The mainstream media in Sydney was recently abuzz at the report of a number of parishioners from a local Catholic church claiming to have witnessed the lips on an icon of the Virgin Mary moving during Mass. The video, which was filmed on a mobile phone camera by a worshipper, has since been seen hundreds of thousands of times and has attracted, understandably, very mixed commentary. The parish priest came out at the time and clearly stated that if anything did occur it was “a personal experience” and not to be misunderstood as a public miracle.
This incident of course is not the first time that a miracle or apparition has been alleged to have taken place. Just a few suburbs over from the above mentioned church is a regular suburban house that has supposedly been weeping oil from the walls for close to ten years following the premature death of the resident family’s teenage son. While the family stills lives in the house it has become a virtual shrine adorned with images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints; there have even been reports of the oil curing those who make a pilgrimage to the house.
Yet topping both of these in the contentious miracle stakes is without a doubt the alleged apparitions which began in 1981, with six children from the small town of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina claiming to see the Virgin Mary, not once or twice, but continuously for the past thirty-four years. The messages have been seemingly worthy ones, calling for people to undertake more prayer, fasting and penance. And while the site attracts more than one million visitors a year – putting it just behind the Church-approved apparition sites of Fatima and Lourdes – it seems that after many years of investigation the Vatican is set to reach the conclusion that the apparitions of Medjugorje are inauthentic.
It may appear then that the good Lord and his Mother are kept extremely busy turning up everywhere from suburban Sydney to European farming villages and, if you believe absolutely all the news, Jesus also made himself present to a lady in Newport USA via a potato chip.
While I am happy to declare my belief in the person of Jesus the Christ I just don’t feel the same way about the seemingly endless parade of miracles and apparitions which more often than not take away from the actual Christian message. In case we hadn’t noticed, Christianity is currently going through its fair share of struggles. In a growing age of secularisation, nations and philosophies that were once founded in the Christian faith are falling like dominoes. And Christians themselves are often at the fore of the problem, as they have become weak in faith and conviction. The Christian message is in need of authentic and bold proclamation, the last thing the faith needs is the secular news media to be given further opportunity to mock the faith and all things sacred when well-meaning individuals share aloud that that the Most High God has appeared to them in their home, or even worse, in their snack food.
Of course if Jesus wanted to appear in any of the aforementioned places, He could. If one can create the world and keep is in existence every other challenge must seem fairly mundane, but that is not the point. The Christian faith details that the Father sent his Son to earth and in doing so Jesus taught his message, worked miracles, founded a living Church, died on a cross and rose again. That is the whole story. Revelation is complete and not in need of anything further. Jesus came to earth not just for the people of that moment in time but for the people of every moment in time. The faith has been handed on now from generation to generation for 2000 years, and each person has the freedom to weigh up the evidence and choose to believe it or not.
Perhaps Jesus and Mary do appear to modern day individuals but these are not incidences necessary for salvation. Most believers could probably share a moment when they believed God was “speaking” to their hearts but these are moments to help their own faith. The only miracle that should be shared and proclaimed is the authentic deposit of faith preserved by the Church for 2000 years. Let us not hope or expect for more. As Christ himself said to Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me, blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”.
Copyright 2015, Bernard Toutounji
Image: Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons