Because I Believe in Miracles

Feast of St. Peter Claver

When I was startled into wondering if I could become a Catholic, one thing really stood out to me as a proof of the legitimacy of the Church—the miracles. The Catholic Church believes in miracles without flinching. They even have a standard operating procedure in place to prove or disapprove miracles.

Before I converted, I was a Christian. But I was also a child of the modern age. A rationalist. As a Christian, I believed in miracles and the power of prayer. But it always seemed that this was something to speak of only in hushed whispers. I can only speak for myself here, but the idea of believing in miracles was a bit unseemly.

Old miracles long since accomplished and cataloged in the Bible? No problem there. Sing those long and sing them loud. But modern day miracles seemed to a) not be discussed, b) be explained away or c) just keep that on the q.t., you know, very hush-hush. In contrast, the Catholic Church embraces miracles, past, present, and future.

I couldn’t deny one thing for sure, and that is little ol’ Frank does not know everything. I am not omniscient. Just because I haven’t personally seen something that is documented as having happened, doesn’t mean it didn’t. And I cannot stop God from performing miracles because their explanation is inconvenient either. Besides, hadn’t I thought there were miracles happening all along? Uh-huh, minor miracles of the Websterian variety happening constantly.

Now there are a lot of miracles to consider, and they all are amazing. Eucharistic miracles, apparitions of Mary, miraculous healings, incorruptible bodies of deceased saints, etc. The one type of miracle that really “got me” was the stigmata, aka the wounds of Christ manifesting themselves on a person. St. Francis of Assisi received the Stigmata (see portrait above), as did my favorite Catholic widow, Blessed Marie of the Incarnation. And most recently, in the 20th Century, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (see photo below) did.

The kicker? All of these miracles, of every conceivable type, occured to Roman Catholics on what seemed to be a pretty regular basis. Enough for me to think that there is really something to them. A little voice in my head said, “embrace the Mystery,” and I became a child again and did.

A little book I found recently is all about miracles in the Church. It is The Question of Miracles written by G.H. Joyce, S.J. I’ve put Father Joyce’s introduction to the book below.

The Christian religion has ever professed itself to be a religion of miracles. Its early documents assure us that a series of miracles ushered in the life of its Founder, and that His public ministry was marked by the continuous exercise of supernatural power. We are told that He pointed to these works in confirmation of His teaching: and, further, that He made special appeal to a crowning miracle—His own Resurrection—which should be for all time an irresistible attestation of the truth of His claims. To that event the Church has ever pointed as the foundation of her belief. Moreover, if the New Testament writings are to be believed, He endowed His apostles with similar powers: and these they exercised in a manner which leaves no doubt as to their reality.

The miraculous element in Christianity is in accordance with its internal character as a religion. For the Christian revelation is no mere ethical system. It claims to be nothing short of a vast inrush of supernatural forces upon the human race, elevating man to a new plane of being, and conferring upon him an altogether new destiny. According to Christian belief, by the Incarnation and the Atonement, man is raised to sonship to God: his soul becomes the seat of a divine indwelling: and through membership in Christ’s body he receives the pledge of an eternal beatitude to which his nature gives him no claim. Thus Christianity as a religion supposes that God has superseded the natural order on man’s behalf. And considered in the light of these truths, external miracle appears but the congruous expression of the tremendous spiritual transformation.

Such, speaking historically, is the relation of the Christian faith to miracles. At the present day, however, the claim is made to hold a “non-miraculous Christianity”—to profess Christianity and at the same time to dispense with all belief in the miraculous. This attitude may be said to be one of the leading characteristics of liberal Protestantism. Among German Protestant theologians it is almost universal. Those who, like Zahn and Seeberg, still hold the historic reality of the New Testament miracles are few indeed—rari nantes in gurgite vasto.

In England the movement has been less rapid; yet every year sees it find more and more support among Anglican and Nonconformist divines. It is the standpoint of some of the writers both in Contentio Veritatis and in Foundations—books admittedly representative of certain aspects at least of Oxford thought. In Contentio Veritatis we are told that to admit a suspension of natural law “would destroy all the criteria both of scientific and historical reasoning.” And in both works we find belief in the bodily resurrection of our Lord rejected on the ground of its miraculous character. Mr. Thompson’s Miracles of the New Testament did but put in plain language what others expressed with somewhat more reserve.

We need not be at a loss to account for this development. The last two centuries have been marked by the rise of several schools of thought, which, notwithstanding their many differences, have at least this in common, that they one and all hold the universe of experience to be a closed system, admitting of no interference from without. With all of them it is a postulate that the chain of causes and effects which experience reveals is never broken. The Deism of the seventeenth century, the Transcendental Idealism of Kant, the Positivism of J. S. Mill, the Scientific Materialism of Tyndall, and the more recent forms of Neohegelianism are at one as regards this. Each of these philosophical fashions has had a wide influence on the thought of the day. And just in so far as a man adopts any one of them, the idea of supernatural interference becomes impossible. Miracles must go. They must go, not because of any new light upon the evidence, but on grounds that are purely metaphysical.

These tendencies have found no foothold within the Catholic Church. In her teaching there is no hesitation or ambiguity. She points, as she has ever pointed, to the miracles of Christ as one of the firmest grounds of our belief in His claims. And she asserts with confidence that the age of miracles is not past, but that God still manifests His power by such events. Nevertheless, since the denial of the miraculous is so wide-spread among our Protestant fellow-countrymen, it appeared to the present writer that there was room for a work on this subject. His effort in the following pages has been to show how untenable are the objections urged against miracles and how overwhelming is the evidence for their actual occurrence.

You can find this book in its entirety on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

For Thoughts Like These from John C. H. Wu

I’ve been reading one of John Wu’s books. I first received it via Intra-library loan through my local public library.  But it is so good that I coughed up the dough to buy my own copy as well.  It’s worth the cost, trust me. [Read more…]

“Spring” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Like me, Webster is partial to Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th century poet who also was a Catholic convert and a Jesuit. (Depicted here bronze by Irish sculptor Rowan Gillsepie).  Webster has cited Hopkins’s poems  here, here and here.

Poems are meant to be read out loud; this is especially true for Hopkins’s. He used “sprung rhythm,” which is intended to sound like natural speech. (Unlike most poets who use free verse, however, Hopkins made sure the number of feet per line of poetry was kept consistent within a single poem.)

At a funeral I attended Saturday, the celebrant, Msgr. John Mraz, mentioned Hopkins. The deceased, Donald Patton Buckelew, like Hopkins, not only encountered Christ in the Mass, but also in his fellow human beings and in the natural world. What a gift.

NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—
  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
  Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
 A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
  Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
  Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Thanks to Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s The Birth of the Virgin

On this, the feast day of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, take a long look at this painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. He was a 17th century Baroque artist from Seville whose paintings depict the joys of spiritual life. This one, displayed at the Louvre in Paris, shows the birth of our Blessed Mother. She is being cared for by angels and servants while her mother, Saint Anne, rests in the background.

We don’t know much about the early life of the Blessed Mother. We don’t know where she was born or where she died. Her parents’ hometown is Nazareth. Most likely, she was born in Jerusalem. We know she was Jewish of the tribe of Judah and the lineage of David. Her cousin, Saint Elizabeth, was of the lineage of Aaron.

And so, we don’t know if the Blessed Mother grew up in a household with servants. But what draws me to this painting is the exquisite care the painter took to show how the birth of Our Blessed Mother happened; surrounded by immeasurable love, by angels who cared for her from the moment of her birth. I love that our Church honors the Blessed Mother. Hers is one of just three birthdays we celebrate: Christ and Saint John the Baptist are the others. Today, let us remember that our Blessed Mother served as the temple of Christ.

Your birth, Birthgiver of God, announced joy to the whole world. From you came the Sun of Justice, Christ our God. He released the curse and gave the blessing.

Calling All Catechists: The YIMCatholic Bookshelf Is Open

It is the time of the year when those who are curious about the Catholic Church can seek answers to their questions in a setting that is non-threatening. This is done by means of the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults, aka the RCIA program.

Back in 2007, I made my second sojourn through the RCIA program as a Candidate. That is the term given to those who enter the RCIA process and have already been baptised in another Christian faith community outside of the Catholic Church. You can learn more about RCIA from any local parish or from other resources on-line.

Speaking of other resources on-line, that is why I’m writing this post. I want to remind everyone of the handy, dandy YIM Catholic Bookshelf. Introduced back in May, the bookshelf now is up to over 355 volumes of solid Catholic reference material. These books are all available in full view from Google books, and all are completely searchable.

I was a strike-out at my first attempt up at the RCIA plate. I had other excuses too, but lack of knowledge by the catechist at the parish I was in was a big one. If only I would have been able to research some of my questions, maybe I would have become a Catholic in 1990 instead of 2008. Alas, the possibility of quick, yet in-depth, research wasn’t possible then. But it is now.

Enter the YIM Catholic Bookshelf as a part of the solution. Just click on the portrait of Our Lord in the side-bar, and presto (!) you are in our electronic study.  Certainly candidates and catechumens have a lot of questions. And as Cardinal Newman said once, “Catholicism is a deep matter—you cannot take it up in a teacup.” So I hope that the YIM Catholic Bookshelf can be used as a resource for both catechists and catechumans (and candidates) alike.

Here are a few examples for you to consider. By entering the following search terms into the search blank (right below the portrait of St. Joan of Arc)on the shelf,  our reference librarian at Google will locate a number of volumes that can help you answer a question, or find an answer to one. Give it a try!

Search Term – Number of Books Found

Penance                         180
Confession                     243
Reconciliation                 165
Mary                                 118
Veneration of Mary             73
Communion of Saints       151
Doctrine                            191
Confirmation                     201
Purgatory                          165
Primacy of Peter                 53
Canon of Scriptures            55

By no means is this an exhaustive list. And clearly, this is not a circumvention of the two main catechetical published works out there: the Bible, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I’m just suggesting that if you have a couple of hard-boiled, skeptical, candidates (like I was!) who need a deeper bibliography, send them our way. Come and see.

You’ll be glad you did.

Labor Day (Music for Mondays)

It’s Labor Day here in the U.S.A., a federal holiday where we commemorate the joys of working by giving ourselves the day off. There is lots of history backing up the  establishment of this holiday and you can read all about it somewhere else.

Here at YIM Catholic, though, we’re just glad to be off today. While we are at it though, lets remember our brethren who are unemployed in this recessionary economy, both here and abroad. If you know anyone looking for work, say a prayer for them and be a part of their network.

Enjoy your last day off before school starts because summer is over, and fall is here. Can you feel the crispness in the air? Now,  let’s see if I can get your toes a tappin’ to some honest to goodness songs about working. Stand by for an eclectic mix.

The Vogues, Five O’Clock World. Anyone remember this one? Uh-huh, I thought so. Show of hands, who works only 40 hours a week? Maybe we should work on that because on your death bed it’s doubtful that you will have wished you had spent more time at the office.

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Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass, Work Song. Ah, manufacturing jobs. We could use some more of those right about now. Making trumpets and album covers. Remember album covers?!

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Amy Adams, from the motion picture Enchanted, Happy Working Song. Hey, there is always work to be done. How about the laborers who call home the workplace? Let’s celebrate their day off too! Sing it, Giselle.

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Dolly Parton, 9 to 5. Good hours, if you can get them. This song is from the 1981 movie that starred Dolly, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dabney Coleman.

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Merle Haggard, Working Man Blues. I wish everyone could have these kind of blues nowadays. How about enjoying this song, and then saying a little prayer for full employment.

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Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, Salt of the Earth. Hat tip to Deacon Greg Kandra for sharing this one on his blog. The Glimmer Twins praise us salt of the earth types.

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Huey Lewis & the News, Working For A Living. From their hit album Sports! A great little anthem, for those of us blessed to be employed. Huey can wail on that Marine Band harmonica, huh?!

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Listen My Son, St. Benedict for Fathers (A Book Review)

This is a first for me, as I’ve never been asked to write a book review before. But a few months back, I wrote a post about how a particular section in the Rule of St. Benedict resonated with me as a father. It turns out, that I wasn’t alone.

Full disclosure time: Father Dwight Longenecker offered to send me a copy of his book at no cost if I would do a review of it. I accepted his kind offer, even though I had no idea how to write a proper review. I still don’t. But since Father D. does such a good job with this, it isn’t difficult for me to recommend this book to fathers, or anyone in a leadership position.

I’ll confess that I was skeptical of applying the entire rule to fatherhood and family life. It helps a lot to know that when Father D. wrote this, he was a novice oblate, and a former Anglican priest. Married and a father of four, he has some real-world experience in being a dad. Nowadays, he is still a husband, a dad, and a Roman Catholic priest. He is a parish priest at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Greenville, South Carolina. He also blogs at Standing On My Head.

What Father D. has done with this book is break the entire Rule of St. Benedict up into daily reflections.  He has devised a scheme whereby you can read the rule three times over the course of a one-year period. For example, Chapter VII of the Rule, Humility, would be read on January 25th, March 26th, and September 25th. In this way, the Rule is divided into bite-sized morsels, and so are Father D.’s reflections. Let’s take a look. First, St. Benedict:

Brothers, Holy Scripture cries aloud to us saying, ‘Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ When it says this it is teaching that all exaltation is a kind of pride. And the Prophet shows that he himself was on his guard against it when he said, ‘Lord, my heart has no lofty ambitions, my eyes do not look too high; I am not concerned with great affairs or marvels beyond my scope.’ Why thus? ‘If I did not think humbly, but exalted my soul, as a child on the mothers breast is weaned, so did you treat my soul.’

Father D. then provides a short reflection on the virtue of humility, usually no more than four paragraphs. Here is an excerpt.

For Benedict, humility is linked with self-knowledge. The truly humble person is the prodigal son, who gets to the very bottom of his resources, where, as the Authorized Version puts it, he ‘comes to himself'(Luke 15.17) and realizes his need of the father’s love. This kind of self-knowledge does not grovel before others. Nor does it indulge in maudlin self-pity or overblown guilt. Instead, it is a clear, hard, and realistic self-appraisal.

Father D., then expands a bit more, freely helping explain Benedict’s thoughts on humility as it relates to pride and further explaining, and referencing, the quotes from Scripture that Benedict used in the section of the Rule that is being read on this particular day. He also dips into other resources in his reflections, from the works of other saints as well as from other Scriptures that help bring clarity to applying the rule to the role of fatherhood.

I would go further and say that his reflections also help anyone, be they a father, or simply someone who fills a leadership role, apply the Rule of St. Benedict in their daily life. After all, that is what the rule was intended to do; to take Christianity and apply it practically to life within a community.

Father D.’s reflections help to keep the Rule relevant for those of us who are shepherding flocks inside our homes, or at work, rather than inside the confines of the cloister.

Because of Faith and Reason

If you’re intellectual, if you’re a smart, sophisticated person, you can’t possibly have faith in God, right? We’ve been hearing this for centuries. “Every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out, “It is a matter of faith, and above reason.” So said John Locke, English philosopher, political theorist. He founded Empiricism, the school of thought that tell us if we can’t measure something with our senses, it doesn’t exist.

That’s a fable. And this morning brought more proof. I attended the funeral of a man whose career brought him to the forefront of the development of the cable television industry, a man who prayed the rosary with his wife. Donald Patton Buckelew was an engineer who was president of his parish council and who worked with homeless men and battered women. Who brought this man to live among us? How do you measure the love Christ had for him? How do you measure the love Mr. Buckelew showed his neighbors? How do you measure how Christ worked in him and through him?

Mr. Buckelew’s life gave lie to the claim that faith and reason are incompatable, said Msgr. John Mraz of Saint Ann’s Parish in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, who celebrated Mr. Buckelew’s funeral Mass, which was attended by his wife of nearly 57 years, Anna Mae, by his three adult children, his six grandchildren and his great-granddaughter. His daughter-in-law is one of my dearest friends, and Godmother to our oldest son, Gabriel.

It was good for our boys to learn that a man who embraced technological change he encountered also embraced our Lord. Christ infuses our world, the reality we inhabit every day. In 1998, Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), 12 years in the making, explored the relationship between the two. “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

One of Mr. Buckelew’s granddaughters read this passage from Saint Paul during his funeral Mass.

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. 

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Mr. Buckelew, a child of the Great Depression, was 78 when he died on Tuesday. He was a U.S. Navy veteran who during his lifetime experienced sweeping technological change and unshakable faith. As Msgr. Mraz reminded those of us attending the funeral Mass, we are just travelers in this world; it’s a proving ground and our true home is heaven. Saint Paul, a prisoner of the Romans, wrote

“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.”

May Donald Patton Buckelew’s soul and the souls of all the departed faithful, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Thanks to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings’ film trilogy

I know, I know. Especially as an English teacher, I know. You’re supposed to read the book first, then watch the movie. But the truth is, I’ve never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or his Lord of the Rings trilogy. But for the past two nights, friends of our sons have been gathering at our home to watch Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Lord of the Rings on the massive wide-screen TV we inherited from dear friends who recently moved to Maine. And while the movies are not overtly religious, it is comforting to know one of the trilogy’s moral lessons is one we want our sons to understand: evil is real and every human has the power to decide whether he wants to be mastered by the evil he encounters or to embrace the path of the spiritual pilgrim. This message hits close to home, coming as it does a week before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which my husband narrowly survived.

We’ve been loading up on Diet Mountain Dew (for some reason, a favorite of teen-aged boys) and potato chips and spending hours immersed in darkness, with Jackson’s Academy Award-winning vision of Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth flickering on the screen the only light in our downstairs. Last night, we watched the second film in the trilogy; the Two Towers. How exciting to watch Orcs beseige the fortress at Helm’s Deep and Ents attack Isengard. Right now, I’m making chicken wings and salad for the 200-minute grand finale: The Return of the King, which won all 11 Academy Awards for which it was nominated.

This “Dork Fest,” as we are calling it, is the brainchild of our friend Andy, a Catholic convert who leads our parish’s Chant Club and is a Lord of the Rings – here’s an understatement – fanboy. None of my sons’ film-watching visitors happens to be Catholic; in fact, some of them are not being raised with any religious tradition at all. But the messages of Middle Earth are sinking in. My nearly 14-year-old noticed last night that The Ring, which is a form of evil, is like an addiction. It takes over, it corrupts and it destroys. Nearly every character in the trilogy longs for The Ring, which the protagonist, a Hobbit named Frodo, is striving to destroy. One character, Gollum, lets The Ring enter his soul, and we see his torment and despair. Amid this battle, characters show nobility, mercy and the possibility of redemption.

We cannot encounter Christ and embrace His ways unless we recognize that evil is real and that conversion means turning toward God. I am reminded of this most powerful lesson as we await Sept. 11. We might not be able to see the spiritual battles that surround us but the stakes are high. I am so grateful to J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic who brought his friend C.S. Lewis to Christ, for crafting this tale and to Peter Jackson for putting it on the big screen.

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Because of the Density of the Instant

As summer slips away and I spend my days shopping for school supplies for our sons, taking one last visit to the beach, and enrolling in graduate school classes, I’ve been contemplating what difference the existence of the Eucharist makes in my life.

How long exactly, does it take to receive communion? Maybe a few seconds, yes? In that act, we unite with eternity. This is what Fr. Luigi Giussani,  founder of the Communion and Liberation movement, refers to this as the “density of the instant.” How many instants are our lives comprised of? Each one is an opportunity to fix our gaze on God.

Fr. Giussani puts it this way: “the Eucharist becomes the beginning of Christ’s triumph in time and space, in history.” This amazes me. And here is something else astonishing: the density of the instant begins, not ends, with the Eucharist. We enter eternity every time we lift our thoughts to heaven.When we pray, no matter what we are doing (driving, chatting, shopping, making dinner) while we are praying, we are communicating with God, who exists beyond space and time. We pray for the souls among us, and souls who have gone before us. We pray for them; they pray for us.

Until several years ago, I had no idea what the Communion of the Saints meant. The Cathecism tells us: “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always (attentive) to our prayers” (CCC 962)

Realizing this, I remember the days, full of instants wasted with worry, impatience and regret. The challenge before me is to recognize that every moment holds the possibility for transcendence.

I like what Saint Clare of Assisi had to say about that:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! 
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! 
And transform your entire being into the image 
of the Godhead Itself through contemplation.