I hesitated to take on this topic; it is so debatable among philosophers and religious thinkers. But I sense a growing agreement among theologians on the question of miracles, so I started investigating the issue. Three experiences have led me to this point: first, the intervention of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for a young man whom I knew; second, the answers of prayers from some 35 women in our monthly prayer group; and three, the awareness of advancing age that assures me of the gift of miracles.
I mentioned in my lecture at Mount Saint Joseph University in Cincinnati last October celebrating Elizabeth Ann Seton’s charism in my life and that of my congregation’s, that when a twin boy was born with spina bifida, his parents, their parish, and my congregation went into full force of prayer for his life. We steamrolled heaven to be exact.
We took on novena prayers for Elizabeth’s canonization (declaration of sainthood), and we prayed every day with anxious, full-throated appeals, his parents begging God, all of us hoping for a miracle through Elizabeth’s intercession.
Elizabeth’s canonization required a couple of miracles at the time, and we hoped Jimmy’s cure would be one of the tickets for her. This was my first serious attention to miracles. It was in the early 1970’s. Jimmy’s disease was not cured but he defied medical science and his own doctors’ predictions and lived a full 50 years—graduating from college and working in his father’s business. He lived a life he might not have had without prayers for a miracle. His Jewish doctor said this had to be a miracle.
Second, I have witnessed several miracles of faith in spiritual direction of souls seeking grace for themselves or others. But on occasion, in our monthly prayer group of 35 women, a prayer intention that seems headed for the limbo of unanswered prayers like rejected lottery tickets littering the Save More Deli parking lot, we get a miracle!!
And finally, as I advance in age, I find myself asking, ‘why not?’ A miracle is not magic. Jesus was not a magician. Around him there were many sleight-of-hand operators, fake healers who managed to convince people they were being cured because there was so little hope and medical science available to them. (I had to smile at the writings of Josephus who quoted some of these fake healers as they explained why Jesus was successful. They were making him into a fake healer as well.) But, in Jesus’ healings there is always a command, a confrontation, an address to the force that is strangling life or ability from someone. He speaks to this force and draws it out and healing occurs.
German theologian, Gerhard Lohfink, in his easily readable book, Jesus of Nazareth, has a chapter on miracles which best explained to me the nature and reality of miracles. Lohfink writes that “natural laws are not broken but elevated to a higher level,” in miracles. “God does not put divine freedom in place of human freedom,” says Lohfink. Simply said, God does not act in place of nature; God does not hold nature in abeyance while the miracle takes hold! No, God draws through nature and all that is good in nature threads itself into the healthy replacement of the illness or the fear, etc. Lohfink adds, “The miracle exalts nature; it does not bore holes in it. It does not destroy the natural order of things but brings it to fulfillment.” “When Jesus heals,” says Lohfink, “he confronts the powers of chaos, conquers demons, heals the damaged and distorted world, so that the reign of God may become visible, and creation attain to the integrity and beauty God intends for it.”
For our part, an important requirement for a miracle is faith. Simple faith that we can bring about a miracle by our hope and belief in God’s power to help us work with science and doctors respecting the natural law and elevating it to allow the miracle to take place. As Lohfink says, “God must do everything, and the human being must do everything.”
I haven’t even scratched the surface of discussing miracles but let’s say that yes, they existed in Jesus’ time, and they exist today. Josh Brown, a neuroscientist at Indiana University, claimed in a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, that following his miraculous cure from a terminal brain tumor nineteen years ago, he helped found the Global Medical Research Institute, which publishes case studies of cures around the world. These cures are apparently the result of faith and prayer, but Brown says the “research lets the facts speak for themselves.” According to Dr. Ileanyi Chinedozi, however, says, “God doesn’t need our faith to be God…God sometimes overrides our high-mindedness, our unbelief and proves himself to be God.” There you have it! If you have faith, good; if you don’t have faith, God can still work in you. I love this thought. We are all possible candidates for miracles.
Find in the Gospels some of the miracle stories of Jesus and ask yourself why this story is captured by the Evangelist. Reflect and pray on the story. Notice the nuances you may not have noticed before.
Have there been any miracles in your life or miracles you know of personally? Share them with our readers in the comment section.
Do you pray for miracles?
Can you still believe even if a miracle you long for does not happen?
To all my readers and Anonymous Angels: I wish you the comfort of answered prayers.
Here’s a miracle from the Holy Land. When I was on pilgrimage there last May, I brought home some of the healing milk powder from the Milk Grotto where Mary nursed baby Jesus. I sent it to my friend in Tennessee, diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer that had already spread to her liver. Along with many other prayers, she added the ones to Mary and drank the milk powder as well. It is now several months later and she is in remission! At the beginning of her cancer journey, the doctors wanted to recommend palliative care, but she told them since it was an aggressive and fast growing cancer (she had no sign of it until a routine mammogram in June), she wanted to fight it aggressively–and she did with prayer and chemo. Praise God and BVM for this miracle.
I’m a firm believer that miracles do happen these days and your experience seems to bear that out, Chris. One of the quiet miracles in this story is the friendship and trust between you and your friend, despite distance. I will continue to pray for her. S. Mary Ann