Tag Archives: miracles

The Humor of Miracles

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt (1632)
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt (1632)

When reading about the time Jesus awoke from His nap, calmed the stormy sea, and chastened His disciples for being afraid (Matthew 8:23-27), one just has to suppress a grin. Picture the scene: the disciples mortally alarmed in their storm-tossed craft; God in human form slumbering peacefully astern (maybe snoring, even), and then the Creator of the universe wakes up from His forty winks and casually sorts everything out, grumbling at His creatures for their understandable yet ultimately groundless fear.

One sees this divine humor again and again throughout the accounts of miracles down the ages. A favorite saint of mine is Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, i.e. the Wonder-Worker, patron against earthquakes.

During the construction of a church for his growing flock, the builders ran into a problem with a huge buried boulder. Gregory ordered the rock to move out of the way of his church; it did.

When returning from the wilderness, Gregory had to seek shelter from a sudden and violent storm. The only structure nearby was a pagan temple. Gregory made the sign of the cross to purify the place, then spent the night there in prayer, waiting out the storm. The next morning, the pagan priest arrived to receive his morning oracles. The demons who had been masquerading as pagan gods advised him that they could not stay in the purified temple or near the holy man. The priest threatened to summon the anti-Christian authorities to arrest Gregory. The bishop wrote out a note reading, “Gregory to Satan: Enter.” With this “permission slip” in hand, the pagan priest was able to summon his demons again.

The same pagan priest, realizing that his gods unquestioningly obeyed Gregory’s single God, found the bishop and asked how it was done. Gregory taught the priest the truth of Christianity. Lacking faith, the priest asked for a sign of God’s power. Gregory ordered a large rock to move from one place to another; it did. The priest immediately abandoned his old life, and eventually became a deacon under bishop Gregory. This ordering about of boulders led to Gregory’s patronage against earthquakes.

(CatholicSaints.Info: notes about your extended family in heaven)

Here’s a story from Asia:

Condemned on 26 July 1644, and executed the next day, Andrew was the first Vietnamese martyr.

Father de Rhodes retrieved the body and shipped it to Macao for burial. When the transport ship was attacked by pirates, it struck a rock, and a hole was torn in the hull. A large stone rolled into the gap, held out the water, and the ship was able to deliver its cargo.

(“Blessed Andrew the Catechist”, CatholicSaints.Info)

And a recent one:

During his coma, he remembers waking up in the house he shared with his friends, and hearing someone downstairs. That was odd; he says he’s always the first one up. He investigated, and in the living room he found a young man he didn’t know.

Who are you?”

I’m George, your new roommate.”

That can’t be. I already have two roommates.”

They aren’t around anymore.”

Oh.”

He then spent a long timeless day with George. An ardent soccer player who hates staying indoors, Kevin kept trying to leave the house but George wouldn’t let him go. They fought about it, as if they were brothers, but George was adamant. He encouraged him to be patient. Kevin remembers passing the time by doing schoolwork—which he says would surprise anyone who knew him before his accident—and sitting on the couch with George playing a soccer video game called “FIFA.”

Eventually he awoke in the hospital.

(Will Duquette, “Stunning story: Miraculous recovery attributed to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati”, Aleteia)

Who in high Heaven would think of sticking the soul of a comatose patient in an ethereal house with Pier Giorgio Frassati while healing his broken body?

What kind of a God allows a ship bearing the body of His saint to be attacked by pirates, then plugs the resultant hole with a boulder? Why not preserve the ship from the pirates in the first place?

Jesus in His divine nature surely knew His disciples were panicking while He was deep in slumber, but He waited until the right moment to display His dominion over the winds and the waves.

God has perfect timing. Comic timing, even. But always perfect. Like Gandalf, He is never late, nor early; He arrives precisely when He means to.

Looking back over my life, I could have avoided a lot of worry, heartache, and stress if I had simply trusted in Him completely.

One time I did trust God completely was when my father had a stroke when I was 10. The nurse didn’t want to let me into the ICU because she was afraid I was too little to handle seeing my father in such a sorry state. But throughout his struggle for recovery, I was impervious to worry, just knowing somehow that he would be fine. (My mother had to bear the brunt of the stress.)

God’s ways are not our ways; He teaches us something each time He makes us wait, each time He allows something calamitous to occur. Through everything, He is there with us, and He will be there in the end.

God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t.
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.
― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Seeing God

Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.
John 20:29

A friend of mine was disappointed when he visited Nevers. There was a massive crowd around St. Bernadette’s incorrupt body, whereas the adoration chapel was almost empty.

We humans are more easily drawn to things we can sense. We are also more easily drawn to things which are out of the ordinary.

However, God chooses to come to us primarily through humble, ordinary means. He is there in the very fabric of our existence, which we take for granted as the only reality we know. He came to us as a little baby who grew up into a simple carpenter from the backwater town of Nazareth. He comes to us in the guise of the people we meet each day.

He is there in the Blessed Sacrament, an everyday miracle which we may also take for granted.

A Protestant ex-Catholic friend of mine longs to believe in the Real Presence, but cannot see the scriptural justification for It. He is scandalized by Catholics who skip weekday Mass in college, choosing instead to lounge around before lunch.

Let us open our eyes to God’s presence in the humble forms we take for granted – our families, our friends, others we meet in daily life, and in the tiny white Host.

Image: Pinterest

Book Review: Particles of Faith

Particles of Faith, by Stacy Trasancos, is a must-read for Catholics (and others of good faith) who are weary of the vitriol in the faith-science dialogue. What follows is my review of this book. Disclaimer: I have received no compensation for the following review, save only for an advance copy of the book.

Yes, scientism is one of the 13 “isms” discussed in this book too.

As in all times, there are a variety of ideologies which oppose themselves to Christ and His Church. It is perhaps easy to blame this on the various “bad Christians” who exist, though we are all to some extent bad Christians. Nor is the admonition that to follow Him, we must each take up our cross daily an especially convenient, easy, or enjoyable task to pursue. Whatever the human cause or causes, the ideologies which and ideologues who place themselves against the Church, her teachings, and her Head are legion.

Many of these are more or less casual ideologies, though widely followed. I am thinking especially of hedonism, utilitarianism, and post-modernism. Some people may believe in these philosophies of life, or may even use them to convince themselves to stay away from religion in general and Christian religion in particular. However, these are philosophies often embraced after a decision against religion has already been made. Other ideologies may be embraced by a smaller and more fanatical cross-section of society to convince their ideologues to stay away from the Church. Some examples include feminism [1], Marxism and communism [2], or environmentalism [3].

Scientism caricatured. Image source.

There is at least one ideology [4] which in our present time has both the broad appeal and the seemingly solid intellectual claims to undermine the faith of many a believer. This ideology is in many ways the successor to rationalism, and even to modernism: it is scientism, the belief that all knowledge must be scientifically derived or scientifically verifiable. While this assertion alone seldom undermines the faith of the average Catholic, it comes with a variety of smaller claims which are more insidious. One such claim is that there is a conflict between science and religion, in particular that the Church undermines or even outright prevents scientific progress from taking place. Another such claim is that as science progresses, the realm to which belief–in God or in miracles or in the supernatural—is relegated must steadily shrink until it vanishes. Scientism underlies the question, “How can you reconcile being a religious believer with being a rational scientist?” It is in this assumption that a conflict between science and Christianity lies. Scientism asks, perhaps cynically: How do you reconcile faith with reason, belief with data, myth with facts [5]?

We are called to give an accounting of the hope which lives within us, and a part of that accounting is to address the questions and to meet challenges posed by scientism. This is especially true in our present milieu, where scientism is particularly pervasive. In discussing these questions, Dr. Stacy Trasancos poses a separate set of questions to those of us who are Catholics:

What is the first thing you would say if someone asked you about the relationship between faith and science?

Would your first reaction be to point out that faithful people can also be people who love science? To assert that many Catholics were scientists as evidence that even Catholics can do science? To point to this or that conclusion in science as evidence that science supports faith?

This is largely the gamut of common Catholic (or broadly orthodox Christian) responses [6]. Dr. Trasancos questions each of these reactions in turn:

If so, stop and examine those reactions. Why does a person of faith need to his or her ability to love science or to be reasonable? Why single out that Catholics can be scientists? Of course we can be reasonable, and of course we can be scientists! Why point to any particular scientific conclusion as if it could prove the existence of God? We hold religious truths in faith and certainty because they are revealed by God, not because scientists give them the nod.

Nicene-CreedThis last point is one of the key themes of Dr. Trasancos’ book: that our religious beliefs cannot be undermined (or proved) by scientific discoveries because it is by revelation that we know them and faith we hold them. This is to say that no human endeavor, whether scientific discovery or reasoned inquiry, can ultimately disprove or prove that special knowledge revealed to us in faith by God about Himself, ourselves, and the relationship between us and Him. In his essay Our Awesome Creed: The Faith Is No Excuse for Bigotry, the philosopher Charles de Koninck states:

“If we truly appreciated the mysteriousness of the truths that faith enables us to accept, and how inscrutable is this power to accept them, we could never show anything but understanding towards those who cannot join us, a humble gratitude for the light in which they do not share and which we ourselves have in no way deserved….

“The things which we Christians embrace by divine faith, and which are not to be received except by that faith, are humanly incredible. They are incredible for two reasons, two reasons paradoxically opposed: first, because they are so far above us, because they make it so plain that God is remote, infinite, and mysterious beyond all imagining; second, because they bring that inaccessible Begin so close, involve the two of us in each other, show us how much we mean to Him who is above all, how each of us is the preoccupation of Wisdom Itself, as if God has no other one to care for.” [7]

Reason can help to flesh out the meaning of revelation. Reason can help us make sense of a given dogma and can shed light on revealed mystery, but unaided reason will seldom reach so high as the mysteries of our Faith. Dogmas are conclusions, but they are not the end of thinking. Rather, as Chesterton has noted, they are like firm foundations on which we can build with the materials provided by reason, scientific discovery, or rational discourse (etc.).

Dogmas give us the truth, and then science gives us some of the facts which can surround that truth or help us to make sense of it. Faith gives us the words, and reason helps us to understand their meanings.

Similar imagery is used in the book itself at one point. Image source.

There are in this book three other themes of importance, and all are related to this first theme. The first of these three is that science and the truths we hold by faith are never at war with each other, but that science and the Catholic religion can be (and should be) in dialogue: conversation, not conflict, is the state which should exist between science and the Faith. The second is that while science can enlighten the Faith, the Faith ultimately also sheds light on science. The third is that if a scientific discovery causes a person to question his faith, then he may be looking at it in the wrong way, and conversely, if a person’s faith is preventing him from accepting as valid a new scientific discovery, then it is likely that he misunderstand what the Faith teaches or what the discovery means. Likewise (and tying back into the first theme), if science if being used to attack the Faith, then either the Faith is being misconstrued or the science is being misrepresented, or both. In Dr. Trasancos’ own words, “Faith and science are to different manifestations of the same reality. When they seem to have conflicting conclusions, it is because our knowledge is not complete.”

This last statement is a sort of crux for understanding (and navigating) any hypothetical or imagined conflict between science and the Catholic Faith. Indeed, it is the key to understanding and resolving many hypothetical or imagined conflicts between dogmas which we hold by faith and conclusions which we reach via reason. The Thomistic philosopher Dr. Edward Feser suggests this in his discussion of the dogma of the Holy Trinity, which is a long (for a book review or book discussion) but helpful exercise in understanding how to navigate supposed conflicts between faith and reason. He notes that:

“Something could be unintelligible in itself, or unintelligible only for us. What is unintelligible in the first sense has no coherent content; what is unintelligible in the second sense has a coherent content, but one which, given our limited cognitive limitations, we are incapable of grasping. Trinitarianism [or any other dogmatic ‘mystery’] would be falsifiable only if it were shown to be unintelligible in the first sense, but not if it is unintelligible only in the second. Indeed, that it is ‘unintelligible’ in the second sense is exactly what Trinitarian theologians mean when they say that the doctrine of the Trinity is a ‘mystery.’ They do NOT mean that it contains a self-contradiction, or that it is unintelligible in itself, or even that we cannot have any understanding of it at all. They mean instead that the limitations of our minds are such that, though [the mystery] is perfectly consistent and intelligible in itself, we cannot adequately grasp it.”

limits-of-a-limitless-scienceIndeed, as the late Fr. Stanley L. Jaki points out, science itself has a fundamental limit in it knowledge. Physics is generally acknowledged as the most fundamental of the sciences, with the other hard building on its (and each other’s) principles and discoveries. Physics, in turn, is a very mathematical science, so much so that math may be said to be the language of physics; and the principles of physics can generally be expressed as equations, often very simple (in appearance, at least) ones of the sort that may be easily printed on a t-shirt or coffee mug.

This is perhaps the greatest strength of physics, that it can make the natural world a more knowable place (at least with practice—these equations can be very difficult to master in practice). But it sets a limit to physics in particular, which extends ultimately to the other sciences in general: these govern only the realm of the quantitative. And, being a quantitative,”emperiometric” [8] science, physics is ultimately limited in s second way—it can never have a complete theory of all things, even all quantitative things, which can be proven to the the complete theory of all things [9]. This is a consequence of Godel’s incompleteness theorems, which are a sort of proof that no non-trivial system can contain he proof of its own correctness.

What, then, should we do when the conclusions of Faith and the findings of science are in apparent contradiction? Dr. Trasancos gives us a way to navigate would-be conflicts between the Faith and science. She does this in three steps:

1. Find out what the Church teaches. (pp. 48-52)
2. Begin to learn the science. (pp. 52-55)
3. Sort out the “system of wills.” (pp. 55-60)

All three steps are important, and if the first two seem self-explanatory, the third needs a bit of explanation. In short—for this is already a very long book review—the system of wills refers to the fact that there is a hierarchy to nature. The supreme authority is God, Who holds all things in existence and who wills the laws of nature into being. But between God and these (rather deterministic) laws, there is a whole hierarchy of wills, from angel to human to animal, which are largely free to act and thus to affect the course of nature.

A scientist, when formulating his theories or studying nature via experiment, will attempt to work within an isolated (and controllable) system as best he can. Indeed, he will often attempt to isolate merely physical effects from the system, for ease of calculation and prediction (consider that free-fall motion is much easier to analyze than motion with fluid resistance, for example). Such an isolated system must discount, among other things, the presence and action of the will, both his and others’. Yet, the very act of conducting an experience is itself an act of free will, for which neither physics nor any other emperiological science can account.

“There is no mathematical accounting for free will in the isolated systems of chemistry and physics…The isolation of physical systems needs to be appreciated in the faith and science dialogue. For physical scientists trained to think this acutely, this mechanical mindset is hard to escape. Remember this when you consider the theories of scientists. They speak in terms of isolated physical systems….

God created physical matter, and God created free agents, so together these form the whole systematic universe. The laws of physics may cover the whole of time and space, but as [C.S.] Lewis puts it, ‘what they leave out is precisely the whole real universe—the incessant torrent of actual events which make up true history.’

…What is a miracle then? St. Thomas calls a miracle something God does outside the order of nature ‘which we know.’ To us, it may seem like breaking laws of physics, but miracles do not break the supreme law. In addition, if God wills to move particles, it cannot be modeled or predicted with human calculation, which is why physics cannot study miracles.”

tape-measure
Because this is limited, we therefore conclude that ontology is null and void. Image source.

While not precisely a theme of the book, this process of sorting through potential faith-science conflicts reappears throughout later chapters. It is also reminiscent of the physicist and self-trained Thomistic philosopher Anthony Rizzi’s observation concerning quantum mechanics and some of its interpretations and their implications. In his book The Science Before Science, Dr. Rizzi writes,

“The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics says that objects have no properties of themselves, but claims that properties exist only in conjunction with measuring devices and not until measured (observed). One may now quickly realize this as another example of taking an emperiometric theory as giving the real directly [e.g. it is an example of taking an isolated system—albeit a big one—and calling that system the whole of reality]. In particular, one notes the implicit belief that measurements, which are readings taken from a sensor and processed to appear as digits on a computer screen (which are, in turn, interpreted by an interconnected web of emperiometric theory) are the arbiter of what is real. Stanley Jaki has been in the forefront in trying to rally physicists and others to see that the inability to make exact measurements does not equate to the inability for something to exist in a definite state or change in a definite way….

You may note that Bell’s theorem is parallel to Godel’s theorem in the following way. If one thinks al he knows are his ideas, not things (by ideas), he can via Godel’s theorem come to doubt all truth. Similarly, if one thinks all he knows is the emperiometric (and thereby forgets the basis for the emperiometric), he ca, via Bell’s theorem, doubt being itself, and hence the whole arena of things which he proposes to study.”

Particles of Faith is organized in three parts. The first part sets up these themes, interspersed with autobiographical anecdotes. It ends with this three-step process to navigating questions of potential conflict between faith and science. The second and third parts are to apply the principles and develop the themes established in the first part. Thus, Part II is about the relationship between the Faith and the physical sciences, and Part III is about the relationship between the Faith and the biological sciences.

In Part II, Dr. Trasancos discusses the doctrine of creation in time ex nihilo in the light of the Big Bang—and also the Big Bang in the light of the doctrine of creation. She then considers the atomic realm of matter—and the sub-atomic realm (quarks and electrons, photons, etc.). Throughout all of this, she considers the wonderful order and symmetry which underlies nature, in the light of the Scriptural verse that God has “ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight” (Wisdom 11:21). Finally, she discusses the apparently indeterminate nature of quantum mechanics and considers where (or not) this offers “proof” (or, alternatively, “disproof”) of the concept of free will. Much of the focus in this is what we can know through science and what we can know through revelation, that is, what we know by faith and what we know by reason. Suffice it to say that there is no contradiction between the two, and that each actually complements the other.

While this discussion is quite exhilarating, there are some omissions from this section which make it feel incomplete. In particular, there might have been a fourth chapter to discuss matter and form and the body-soul relationship, which fits somewhere between the discussion of the atomic word and of quantum mechanics. Likewise, and though it has been addressed by other thinkers (Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Augustine in particular), I was somewhat surprised to not see a discussion of the resurrection in light of the world of atoms. For not a hair from our heads is to be forgotten, and our bodies are to be restore to us in the resurrection—this would have been a very interesting discussion in the light of atomic theory, for our bodies are made of atoms, and indeed of shared atoms and even decaying atoms.

In Part III, Dr. Trasancos is primarily concerned wth the theory of evolution, and whether it is guided by random chance or by fate or by Providence. She also considers two inadequate answers to evolution—Creationism and Intelligent Design—before asking whether a Christian can in good conscience accept the theory of evolution (she argues that the answer is yes). Finally, she turns to bioethics to address one of the hot-button culture-war issues, that of when human life begins.

As Michael Flynn captioned it, “Mitochondrial Eve, which is the night prior to the Feast of Mitochondrial.”

Again, there is considerable discussion of what we know by faith and what we know by reason. Science, for example, can trace back humanity to a common set of ancestors, for example a mitochondrial Eve and a y-chromosmal Adam, which existed many thousands of years in the past (the approximate date of both is 200 000 years ago, though originated in separate populations of approximately 10 000 people each). We should be able to marvel at that feat of science, without demanding greater precision over such a long period of time—and recognize that this neither proves nor disproves what we hold be faith, namely, that all of humanity has a common set of ancestors leading back to the first man and woman [10], that we are all endowed with powers of intellect and will, that we are all created by direct action of God (Who alone can create a soul), or that we all come into this world with the stain of Original Sin in our souls.

The organization of the book is in general simple and easy to follow. Each chapter builds on previous chapters (for the most part—though Parts II and III could be read out of order). I do, however, have two criticisms of the organization, both relatively minor. The first is that the book would benefit from including the different sections within a given chapter in the table of contents. The second is that some chapters end with a summary of the main points of the chapter, and others rather end with a conclusion.

This book is neither quite a polemic work nor exactly a autobiography, though it is a sort of scientific memoir. Dr. Trasancos states in her introduction that the book is largely her attempt to bring a missing element into the science and religion discussion: that is, the human element.

I could have made these points in a more aseptic style, but it would not reflect either the way I think or the way I communicate with my friends and family on the Internet or around my kitchen table. I notice something missing in the faith and science dialogue, and that something is the human person. Science involves people. Faith involves people. Whatever challenges and controversies arise, they arise because of people. Therefore, I seek to show how a Catholic person works through these questions of faith and science.

With Particle of Faith, Stacy Trasancos as largely succeeded in putting the human element back into the science and religion dialogue.

 

—-Footnotes—-
[1] N.B. I am not claiming that only a small number of people will claim to be feminists. I am claiming that only a small number of particularly radical feminists will recognize their feminism as a reason to not be Christian.

[2] There are again some people who believe that Marxism and Christianity can be reconciled, though Christian socialism is a much more popular position than outright Marxism, and communism is practically a joke anymore.

[3] Again, there are Christian environmentalists, and ecological conservation does indeed fall under the pervie of Christian (and earlier, Jewish) thought. One of the first tasks given to mankind was to be good stewards of creation. I am again referring to hte radical element, the Gaia-worshippers and the earth-firsters who would see civilization burn and humanity eradicated (or at least sharply curtailed) for the sake of flora and fauna.

[4] I can think of others (progressivism, for example), but this review is not the place to discuss them

[5] It rather pointedly avoids the misstatement of demanding a reconciliation between “theology and theory,” and only very tenuously considers asking for their to be a reconciliation between truth and facts (the two being intertwined in most peoples’ minds) by replacing “truth” with “myth.”

[6] A fourth reaction might be to turn to the “separate magisteria” defense and to treat the two as entirely unconnected spheres of knowledge.

[7] Charles de Koninck, “Our Awesome Creed: The Faith Is No Excuse for Bigotry,” Saint Joseph Magazine (Oregon), Vol. 5 (1964), No. 10, pp. 16-19. Later in this same essay, Charles de Koninck writes that

“Our Faith is assuredly no easy matter and can move us to protest. Not only because it tells of mysteries that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived; but also because it penetrates every corner of life, because it will leave no part of our day untouched. That this is indeed a great reason for the difficulty of the Faith was proved by the reaction of so many good Catholics to the prospect of the solemn definition of the Assumption. When Pius XII proclaimed this truth, there were murmurs. Why? Oh, of course, because of the unnecessary stumbling-block again set in the way of the nonCatholic…. Nothing could be more natural than such feelings. We all hold the instinctive attitude that there ought to be some limit to what we are asked to take n faith, some acceptable frontier. But where are such bound to be set? Shall we confine our assent to the Incarnation, for example, with no reference to the Child’s mother or foster father? If we could manage these matters ourselves, we would all feel inclined to suppress such facts as that God was hungry, tired, thirsty, that He perspired, that He rode on a donkey, that He died.

“Yes, let divine truth be as lofty as you please; let it be glorious, sublime, awful, but let it not become human, pedestrian, ordinary, just me and my dull little life, for then it shocks the intellect.”

[8] Jacques Maritain, I think, coined the term “emperiological” to describe modern sciences, with the life sciences being “emperioschematic” and the physical sciences being “emperiometric.”

[9] Theory of all things is not to be confused with the common phrase “theory of everything,” which is basicaly only a theory which would unify gravity with the other fundamental forces and reconcile quantum mechanics with relativity.

[10] This belief in a single man and a single woman, Adam and Eve, as the common ancestors of all humankind is binding but not dogmatic.

Are Jesus and Mary appearing today?

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

The Ministry of Food

I grew up in a home where meals were important affairs because food was more than mere fuel. It was a ministry for my mother who believed little else could make someone feel as welcome, loved, or nurtured as a good meal.

I never thought my family odd until I became aware of the secular world’s view of food: where fast and convenient meals take precedence over nourishing food, and where food serves to get rid of the uncomfortable “hungry” feeling, rather than as a way to build up the body of man and Christ.

The idea that food could play a deeper role than a purely physical one is lost on the world, except those poor girls double-dating with Ben and Jerry after a break-up. The world understands an emotional component to eating, but only when it comes out in an unhealthy manner.

In essence, food has become for the general public something simultaneously taken too seriously on one end (“I can’t eat a brownie. I had one this month already. I’ll get fat.”) and not seriously enough on the other (“Whatever. Let’s just go through the drive-thru.”).

Bread-and-Wine-for-the-Eucharist Neither of those approaches is healthy or Catholic. There is a
real ministry in food and the potential for Christ to work
intimately in, through, and with food in ways you would never
imagine.

In fact, Christ is all about food, as we know that Christ’s most
important work happened, and continues to happen, in the
form of bread and wine.

His first miracle occurred at the Wedding Feast at Cana, where He made alcoholic drink.

Now, we all know that alcohol isn’t exactly the kale of the beverage world. Why would Christ supply something that is actively bad for man? Because God did not create food merely to fuel us physically, but to support us in the many facets of our own lives.

As the importance of wine at the wedding feast was not about the physical benefits but rather the emotional and spiritual, Christ’s supply of wine points to these different roles of food and encourages us to embrace them.

Furthermore, Christ ministered to the crowds with food. He multiplied the loaves and fishes, dined with tax collectors and prostitutes, called to Zacchaeus that he would “dine with him tonight,” and urged the family of the girl brought back to life to give her something to eat.

The vast majority of Christ’s interactions with people have to do with food. He creates community over food. He even called fishermen, who were doing what? Collecting fish to be sold for food.

banquetWhat’s more, all of this wining and dining culminated in the last supper – the meal which instituted the Eucharist and our faith.

All of salvation is continued through Christ’s ministering to the body of His bride – us, the Church – in bread and wine, which becomes our “spiritual food and drink” at the Mass. Catholics believe that by eating this bread and drinking this cup, we may come to eternal life. The act of nourishing our souls does more than give our souls energy for that day. It actively goes into the very center of our souls and transforms us from the inside out, making us more like Christ with each partaking of His blessed body.

Christ is all about food.

Food is His gift to humanity by which He nourishes the magnum opus of His creation, His living, breathing, temple of the Holy Spirit: mankind. If Christ takes food this seriously, then we too ought give food the respect it is due.

If food is the means by which Christ reaches out to sinners and gathers His Church, then we too must see food as a ministry.

It is a ministry that we do for ourselves. In ministering to our bodies through wholesome, healthy food, we are giving ourselves the nourishment necessary to carry Christ’s joy to the world.

It is a ministry that we do for others. Food brings people together. Meals ought to take precedence, with proper settings, serving dishes, and time to enhance the experience of community over food.

If food creates community, then it should be celebrated. Meals are universal. Everyone must eat, and so we ought to celebrate the genuine community that comes from eating. As St. Francis of Assisi once cried in joy: “It is my wish that on a day such as this even the walls should be smeared with meat so they may feast with us!” If such joy is worth feeding walls over, then surely the joy of the Christian life is worth more than a McDouble from the dollar menu.

Food ought to taste good. Everything that is good points us back to the One who is Goodness. It should taste good naturally: by working with the flavors Christ gives us, we come to know His creative mind just a bit more.

Food ought to be enjoyed. By slowing down and enjoying our meals, we become aware of the goodness of God who provides us with sustenance.

Finally, food must stir in us thankfulness. We must pray fervently and with intense gratitude before consuming anything. Every morsel we touch is a reaffirmation of Christ’s overwhelming love for us, a reminder that we are in His caring hands. For, “the birds of the air neither sow nor reap … and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).

Consider making food your friend again. Make time each week to make a good meal. Set the table. Take the time to dine well. Do not rush your meal, allow it to make present the joy God takes in and the love He has for His creation.

Food has the potential to change lives. Let it!

Assumptions and Models

The scientific method, as does much learning in general, begins with observation. Father Stanley Jaki likened this process to the first step in the march of science, without which there can be no second or third step. We might call it a sort of first cause in scientific investigation, both in order of time sequence an in order of importance.

Where do the models and theories come into all of this? The model is the second step (if observation and interpretation of data are together taken as one step), and that model should describe the system’s behavior and then predict its behavior under some new conditions. Then it’s a matter of testing the model—more observation and more interpretation—and then modifying it, and testing again, and so on. A theory then brings together several models in a coherent fashion and attempts to explain them.

How many squares do you see? How many did you measure?

Let’s take an example of observations and a model. Suppose I give you a set of squares which I have cut out and also a ruler. You set to work measuring the length of the squares, and then also measuring their perimeters. You find that the perimeter is always four times the length of the side. You build a simple model, which says P = 4L. Now I hand you a different set of rectangles, which are not squares. You measure the perimeter and short side, and find that the perimeter is not four times this length. The next step of the process is not to throw out the rectangles as if they never existed, or to decry this new data as “bad” [1]. Rather, it is to modify the model, or (more appropriately) to add a new model which says that the perimeter will be P=2(L+H). I might next hand out a quadrilateral of some new configuration, and elicit a new model, and so on. The theory then is the synthesis of these models, and will be something like P = L1+L2+L3+L4, of which the rectangle and square are special cases. And if I encounter other figures (triangle, pentagons, hexagons, etc), the theory might be broadened still more to include these new figures, each of which has its own model within that theory.

But note that the whole process begins with observation, and only ends with understanding [2]. Or so it should. Unfortunately, the mindset of many people, some Scientists (TM) included, is that the theory is all-important, and thus any observations which contradict that theory must be false observations. We witness this most prominently in in the argument over “climate change” [3] (Does it exist? What causes it: man, the sun, or some other factors? Is the world getting warmer or cooler? Is this a good thing?), in which all parties seem completely beholden to their own models (and funding sources).

They do this all the while failing to note that the models presented to do necessarily add up to a complete theory, let alone a good one. If Poincare was right when he likened science to a house and facts to bricks (as in, science is not just a bunch of facts any more than a house is just a pile of bricks), then we might note that if a good model makes use of and explain the observations in a particular scenario, then a good scientific theory makes use of the different models (or, for that matter, laws) by putting them in order (and, if necessary, reconciling them), just as the bricklayer not only cements certain bricks together to build a wall or make room for a window, but also arranges these features together to form a house.

I’m posting this on a Catholic site, so my readers may be wondering how all of this ties into our Faith. I began with Fr Jaki, and so I should return to him here, that is, return to an observation which he made. Many people dismiss the claims of the Church concerning miracles in general, especially the miracle of the Resurrection. They do this ostensibly because there is no room for miracles anywhere in their models of how the universe works [4]. However, when models or even whole theories are found unable to account for facts, it is the theory which must be modified, not the facts observed. It is often the brick which is discarded which the house most needs as cornerstone.

 

—-Footnotes—-

[1] Bad, that is, “not good.” The data is fine as data. On the other hand, the new rectangles are not good as squares, because they are not squares. If they were meant to be, then they are not good examples of the category square in the Thomist’s accounting. On the other hand, they might be good as rectangles. Turn this on its head, and we say that the model used before for squares is not a good model for these new rectangles.

[2] Ends, that is, telos. The end of the scientific method is greater understanding, and if it does not arrive at this end, then to that extent it has been frustrated, whatever else we may accomplish. Of course, there was long ago a break from that end by such minds as Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes, who saw in science the possibility of controlling nature, which later lead to the even narrower understanding of science as “the process by which we develop new technologies and invent cool new gadgets.” The scientific revolutionaries sought to discard formal and final causes in favor of material causes; but these latter two suppose the former two, and are a bit less intelligible if divorced from them.

[3] Cue comment from Rick DeLano. 🙂

[4] They also view miracles as an actual breaking of the laws of nature, and (to paraphrase Fr Jaki again) they assert on “patently dogmatic grounds” that nature cannot change its course. But if God is the author of both miracles and nature, it seems to me conceivable that a miracle is not a disruption of nature, but a continuation of it which falls outside of our scientific theories.

Miracles and Nature

“A small error at the outset can lead to great errors in the final conclusion” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Being and Essence, quoting Aristotle).

There has been a popular trend among theologians who are looking for a more scientific bend to their theology to turn to quantum mechanics as a sort of silver-bullet explanation for miracles. The explanation for this basically goes that because there is some imprecision in measuring a pair of conjugate variables (position and momentum, energy and time, number and phase)–the two cannot both be measured exactly–therefore causality itself is overthrown. This is, however, a fallacious bit of reasoning–one which began with Werner Heisenberg himself–which hinges on the equivocation of “exact.”

This equivocation is explained by Fr Stanley Jaki in his Miracles and Physics (among other places):

“It was largely overlooked that Heisenberg’s principle states only the inevitable imprecision of measurements at the atomic level. From that principle one can proceed only by an elementary disregard of logic to the inference that an interaction that cannot be measured exactly, cannot take place exactly. The fallacy of that inference consists in the two different meanings given in it to the word exactly. In the first case it has a purely operational meaning, whereas in the second case the meaning is decidedly ontological. The inference therefore belongs in the class of plain non sequiturs that, as a rule, are severely structured in better-grade courses on introductory logic.”

There is thus an equivocation between the operational and the ontological meanings of “exact,” and this this confusion resulted in the discarding of causality by a great many physicists, beginning with Professor Heisenberg himself. It has in turn percolated into the sphere of the theologian, and in particular of those “edgy” theologians who are more concerned with modern trends than the perennial philosophy of the Church. Here again is Fr Jaki:

“Quite a vast literature has arisen about the alleged support which the other main branch of modern physics, quantum theory, allegedly has for miracles. That literature certainly proves the naivete with which theologians try to cash in on science even when they are not properly trained in it, or appraise it with false philosophical premises. They still have to learn that a wrong starting point can only lead to blind alleys regardless of the subject, be it as lofty as theology or down-to-earth as physics. In following up philosophical blind alleys, theologians who stake their fate and fortunes to on the divinity of the Logos, that alone makes Christian miracles reasonable and meaningful, should view most seriously any misstep in logic, in particular, and philosophy in general. It should seem most un-Christian to espouse mental somersaults or plain verbal tricks that abound in the literature on the philosophy of quantum mechanics as well as the demythologization of miracles.”

Professor Jaki has quite a lot more to say on this subject, too much indeed to treat in a single blog post, even a reasonably long one. Here are three things which stand out to me:

  1.  The attempt to explain miracles as a possibility in the light of quantum mechanics is just another form of attempting to demythologize the power of God, and in particular of Christ.
  2. It is moreover exactly the sort of mistake at the beginning against which Saint Thomas–and Aristotle–warns us against.
  3. (Implicitly) There is more to miracles than just how they come to occur.

God’s power is not limited merely to his ability to work within the physical framework of the universe which He created. To be fair, the doctrine of Divine simplicity tells us that He is not made up of parts but rather Is absolutely simple: thus, His knowledge is also His power. But this is not limited to merely knowing the physics of which He Is the Author–nor, by extension, of merely having a greater ability to manipulate that physics, be it on the quantum or the cosmological level. The laws of nature do not place a necessary constraint on the operations of the Divine Will, a limit to His power. God Is, after all, beyond the universe and its laws. Even should quantum mechanics be proven an incorrect (unlikely) or incomplete (more likely), it does not limit the possibility of God’s intervention in nature [1].

Professor Edward Feser gives perhaps the best analogy I’ve heard of how God “intervenes” in nature. In his analogy, God, is like an orchestra which plays a symphony, and the musics which comes forth is like nature. One the one hand, nature exists only so long as God maintains her existence–just as the symphony only has physical existence for so long as the musicians continue to play–and on the other hand, a miracle (or “divine intervention”) occurs when God alters a part of the symphony, as perhaps when the strings begin an improvisation during a segment originally written only for the wind ensemble [2]. Tolkien apparently imagined a similar conception of God as He acted in the creation of the world [3], an idea which comes down to him from at least the medieval period (and probably earlier).

With this in mind, I believe that it is a mistake to attempt explaining God’s supernatural miracles in terms of merely natural physics.  On the one hand, such explanations eliminate supernature, which is perhaps a part of the intent of those who go about explaining miracles in this way. On the other hand, such explanations lock us into an acceptance of a quantum theory which is just that: a theory.

Aristotle’s Trajectories, modified by Jean Buridan

Theories come and sometimes also go–and though I do not believe that quantum theory is going to “go” anywhere, I suspect that the “scientists” of the Greek and Roman Empire may have thought the same about, for example, Aristotle’s theories about motion. To stake God’s operations to any theory of physics is to make a mistake which is the opposite side of the same coin as the “God of the Gaps” theory: it creates a conception of a God who is ultimately impotent, and whose little power may slowly dissipate as we gain greater and greater understanding of the physics involved. The divine power becomes a sort of physicist’s parlor trick.

Here at last is what I believe to be the crux of the matter, which is that a miracle is not merely reducible to the event itself. This means, among other things, that the process by which a miracle comes to pass is not itself the only important–or indeed even the most important–aspect of that miracle. In the passage I cited above this is only implicit, but elsewhere Fr Jaki is more explicit in stating that miracles have first and foremost a moral nature to them, not to mention an allegorical one. They are “signs,” as we read in St John’s Gospel, meant to reveal to us something about ourselves, something about God–and to call us to repent.

A miracle is not a parlor trick or a divine “stunt” (as Mr Mark Shea notes in his Mary, Mother of the Son [4]), but rather is a sign which should point us to a deeper reality than the surface reality in which we so often live. They remind us that we do not live in a hollow universe, but rather one with layers and layers of meaning. And though the miracle might be seen as a sort of divine intervention in nature, it is worth noting that such interventions may be a part of God’s own providence from the beginning. The Rev Prof John Polkinghorne, an Anglican clergyman who was formerly professor or mathematical physics and president of Quuen’s College, Cambridge, writes about God’s self-consistency and miracles in his Science and Theology:

“God’s self-consistency is the self-consistency of a ‘person.’ It does not imply a dreary uniformity. In unprecedented circumstances, God may well act in unprecedented ways [hence implying the ‘nature’ of miracles as ‘unique events and not recurrent phenomena’]. Theology can burrow from science the concept of a regime, a domain of experience characterized in some intrinsically significant way. It is a familiar fact that a change of regime can produce dramatic changes of behaviour, as in the transition metals from the conducting state to the superconducting state, resulting in the total vanishing of electrical resistance. Physicists call these radical changes ‘phase changes.’ Even the boiling of water, the transition at 100 degrees Celcius from the liquid regime to the gaseous regime, would astonish us if we had not seen it happen several times every day. The laws of nature do not change at these transition points but their consequences do so radically. There is superficial discontinuity (even to the point of apparent irrationality in the vanishing of electrical resistance) but underlying continuity.

The theological attempt to understand a miracle must seek to pursue a similar strategy. Miracles do not need to be interpreted as divine acts against the laws of nature (for those laws are themselves expressions of God’s will) but as more profound revelations of the character of the divine relationship to creation. To be credible, miracles must convey a deeper understanding than could have been obtained without them. Hence the language of ‘signs’ used in the fourth Gospel.”

Supernature–God’s actions, the angels, etc–is in a sense another regime of nature. But the laws of physics govern a specific regime of nature, one outside of which sits the regime of the supernatural. But there are higher laws than those of physics, and so when God intervenes in ‘nature,’ there is underlying this miracle a greater amount of order and continuity than there would appear. Superficially it may look like God is changing or suspending the laws of nature, and if we understand the laws of nature to be limited to physics (or more broadly the physical and biological sciences), then a suspension there might be. But on a deeper level this act of superficial discontinuity is really a coherent act, one which moves according to the true laws of nature–those which include not only the “hard” sciences but also the “soft” sciences, and those things which today are scarcely called sciences at all: philosophy, theology, especially as they touch upon morality and metaphysics.

Miracles are therefore a sort of “phase change” in nature, the moment at which God’s Providence is made sharply visible and tangible to us, if for but a moment. They may represent a point at which the (material) laws of nature change (or pause) their course momentarily, and are not merely limited to some effects buried in a Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics (as per Heisenberg, Bohr, etc). “No one,” writes Rev Polkinghorne about the Resurrection of Christ, “could suppose that a dead man came alive, never to die again, through some clever divine exploitation of quantum theory or chaos dynamics.” Nor can this miracle be honestly denied on merely physical ground, as Fr Jaki writes:

“If it is impossible to start a march (mental or physical) with the second step, concern about the laws of nature should give second place to man’s ability to register things and event with certainty. And since without this ability, nothing can be known about the laws of nature, the chief intellectual concern should not be so much about the possible violations of the laws of nature as about the actual violation, if not plain rape, of man’s mind whose natural function is to know reality with immediate certitude.

Such a rape is committed when individuals reporting extraordinary event, and in fact lay[ing] down their lives on behalf of their witness, are declared at the outset as hotheaded enthusiasts, uncritical minds, or just plain fakers. This is done on the patently dogmatic ground that nature cannot change its course.”

Miracles–at least some of them–are phenomena which are ultimately foreign to our normal laws of physics. But this does not imply that we must jettison either the miracles or the laws of physics. Rather, we must not get sucked into thinking that the laws of physics are the totality of the laws of nature.

 

—-Footnotes ad nauseam—-
* Main picture is from the Dore Bible Gallery. The Aristotelian trajectories image is from Aristotle Physics.

[1] I would be remiss if I did not include a most important miracle or “divergence” from a purely mechanical conception of nature: the mind. This includes the intellect, but more importantly also the will.  Thee are plenty of attempts to explain free will in terms of quantum mechanics. I believe that these attempts will ultimately fail, but that is grist for another day. However, suffice it to say that the freedom of the will is something which ought to be believed not only because this is a teaching of the Church (reason enough to believe this doctrine!), but also on the basis of observation, both internal and external.

[2] Note that the improvisation can be–and in the case of God’s miracles, is–an improvement to the “original” piece. Of course, what appears to us as an improvisation may really be a part of God’s original plan.

[3] See his description of the creation of the world which contains Middle Earth, in The Silmarillion.  He was in turn perhaps thinking of Nicholas of Cusa, a 15th century German philosopher who wrote that

“In creating the world, God used arithmetic, geometry, music, and likewise astronomy. (We ourselves also use these arts when we investigate the comparative relationships of objects, of elements, and of motions.) For through arithmetic God united things. Through geometry He shaped them, in order that they would thereby attain firmness, stability, and mobility in accordance with their conditions. Through music He proportioned things in such a way that there is not more earth in earth than water in water, air in air, and fire in fire, so that no one element is altogether reducible to another. As a result, it happens that the world-machine cannot perish….And so, God, who created all things in number, weight, and measure, arranged the elements in an admirable order. (Number pertains to arithmetic, weight to music, measure to geometry.)” [Nicholas of Cusa, “On Learned Ignorance,” trans., Jasper Hopkins (Minneapolis: Banning Press, 1981), II, xiii, 175]

Note also the citation of Wisdom 11:21, one of the most popular verses of that time (ca 1440).

 

[4] I’ve reviewed these books at length in three parts elsewhere, for those interested.

 

Miracles Happen!

It’s not often that I recollect a real-life happening upon the great expanse of Internet. That’s the sort of thing I usually prefer to reserve for conversation. But this is a special case, for I – sinful, off-white, American, average-kid-of-little-faith and public-school graduate – experienced a miracle, and I share it with you now so that your faith might increase.

I was in Madrid, Spain, attending the awesome event known as World Youth Day, when, so caught up was I in the spirit of our rich and profound religion, Monday morning found me checking Facebook. Amidst a lack of friend requests and an excess of invitations to play poker, there was a message from my very best friend who I sometimes kiss, Elaine Golden, who draws for VirtuousPlanet.

I recall it here, using my very best literary skills:

The initial reaction to this was ‘woah’, followed by, I have to go to Salamanca. I pulled it up on Google Maps: it was two hours away. Luckily – or rather, accordingly – it was the last day my group was in possession of a rental car, and thus the freedom to up and drive to Salamanca. So I asked the leader of our group if we could go. He said yes, after some slight hesitation over whether we all should go,or just he and I. We left with him and one other.

On drive up, we prayed a rosary. As I was mumbling through ‘thy womb Jesus’, at the word ‘Jesus’ a Very Strange Thing happened. Do you know that feeling of head-heaviness unique to boring homilies? You’re sitting in the pew, looking intent and thoughtful over the priest’s comparison of Jesus to a butterfly, your neck bowed, hands folded, when suddenly your head does a little bob, you black out for a nanosecond, and then you’re back, looking around uncomfortably to see if the lady in the chapel veil to you right of you noticed. Do you know the phenomena of which I speak? Good, because it’s the closest feeling I can associate with, on the word ‘Jesus’, seeing nothing but the bloodied feet of Christ nailed to the cross, and feeling a repulsion, my voice saying “I don’t want to kiss them,” and then being back in the car in time to say ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God…”

On to Salamanca. What a beautiful place, full of peace and cool shade. We parked by the The Church of St. Steven, and walked up. The first thing we came across was an enclave into a small garden, with a door on the wall that looked to lead into some sort of housing. This was not the place. It seems necessary to describe my state of mind at this point; it was not a good one. I felt – first of all – very nervous. Walking was pushing my way through liquid, fear worked against me. But worse than that was the sense of expectation I carried, the sense that I had to find the right thing, the right person, the right room. That I was in charge. It was an enormous pressure, and I must have looked a fool, checking locked doors and walking slowly past Dominicans, making sure they weren’t saying some profound words I needed to hear. I went into the sacristy and washed my hands where countless priests have before me. It was not the place. I walked slowly through the museum. It was not the place. Almost an hour passed like this, full of stress.

Luckily – or thankfully – I became aware of my state of mind. I realized, in somewhat of an exhale, that if God had gone out of his way to give my girlfriend a vision, then his purpose and design could not – and would not – be foiled by my inability to find the right door. I was there for a purpose, and He would see that purpose carried out. So I left the church.

That sounded drastic; I walked out of the church of St. Stephen, and began to walk around it instead. I started repeating the words ‘Jesus, I trust in you’; not in any sort of display of piety, but because I knew that I didn’t trust Him, and had the idea that the vocal repetition of theory could lead to some praxis. I was saying it out loud – the mood was somewhat manic – and I scared some perfectly innocent Salamancians on my walk. But I do remember there was a moment – perhaps from nothing more than self-hypnosis or some mind-over-matter phenomenon – when I really did trust Him. I remember the moment well because I started laughing at myself. Here I was, in a panic over what would happen, when the God of the Universe had ordained my visit. He Who’s Word Is My Existence called me, and I was worried I’d screw it up. (What false power we give ourselves when we try to carry God’s responsibilities.)

It was in looking up from this moment that, having made one full lap around the church, I arrived back where I’d started. I was back at the enclave, the small garden. But now my mind-frame was completely different, and something stayed me there. I looked through the window and saw a priest; always a good sign. He was talking to a man – a boy, really – who caught my eye and opened the locked door. “What are you from?” he said.

“Long story actually…”

“No, what are you from?”

“Oh. America?”

He let me in. The first thing I noticed was that someone was speaking English, which made me want to stay. The next thing I noticed was that it was a girl giving her confession to a priest, which made me want to leave. So, not knowing where I was going, but not wanting to overhear someone’s confession, I stumbled away and to the right. And there was Jesus.

Oh, my brain said.

It was adoration. There were some twenty young Americans in worship, their voices ringing in beautiful harmony in the stone chapel I had walked into. God was laughing. He was laughing because I’d been to adoration before – many times, in fact – and so He called me to Himself in the most strange and wonderful fashion, merely to open my eyes to this truth; that adoration is always strange and wonderful.

Having arrived there the way I did, I could not take the event for granted. I knelt. I had no walls built up around my heart, no inhibitions or self-deception. How could I, when the Lord had taken me by storm, when I had been ambushed by His grace? And what grace! I won’t bother you with the personal confirmations, affirmations, words and songs that were given to me. Suffice to say that I wept throughout.

Then came a series of awesome events. We prayed the rosary; it was the Feast of the Assumption.

A thought came: you know the person to your right.

No I don’t.

You do. Look.

I looked. There was Jackie Francois, a worship leader and speaker I knew, and have helped lead a Diocesan Youth Conference with. She caught my eye, and I jumped, feeling extraordinarily creepy; the look of amazement and wonder on my face must have been flattering or – much more likely – overtly awkward.

Then there was Mass. The homily was on the devotion to our Lady. The priest spoke about the Consecration to Mary by the way of Louis de Montfort. I am consecrated to Mary by that way. He said the consecration would lead its members to strange places. I nodded.

I stayed afterwards. The priest blessed me and for no reason – or rather, in accordance with The Reason – he baptized me in the Holy Spirit. My body jumped within me; there’s no real good way to describe that besides dropping a toaster in your bathtub.

God is still revealing to me the depth and breadth of that experience. But what I ask you to take away from it now is threefold. First of all, be confident that miracles do happen! Secondly, trust God above all things. It is only when we don’t care about receiving miracles that miracles happen. It is only when we resign ourselves to the will of God that we allow God to do amazing things within us. Trust, trust, trust. Even when it just means repeating words to yourself. Even when it comes down to ritual. Always trust. And thirdly, consecrate yourself to Our Lady. She is lovely.

How To Be Superman

There’s a rather wide-spread myth circulating these days, a lie being told to small children, a falsehood that should be rejected by all thinking people. It is the bizarre notion that human beings can’t fly. We might become very strong, very fast or very smart, sure, but we will never become very airborne. The Church – a grave and serious voice in the midst of all this irrational ‘no-flying’ business – says otherwise: Man can fly.

After all, there is utterly no rational explanation for the idea that he can’t. I suppose one could say that they’ve never seen a man fly, but the same people have never seen Papua New Guinea, though they put an undying religious faith in its existence. Ah, they might respond, but we know others who have seen Papua New Guinea, to which I could only respond that I’ve known others who have flown, Joseph of Cupertino and Francis of Assisi coming to mind. So they might then try the laws of physics, until the realization sinks in that ‘laws’ are merely observations of repetition. Because a man falls a thousand times a man jumps, a statement is made; man cannot fly. But there is always the thousand and first time. All a law of science can say – never seeing the thousand and first time – is that it is unlikely that man can fly. But a human being flying is unlikely, just like any miracle, and thus appealing to the laws of physics only ever says this: It is unlikely the unlikely will happen. Which everyone already knew, revealing the laws of physics to be – for all their beauty and usefulness – a rather ridiculous authority to flee to. At this point they might wave their hands wildly and call me stupid, and I would return the action.

But all that is besides the point. A child knows he can fly; that’s why he tries. Adults have only forgotten. The point is that man is especially able to fly. That he should fly. That a singular event that occurred in recent history makes flying something as likely as a falling. I don’t know if you’ve heard, and I don’t want to ruin the surprise for anyone who hasn’t, but a Godman came to us and told us that “with God, all things are possible.” And we promptly killed him and misinterpreted what he meant.

See, we think he meant that if we pray to God, he can do anything for us. Which is true, but not true enough. For it implies that Jesus simply meant that God was all-powerful, that He can do anything. He can, but that was something every Jew in Palestine already knew. No, the rabbi was saying that and something else. Because God became man, man’s potential has exploded and expanded beyond our wildest dreams. Because the all-powerful Creator – the Miracle Maker Himself – became His creation, we His creation can no longer pretend to be bound by the ‘likely’ or the ‘possible’ any more than He. With God all things are possible, and God is a man. After all, did he not tell us, “You will do even greater miracles than these?” referring to his own healings and mighty works? Do we think he was being rhetorical? Did he not give us the Holy Spirit, one even greater than He? Why then, we are not in the habit of flying?

I believe we fear taking our Savior at his word. Because if what he says is true, that he has reconciled us to the Father and we now hold the power of God at our disposal, then our lives cannot be ordinary. They have to be awesome. When we realize that his words to us are true, that we can outdo the miracles of the Christ, we can’t exactly go downstairs, play video games, eat a few cheetos andgo to sleep. No, we could only live radical lives of virtue and of growth in the Holy Spirit, in His gifts of prophecy, tongues and their interpretation, mighty works and healings, discernment of good and evil, of the spiritual world. We would live a life the stuff of Saints, in all their bi-locating, levitating glory. Do you understand? It’s not that God might do these things to us, it’s that God has already given us them. Each one of you, reading this now, no matter who you are, no matter what your religion, has the power to fly.

To have life to its fullest does not mean the attainment of some vague and general fulfillment. It means diving deep into the capacity God has given mankind, and God has given mankind the capacity of superheroes. Do you believe this?

Hi, my name is Marc, and I’ll be posting at VirtuousPla.net with frequency. I blog here, and am currently documenting my World Youth Day experience. Thanks for reading!