Faith and Miracles

With his Apostolic Letter of October 11, 2011, Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI declared that a “Year of Faith” will begin on October 11, 2012, and conclude on November 24, 2013. October 11, is the feast of the Divine Maternity.

What is Faith?

The Baltimore Catechism gives a very simple definition of Faith as the first of the three theological virtues: “Faith is a supernatural virtue by which we firmly believe the truths which God has revealed.” Longer catechisms commonly add “and the Church teaching” to this basic definition.

Faith involves a seeing and a consent, a believing. But Jesus said, “Blessed are they who do not see, and believe” (John 20:26). God gives us the matter, He shows us what to see. Imagine being in a dark room, no light whatsoever. You’ve been there, right? Totally disoriented. This is life without Faith. Turn on a light, and you can see. That is reason without Faith. Let the sun shine before you through the stained-glassed windows of a church, that is the matter of supernatural Faith or revelation, short of actual vision. It is as if God said, “This is My truth, now you see spiritually, now believe in what you see.” The act of Faith is the believing.

Holy scripture and Tradition are the fonts that the Church uses to teach the truths necessary for salvation.

Saint Paul writes that “faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not” (Heb 11:1). And again that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (11:6).

In the added prayer section, the Roman hand-missal gives the Act of Faith as follows: “O my God, I firmly believe that thou art one God in Three divine Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that thy divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Catholic Church teaches because thou hast revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.”

The new Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. (#156) And, again, “Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. . . . [T]he certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives.” (#157) Saint Paul says that “Faith cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of God”(Rom. 10:17). Here we have the essential note that defines evangelization: It is to preach the Gospel by word and deed, that those who do not believe may hear the word of God and see our good deeds, believe, and be saved. “Faith,” the Council of Trent teaches, “is the beginning of human salvation.” (Session VI, c. 8) It is, by its very nature, self-diffusive, as is “goodness.” A gift received, it is meant to be given to others, to diffuse itself without dimunition. That is one reason why Saint James wrote that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:2).

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Message for Lent 2013, taught that “the greatest work of charity is evangelization, which is the ‘ministry of the word’. There is no action more beneficial — and therefore more charitable — towards one’s neighbour than to break the bread of the word of God, to share with him the Good News of the Gospel, to introduce him to a relationship with God: evangelization is the highest and the most integral promotion of the human person.” (Part 3)

Divine and Catholic Faith is a supernatural virtue given by God, illuminating and elevating the soul, giving it the capacity to embrace divine truths that are above reason. This is the Faith that Saint Paul says “cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ”(Rom 10:17). The catechism tells us that Faith, Hope, and Charity are theological virtues, theological because their object is THEOS (God). Faith can also be present in a soul that is dead to grace, and charity, in sin. “Faith without works is dead,” says St. James (2:20) Faith, Hope, and Charity are also habits, which means that they live (inhabit) in the soul, as supernatural powers, whose purpose is to be in act with God, In truth these acts are God’s act in us. Not that God has faith or hope, but that He lets the intellect see His true Self in Faith, drawing the soul to hope in the eternal promises God had revealed to the soul through the Church. Charity, however, is even more: it is our participation in the Trinitarian Love, our Love for God is a breath from the indwelling Spirit whose temple we are.

The object of Faith can be more or less, and the virtue can be weak or strong. “Lord, increase our faith” the Apostles besought Jesus. (Luke 17:5). “Lord, I do believe,” said the man with the son who had epilepsy, “help my unbelief” (Matt. 9:23). “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you” (Matt 17:19). (Such did actually happen in the life of Saint Gregory the Wonder-Worker (213-270), who, literally, moved a mountain to build a church.) Of the Roman centurion, however, whose servant Our Lord cured from a distance, Jesus said, “I have not found so great faith in Israel” (Matt. 18:10).

How did the Church grow throughout history?

In the early Church the Apostles and their successors and all the faithful had tremendous enthusiasm. There was a zeal, among laity as well as clergy, to spread the Kingdom of God on earth, which is the Catholic Church. There was great holiness, of course, especially in the Church’s missionaries. There were millions of martyrs, as well, over the centuries of persecution. The Church father, Tertullian (160-222), is most famous for saying, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.”

Miracles and the Mission to the Nations

The New Catechism places much weight on the testimony of miracles: “So ‘that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.’ Thus, the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability ‘are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all’; they are ‘motives of credibility,’ which show that the assent of faith is ‘by no means a blind impulse of the mind.’” (#156, excerpts from Constitution of the Church,Vatican I, Dei Filius)

Miracles have been with the Church since the Incarnation. The Old Testament, also, abounds in miracles, especially those performed by Moses and many of the prophets. No prophet, however, performed miracles comparable to Our Lord’s. Being God, He commanded the elements by His own authority and, being Life, brought the dead back to life. Nevertheless, Our Lord went so far as to promise His disciples that they would perform greater miracles than He, but in His name. “Amen, amen I say to you, he that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do, And greater than these shall he do” (John 14:12).

After Pentecost, we encounter miracles immediately, the first being the Apostles’ speaking in tongues in the Upper Room, and then Saint Peter, being understood in many tongues while he was addressing in Aramaic the crowd of pilgrims who had gathered outside the Cenacle. Then, we have Saints Peter and John curing the lame man at the temple gate. Even the very shadow of Saint Peter cured those who, with faith, sought his intercession. (Acts 5:15) On practically every page of the Book of Acts, Saint Luke recounts a miraculous event.

Saint Patrick was sent by Pope Celestine as bishop to Ireland in 433 and the whole island converted from his preaching. This would not have happened had not this holy man performed astounding miracles. His battles with the druid priests were like Moses contesting with the magicians of Pharao. I know of no saint who raised so many people from the dead to give them the Faith and baptism.

Other nations converted by holy miracle workers were in the East Indies (India, Indonesia, Sumatra, Borneo, Japan) where the ten year mission by Saint Francis Xavier (1506-1552) was filled with miracles, producing millions of converts.

Then, glory to God, there is Mexico. While much of Europe was leaving the Church for the errors of Protestantism, the missionaries were replacing them with the American Indians. But it took Our Lady herself, in 1531, to give us the great miracle that abides still in the miraculous image she painted of herself on the tilma of Saint Juan Diego. By 1541, just ten years hence, thanks to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s maternal mercy, there were ten million Aztecs who had entered the Church.

In China, in our own time, we have the miracles performed at the tomb of the proto-martyr of Shanghai, Father Beda Chang (+1951). The communists were so infuriated at this, and the devotion of the people, that they put guards at the tomb and literally outlawed visitors from praying there: “Do not come to this place. No miracles allowed.” (See my article on Father Chang in the Jan/Feb 2012 Mancipia) 

Some cynics are so steeped in their unbelief that they are not even moved by miracles. Look at the stiffed-necked priests who could not deny that Christ had raised Lazarus from the dead, saying in secret session: “What do we, for this man doth many miracles?” (John 11:47) and hearing the testimony of His resurrection from the temple guards stationed at the tomb, they invented a lie to blacken their conscience. Jesus foretold it, “neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead”(Luke 16:31). Normal people, however, if they cooperate with grace, would be moved to embrace the religion attended by undeniable miracles.

Miracle at Lourdes

In connection with this, I lifted the following account of a miracle at the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes from Franz Werfel’s book, The Song of Bernadette. Werfel, a Jew, came into the Church late, at the eleventh hour. The apparition occurred in 1858, and the miraculous cures from the spring of water, opened by the Mother of God, are ongoing.

“Jules Lacassagne had become a mere shadow and seemed doomed to die of starvation. His mother took him to a seaside resort: perhaps the ocean’s energy would help. It did not. On the beach whither they carried the boy he found a torn piece of newspaper. Holding it in his feeble hands he read an account of the healing of young Marie Moreau. He pocketed the piece of paper but dared not at first utter his wish. He knew his father’s character and convictions well and was afraid of being laughed at. Not until many days later, when, obviously doomed, he was taken back to Bordeaux, did he hesitantly tell his mother the story of Lourdes and Marie Moreau. Madame Lacassagne besought her husband to set out for Lourdes on that very day. The husband consented without debate. In the face of death unfaith is far unsurer of itself than faith. In his own arms Roger Lacassagne carried his son [Jules] to the grotto. A former army man, he was disinclined to stand for any nonsense. If miracles can happen, let them! Hence he had brought with him a bag of soft biscuits. After Jules, endlessly agonizing, had succeeded in getting down a glassful of the water drop by drop, the absurd father handed him one of the biscuits and gave an order in his military fashion: ‘Now, then, eat!’ And now an absurder thing happened: the boy ate. He bit off a piece, chewed it, and swallowed it like any ordinary mortal. The tall Lacassagne with his grey pompadour turned aside, reeling like a drunken man, and beat his breast and panted: ‘Jules is eating . . . Jules is eating . . . .’ And the people around the grotto burst into tears.” (pg. 437) (The boy, Jules Lacassagne, had been suffering a long time from St. Vitus’ Dance which ended up attacking his esophagus. He was dying of starvation when, the father, at his son’s own request, condescended to take him to Lourdes. His cure was instantaneous and his health improved daily to the point where no one would have ever known he had had such a disease.)

French writer, unbeliever, and naturalist, Emile Zola (1840 -1902), on the other hand, was as stubborn as the scribes and pharisees. He once said that he would believe if he saw a cut finger heal by dipping it in Lourdes water. He did end up going to Lourdes where he was a witness to a woman inexplicably healed of tuberculosis before his very eyes. What did he do? He called the press in protest to the miracle, and declared publicly, “Even if I were to see all the sick at Lourdes healed, I would not believe.”

Finally, we have the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima on October 13, 1917. In confirmation to her message to the three shepherding children, our Lady promised to give a great sign to the 70,000 people gathered at the Cova that day. All the people, even the freemasons and atheists. It had been raining all morning that day when the Blessed Mother gave her final message to the children. At high noon, she pointed to the sun which had unexpectedly burst through the clouds. The sun was turning wildly, dancing as it began spinning off beautiful colors when, all of a sudden, it appeared to be falling from the sky zigzagging to earth. People screamed in terror. Then, the solar star stopped plummeting, retreated, and resumed its normal position. Everyone’s clothes and the very mud on the ground were instantly dry. There is another miracle that we know will happen, for Mary foretold it at Fatima, but it has not happened yet. What is that? The conversion of Russia.

Let The Miracles be Known and Marketed Through the Media

Since, as the Catechism says, miracles provide “motives of credibility,” why is it that the history of God’s miracles through His Church receive such paltry publicity in the Catholic media? Miracles are, if I may put it this way, a short-cut to the Faith. Ordinarily, the grace of God takes time to work upon a soul, nourish it, and draw its submission to divine truth. Actual graces come into play and their sources are many and varied. The most important actual graces, given to non-Christians, come from the preaching of missionaries and, with Christians, preaching from pulpits. God can, and does, use any created good to bring a seeker of truth to the light. Literature, hagiographies, sacred music, art, acts of charity, and virtue, in general, the good example of the faithful, can be what it takes to convince someone that the religion that can produce such goodness and beauty must be the true one.

Then, too, the grace of God can work with a noble culture which appreciates natural virtue. The Koreans, for example, came into the Church in the late eighteenth century without receiving a missionary. One of their ambassadors to China, Yi Byeok, was converted by Catholics he met there in 1784. When he returned to Seoul he brought Catholic books with him and the next thing you know the sages of the peninsula sent emissaries to Rome and a few missionaries arrived in Korea soon afterward. Nevertheless, miracles provide the most convincing and immediate motive of credibility. Jesus said as much when He answered Philip’s request at the Last Supper to “show us the Father.” Addressing Philip Jesus said: Believe you not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? Otherwise believe for the very works’ sake” (John 14:11-12). For the largest religion in the world it is a shame that the Church is so slow in utilizing media technology. Saint Francis de Sales (+1622) had to contend with the fact that the printing press, invented by the Catholic Guttenberg, was more utilized in Calvinist Switzerland than in Catholic countries. In 1600, Geneva had forty presses pumping out heresy, while the Vatican had only one press.

Rather than just an occasional documentary, there ought to be movies and a regular TV series on miracles. EWTN can be viewed all over America all day long. If they had a weekly program dedicated to miracles what a boon this would be to evangelization. There are countless miracles, all of which defy the laws of nature, and there are so many of them there could be for two years a different TV program exploiting the most astounding of such wonders every day. Opus Dei produced a movie about Saint Jose Maria Escriva, There be Dragons, however, it was anti-Franco and deservedly flopped in the theatres. But, I firmly believe that a good Catholic movie about Saint Padre Pio or Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta would do as well as Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ. Priests could promote these movies and programs from the pulpits across the nation and take up collections for the producing of such. Pro-life Catholic actors Jim Caviezel (played Christ in The Passion) and Eduardo Verastegui (who has his own production company Metanoia) should join forces and make these things happen.

Saint Augustine gives us a lesson in this matter. I cannot find the exact quote, but in one of his sermons he pointed out that every day is a miracle. The only thing different in a “dancing sun” and the grandeur of a sunrise is routine and familiarity. We see the sun rise in the east every morning without a sound in all its royal magnificence. It’s nature; we are used to it, so it’s no big deal. But it is a “big deal!” It’s a miracle that just so happens to have a daily course. Take gravity, for example. Thank God, it obeys a law; but what is it? Really, who can define it? We can only measure it. To paraphrase Roger Lacassagne: If miracles want to happen, let them happen. And they do, all the time.