04 June 2016

A Strange Miracle. . .???

NB. I'm visiting the squirrels. . .here's one from 2013.

10th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

Writing against the heresies of the Gnostic, Marcion in the second century, Tertullian uses Jesus' miraculous resuscitation of the widow's son to a make a point about Christ's relationship with his Father. On the way to making his point, Tertullian quickly summarizes the scene from Luke and notes, almost offhandedly, “This was not a strange miracle." Not a strange miracle? Did I miss something? Luke is reporting that Jesus returns a dead man back to life, right? Out of compassion for a widow whose only son has died, Jesus touches the dead man's coffin, and says, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And he does. Tertullian tells us that it is not strange that a dead man rises from his coffin? Nothing unusual about that at all. Tertullian and I have very different definitions of the word “strange.” To be fair to Tertullian, he's making a larger point by using this miracle. His larger point is that the revival of the widow's dead son is not at all strange when viewed in the longer history of miracles. He asks, if God's prophets can perform miracles of such magnitude, why not His Son? Especially when the miracle bears the burden of revelation: “. . .they glorified God, exclaiming. . .'God has visited his people.'” And God still visits His People. 

Just a day or two before reviving the widow's son, Jesus had healed the centurion's servant. In both cases, Jesus showed compassion and exercised great power. In both cases, his interventions gave witness to his ministry and glory to God. And in both cases, news of his words and deeds spread like wildfire over Judea. But there is one interesting difference btw the two events. In the case of the centurion's servant, Jesus acts on a request for healing. No such request is made in the case of the widow's son. What's interesting is that the power and glory of God are revealed in both cases, whether those most directly involved in the miracle ask for God's help or not. Where Christ goes—preaching, teaching, healing—so goes the most exacting revelation of God possible. The truth of that revelation—God's Self-revelation—is not contingent upon the need, the desire, the faith, or the belief of those to whom He reveals Himself. To those with eyes to see and ears to hear, He is uncovered, unveiled, and all there is to do is give thanks and praise! For others, strangeness abounds when a miracle occurs and there is nothing to do but seek a non-miraculous explanation. 

Let's ask a somewhat difficult question: do we need a strange miracle to occur before we can say with the utmost confidence: “God has visited His people!”? Do we need a man several days dead revived? Do we need a sick servant healed from a distance? If so, if you need a strange miracle to believe, ask yourself why. Why do I need such thing? And consider: God visits His people daily in the Eucharist. In the breaking of the bread, a great prophet rises among the people. God's mercy; His healing touch; His cleansing spirit; all the gifts necessary to come to Him in the perfection of His Christ. . .all freely available right here in His Church. Think of them as miracles. . .strange little miracles, if you want. Regardless, strange or not, miracles or not, in the Eucharist, all of the sacraments, Christ touches you and says to you, “Arise!” Arise from death. Arise from sin. Arise from disease, doubt, distress, worry. Arise, speak, bear witness, and be yourself a revelation of God the Most High! What else is there for any of us to do but arise and bear witness; arise and give testimony to the miracle of our salvation; arise and speak out for the glory of God that we are no longer slaves to sin but free men and women burdened by nothing and no one but the surpassing love of God and the inheritance we have received through His Son? 

Is our salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus a strange miracle? Yes and no. Given what little we know about the nature of God—that He is Love—and given what we know about His Christ—that he is fully human and fully divine—and given what we know about the nature of creation—that all of it, us included, participates in the divine life—then, no, it would seem that God's love for us is not miraculous at all. That He would condescend to send His Son among us to save us through sacrificial love seems like the perfectly natural act of a loving Father, not miraculous at all. But then we consider how we look upon creation: how we are tempted to explain the objects and processes of nature w/o reference to our Creator; how we work so hard to acquire things and dominate people outside the laws of charity; how we torture truth, desecrate beauty, and defile goodness, then: Yes! indeed, our salvation is a strange miracle, with emphasis on strange. Through all of the messes we make that we come to accept and receive God's grace and find ourselves lifted up to and adopted into the holy family, yes, that's strange indeed. Miraculously strange. 

“Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sits up and begins to speak. Jesus gives him back to his mother. “Fear seized [the crowd], and they glorified God, exclaiming, 'A great prophet has arisen in our midst,' and 'God has visited his people.'” Through their fear and amazement, the witnesses to this strange miracle recognize the work of the Most High. Through their awestruck fear, they give glory to God, and proclaim the news that God has visited His people. He still visits His people. He still reveals Himself through His Word, His Christ, and His creation. The truths He reveals are not contingent upon the need, the desire, the faith, or the belief of those to whom He reveals Himself. Do we need strange miracles to see His truth? Do you wait for some strange sign to believe? That's not the faith we share. We believe on the witness of Christ's apostles and the witness of his Church. We believe on the evidence of reason rightly revealed as a divine gift. We believe b/c we know who we were before Christ; who we would be w/o Christ, and all that we can be with Christ and him alone. Arise from death. Arise from disobedience. Arise from weakness, uncertainty, pain, and trouble. Arise. Speak. Bear witness. And be yourself a revelation of God the Most High!


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  1. I need such a miracle Father...... simply because my Trust in God is no more. The blows visited by God upon the bruises I already carry have left me bereft of the belief that 'God wants what's best for me). I suffer from a congenital disability, the cure of which would be a gift beyond price, If God wants to be glorified (as an aside why does God want glory, surely that is the opposite of the humility of which we're always told Jesus and Mary exemplify) then it would be a very simple, not the restoration of a limb, just the re-wiring of a few neurons in my brain.

    But then of course I wouldn't suffer any more and we couldn't have that could we? You religious are the worst, you're supposed to be living the Vita Apostolica, but unless I'm reading a crappy translation of the Bible, the Apostles went around healing the sick, not giving them power point presentations of how 'valuable' their suffering is.

    Give my regards to the squirrels.

    1. So, the answer to my question is: yes, I need a strange miracle. And b/c you haven't been given one, you distrust God. I can understand that. . .in purely secular terms. Unfortunately, we're called to faith in the face of contradiction and lack of evidence. Is it possible that the miracle you're waiting for is just sitting there waiting for you to receive it? But. . .you're angry and slinging blame and not open to receiving all that God has given you? God doesn't need us to glorify Him. We glorify Him for our own good. . .unless we're angry and slinging blame. God didn't give you your disability -- fallen nature did. You can accept it and use your suffering for your own good and the good of others. . .or, you can wallow in self-pity and anger and sling blame. As in all things, your choice.

    2. a little in the way of background Father, I am the autistic child of divorced parents who wasn't brought up with any religion whatsoever. Of course I'm going to think differently to someone like yourself, that's not to say that I'm angry....... if anything at the root of it I'm scared, wondering why I get all the curve-balls whilst others (some of whom like my head of office were brought up Catholic with good i.e. proper Catholic schooling but have since apostasied) get set up by God for continual Grand Slams. I'm not afraid of hard work (indeed I enjoy it) but I need a 'lucky' break and I don't understand why I get scorpions when I ask for eggs and stones when I ask for bread.

      Though the thing which really gets me is the 'offer it up' attitude of people who can't imagine what I'm going through, especially religious. The attitude (which your above post intimates) that its all MY fault, that I haven't repented of a particular sin, that I'm not praying hard enough etc. is what makes me mad. I find it ironic that I get more empathy from my (since my grandmother died) openly gay grandfather who hasn't stepped inside the confessional for over 40 years than my co-religionists. I have literally got down on my knees and BEGGED God for help........ all I can hear are the crickets.

    3. I don't think your difficulties are your fault. My point above is that God always gives us the grace we need to deal with whatever fallen creation throws at us. It's a matter of receiving that grace and giving Him thanks for all that He gives.

      My larger point is that everyone has some sort of problem/disability/disease, etc. that they have to deal with. Yes, some of us have more damaging problems, etc. than others. . .but we all have them. Folks who appear to be prospering may have terrible addictions, horrible kids, etc. We usually don't/can't know.

      I don't know what "praying hard enough" means. We pray or we don't. Hard, soft, long, short doesn't enter into the picture. Give God thanks for all that you have, including your problems. Ive seen several MS sufferers come to peace with God by giving Him thanks for their disease. They were healed spiritually and emotionally by doing this.

      Again, I'm not blaming you (or anyone else) for your difficulties. However, envying others their gifts prevents us from recognizing and using the gifts we have been given. You and you alone are responsible for receiving the grace God sends your way. No one can do it for you! Believe me, I spent years running from my "throne in the flesh" and all I got for my trouble was more thorns.

      Let me also suggest that getting empathy from others is a stop-gap measure. It feels good for a day or two but then the anger/bitterness/whatever comes back and prevents us from receiving God's gifts. Empathy is easy; giving thanks is hard.

    4. you just don't get it do you Father? You really don't get it.
      I have done very well for someone with my condition, I am in a full time job (only 15% of people with autism can say the same), I have done very well at school, but I'm tired. I'm tired of it being 10 times as hard for me as anyone else, I think that 28 years of suffering in the trenches deserves a couple of Grand Slams (please don't reference Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul, that is a platitude beyond all platitudes).
      I am begging God, not only for healing but for the break I need to get on in my career in Stock broking, it's very hard for someone who was not privately educated but I'm not afraid of hard work. I've come very close in the past 4 months, but each time I've fallen short by a hair's breadth (all of my colleagues have my back). I don't want the money to spend weekends counting it like a dwarf with gold fever, but so that I (doing something I actually enjoy) can provide for a family (what I want more than anything in the world), send them to good Catholic schools and give them a much better start than a disabled young boy whose mother (did I mention I want to make sure her retirement is comfortable) sometimes went hungry so her children had enough to eat and school uniforms which properly fit.
      Now when I encounter Beryl Musspratt Catholics (reference Brideshead Revisited) who scorn these ambitions, tell me that I'm being 'worldly' (I'll have you know that I tried my vocation as a religious only it seems that you lot are very 'country club' yourselves and don't want the children of the divorced, let alone disabled people in your houses of perfection) and that I should 'resign' myself to being a poor singleton and 'offer it up' I get a little antsy, especially when they try to emotionally blackmail me by saying that if I don't souls are going to hell (oh the hypocrisy of those who have more than enough).
      Now as you may have guessed my Father is not exactly involved in my life and so far in the 8 years that I've been a Catholic God hasn't exactly been present either; he continues to throw stones when I beg for bread, heck I'm not even begging for bread I'm begging for the means to earn the bread. I just need HOPE, tangible Hope not some platitude.

    5. Religious orders generally don't accept candidates who have chronic physical/mental/emotional/etc problems. Since an order is 100% responsible for medical care, the costs can be prohibitive. We are constantly being exhorted to lose weight, stop smoking, stop drinking, etc. Very few religious I know smoke. I know of no religious who drinks excessively. A few of us are overweight (including me), and we are always in the spotlight when the insurance premiums are due.

      You're right. I don't get what you are going through. And I can't know. All I know is that we can either accept God's grace to deal with our problems, or refuse His grace. Accepting grace will not magically make a problem go away. It will make it possible for us to find peace with the problem. . .whether that means to learn to thrive with it, or learn to merely tolerate it, or whatever. . .the only other alternative is to live with the problem in the absence of God's grace, and that never works.

  2. Fr. PNP, How are we set up by God? I was taught that God is never the source of evil.

    1. We aren't "set up by God" if you mean by that "God intentionally gives us problems to deal with."

    2. Yes, that was what I wanted to hear from you! God is never the source of evil. God does not send us problems to overcome. And a very wise Quaker lady told me once, "God works through human hands."