayers. God had heard their pleas.
In the weeks and months following his surgery, Colton’s parents began noticing odd things about their son. He told them that he’d “been to heaven,” “seen Jesus,” and “in heaven, you live forever with God!” Colton told his parents about his sister, miscarried by his mother a few years prior and about his great-grandfather, “Pop,” who’d died thirty years before Colton was born. There’s no way he could know about either person, yet he did. He also said that during his surgery, he saw his father “yelling at God as [he] prayed” and his mother “crying in a different room.” He could even share details of the surgery itself.
Blues singer-songwriter Pam Reynolds also recounted an NDE, a fascinating scenario because of the medical monitoring of her condition at the time of her experience. She was having an extremely risky surgery to remove a brain aneurysm; the location of the aneurysm meant that in order to remove it, doctors had to cool her body to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and drain all the blood from her head. Special monitoring ensured that she had zero brain activity during the operation, which was successful.
When she woke up, however, she recounted an impossible story of heaven. She described the brightest, warmest, most welcoming light one could experience — a meeting with God, she said. She met family members who’d passed away, communicating especially with her uncle. The more time she spent there, the less she wanted to leave. But her uncle pushed her back, and she came back to her body. She described details of her surgery, and could even recall what her surgeons discussed during the operation and music they listened to.
Death is one of the scariest things for us to wrap our heads around as humans, mostly because nobody can tell us about it. Our faith tells us that God and heaven will be waiting for us, but it’s certainly reassuring to have someone experience it, and come back to tell us about it. Certainly seems miraculous . . . .
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
It’s time to talk miracles this Christmas season. Born of the Virgin Mary, son of God, Christ in himself is a miracle, but one of the most fascinating aspects of our faith are the modern miracles that take place here and now and are scientifically and rigorously verified by the Vatican for all the skeptics in the room. There are lots of different types of miracles, some more common than others, but a seemingly appropriate one for the weekend after Thanksgiving is an example of a Eucharistic miracle. Jesus is the ultimate spiritual nourishment, a perfect and necessary balance for the perhaps over-indulging of corporal nourishment from last Thursday.
While a true miracle occurs during every Mass as the bread and wine sacramentally become the Body and Blood of Christ, the term “Eucharistic miracles” generally refers to a special sign of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, normally bleeding hosts or the transformation of a host into a piece of human heart tissue. Yet, they are quite difficult to verify scientifically.
But on the evening of August 18, 1996, a parishioner approached her parish priest, Fr. Alejandro Pezet, about a consecrated host that had been desecrated and left on a candle holder at the back of the church. Father Pezet was unable to consume the host and so placed it into a glass of water in the tabernacle to dissolve (customary handling of such a host). When he opened the tabernacle a week later, Fr. Pezet discovered that not only had the host not dissolved, it seemed to have become a piece of bloody tissue much larger than the original host.
Fr. Pezet informed his archbishop of this occurrence (then Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis), who asked that Fr. Pezet have the host professionally photographed. This was done on September 6, 1996, and the host was kept in the tabernacle without publicizing the event. The host-turned-bloody tissue did not degrade for over three years while it was kept in that tabernacle, with no special effort made to preserve it.
In 1999, a sample of the bloody fragment was sent for scientific analysis, which revealed two important things: the tissue was from the left ventricle of the heart muscle, which pumps blood to the entire body; and the heart muscle from which the sample was taken was inflamed, containing many white blood cells (responsible for fighting infection). White blood cells are only present in tissue taken from living beings, and cannot survive without a living organism to sustain them. Thus, the sample must have been taken from the heart of a living human being.
The tissue was taken from a living heart — this could not have been fraud. The blood type, AB+, matches that of the blood on the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo. It comes from the most critical part of the heart muscle; the left ventricle is responsible for pumping blood throughout the entire body. How did this sample survive three years of no special preservation? How did the piece of tissue come to be in that tabernacle in the first place?
It’s just a miracle.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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