Signs and Wonders

An interesting discussion has been developing in the combox of my most recent post. One commentor said he left the Catholic Church because it was legalistic and he became a non-Catholic charismatic because that’s where the miracles are happening.

That’s funny. I left the Protestant church and became a Catholic for the same reason: Protestant fundamentalism was legalistic, and I went to Medjugorge, saw the sun spin, heard about the visions and then learned more about miracles in the Catholic Church: incorrupt bodies of saints, saints that levitated, saints that cured people, Fatima, Lourdes, etc etc etc. Then I learned about the everyday miracle of the transformation of ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ at Mass.

Actually, that’s not the only reason I became a Catholic, but my point is that you can find legalism and miracles in most any expression of Christianity (except modern liberalism which has neither) Because of this you can’t really make the lack of legalism and the presence of miracles your criteria for choosing a church can you?

There are a couple of other problems with making the presence of miracles your criteria for choosing a church: the first is that these things are notoriously slippery and subjective. Was it really a miracle? Did the person stay healed, or did they have a relapse? Did people really rise from the dead? Were they really dead in the first place? How do you know the ‘miracle’ is of divine origin? Maybe you are being misled by the devil. An example is the so called ‘Toronto blessing’ some years ago. Was it really the Holy Spirit that caused people to go on all fours, grunt like pigs, howl like dogs and moo like cows, and if the origin of that Evangelical charismatic miracle can be called into question, it is fair to be somewhat skeptical about miraculous claims elsewhere. I’m not denying miracles, mind you, just wishing to be properly skeptical about them wherever they occur, and because of this, saying that seeking after miracles as the proof for the authenticity of a church is especially tricky.

Finally, what does the gospel say about it? It seems pretty clear to me: Matt. 12:38-39 says it was the Scribes and Pharisees who asked for a miraclulous sign, and Jesus said they were a wicked and adulterous generation and they would only be given the sign of Jonah. Which is, of course, the resurrection. I think it was also King Herod who wanted a miracle as proof wasn’t it?

  • bernadette

    I have seen many, many genuine miracles through the Charismatic Renewal – physical and spiritual. People healed of very serious illnesses and people(me) returning to their faith with renewed committment and love for the sacraments, prayer and for scripture. BUT this was a grace for the entire church placed into human hands, and what I also saw/see was legalism and control in abundance. Egotism, personal agenda, abuse of gifts and ministries. In short, mans desire to control and not to serve. The CR was intended to SERVE the whole church and, I am sorry to say, in 40 years it did not bear the fruits that were intended.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11900159133427169416 timothy

    Your scepticism of miracles makes me also think that in the Gospels, Mark at least, Christ is always telling those whom he heals miraculously to show themselves to no one, or to the priest only and to go home, repent, and be quiet about it. Of course, they never do. But I have always wondered why Christ wanted it to be so hush-hush. Today, though, while reading in 2 Kings about the mircales of Elisha, whose miraculous rasing of the dead and multiplication of food in time of famine foreshadow Christ’s acts, it occurred to me that Christ explicitly did not want his ministry to be understood ONLY as a prophet. After all, the people who saw the miracles of the OT remained just as hardened in their hearts as the Pharisees in the NT and even down to us today. Any thoughts on why Christ was so circumspect about his power to work miracles?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Because he was humble

  • tony

    I once attended a charismatic celebration at a Steubenville conference back in 1996. The priest fogged the area with incense and processed through the crowds with the monstrance. In moments, my teenage peers fell to the ground dramatically. Confused I placed my hand on someone’s head. I had no idea what was going on, but it seemed the thing to do. Inside I felt a motivation to flail on the ground too, but only for the crowd. I very much wanted to participate in their experience, especially when it was so awkward for me to be one of the few standing there. Many spoke of visions and some I’m sure went into tongues. I mention this not to write off charismatics as victims of a group dynamic, but only bring attention that there is a group dynamic. I am sure some of those who were there were instruments of the Holy Spirit’s grace. To deny it is an overgeneralization, especially when I yield such limited awareness into the thoughts and experiences of others.

  • Anonymous

    As a lifelong Catholic I can see how the charismatic movement meets a need in the Church (although it does not appeal to me in the slightest). At the same time though, one wonders about the potential issues that can come up from unsupervised charismatic gifts and miracles. As Father Longenecker points out, movements like the Toronto Blessing, clearly indicate the devil’s hand. Whenever I come across a charismatic group I am reminded of a story that a friend of mine, who is now a priest in my diocese, told me about his experience with the charismatic movement in Setubenville. During a charismatic service, a girl began speaking in tongues and was clearly moved by the spirit. After the service, and with my friend watching, an older professor went up to the “tongue speaker” and asked her what languages she was fluent in. She responded that she only spoke English, but that she had been speaking in tongues throughout the service. The professor sternly informed her that she had been speaking Italian, and that she had been profaning the name of God and the Saints. Screwtape surely had a laugh at her expense.-Sea Lion

  • Benfan

    I wonder whether the miracles of Jesus were a personal response to the people in need who came to him. He did not perform them to prove himself to others. He saw no need for this. The only miracle that he pointed to as proof of his divinity in advance of his death was the ressurection. Although there was also the event where he offered forgiveness to the man on the stretcher and performed a miracle healing to demonstrate that he had the power to forgive sin also. Was he humble? I do not think he was. How could he need this virtue if he was the son of God. Pride and humility is sin and a response to awareness of sinfulness respectively. Was He not without sin?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Of course Jesus was humble. It was part of his natural perfection. He was humble like water in a mountain spring is humble or like a newborn child or a day in May is humble.

  • Benfan

    Fr., I was thinking of the humility that comes from knowing your sinfulness and the great perfection of God who loves you nevertheless. Sorry if I misunderstood your meaning.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01960521706457744649 tara

    Father,Yes it was Herod who wanted a miracle. In Fulton Sheen’s book “Characters of the Pssion,” Sheen talks about when some Pharisees told Jesus to “Depart and get thee hence, for Herod hath a mind to kill thee.” And Jesus said to them, “Go and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I am consummated.” Herod wanted to kill Jesus because Herod was extremely superstitious and thought Jesus was the reincarnated John the Baptist and was there just to haunt him. When Jesus stood before Herod, just before His crucifixtion, Jesus spoke not one word to Herod–because Herod wanted only to satisfy his curiosity, he wanted miracles, not to surrender his will to Jesus. Here is a quote Sheen’s book:”Spiritualized sensation-hunting is not religion. Christ is no minister to the senses. The capacity for holiness had been killed in Herod.”Good Posts!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05810707774675254803 phbrown

    Yes, Fr. Dwight, Herod wanted a miracle, and so did the scribes and Pharisees—but Jesus also pointed to his “works” (meaning, in the context, his miraculous works) as witness of who he was (and is).I think the problem here is not so much desiring a miracle. After all, what else are we doing when we pray for healing just before receiving Mass? The problem here is with asking God to justify his existence to us by any means, miraculous or not—and so setting ourselves up to judge God, not the other way around. By the same token, making miracles the criterion for the faith of a church is problematic not only because of the shaky epistemology you’ve pointed out, but also because it sets us up as the judges of the Church when we should be her children. (Sometimes, perhaps, her critical children, but still her children.)Peace,–Peter

  • Anonymous

    “my point is that you can find legalism and miracles in most any expression of Christianity (except modern liberalism which has neither”HA HA HA. Good one.I am very skeptical of charismatic things, but as an obedient Catholic I believe the bishops if they say it is legitimate. I think the comments about uncontrolled charismatic experiences are spot on. Almost anything can be dangerous if you indulge in it without any sort of guidance or control, and surely this is more dangerous than many other things. The temptations and the rewards themselves are fascinating and unusual, and few people know when “enough is enough.” I have just been reading “The Cloud of Unknowing,” and the author said the same about contemplation, which apparently appealed to many people at the time as exotic and glamorous.I also agree with the poster who said that some people’s desire for this kind of experience is real and understandable. That’s why the Church, in her wisdom, gives it a place — along with monasticism, being a hermit, being a missionary, and so many other ways to live our faith. For me, that is one of the greatest appeals of Catholicism. Besides truth, of course. Gail


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