Tag Archives: miracles

17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2017

It’s quite obvious that most of the praying done by us Christians is prayer of petition – asking God to grant favors or work miracles or support us in our plans. That’s quite natural: we are always in need of more than we think we can accomplish on our own and so we appeal to God, as pagans appeal to the forces of nature or to their invented gods, or as others resort to lucky charms and superstitious practices. It can’t be wrong to ask God to act on our behalf: the history of the human race’s relationship with God is filled with such requests. Even Jesus left us, his followers, an asking prayer, the “Our Father,” as we call it and which we’ll be saying again together in just a few minutes.

However, while recognizing the legitimate place of petitionary prayer in the life of a Christian, we must emphasize that its most perfect expression is what we find in that beautiful prayer of King Solomon, which we just heard in the excerpt from the Hebrew Book of Kings. Solomon asked but one favor of God, and that was the power to know always what would be the right thing to do in order to serve the people well and to please God. Solomon was overwhelmed by the enormity and the complexity of the kingly office he had inherited from his father, King David, and saw himself as too young, too inexperienced, too lacking in knowledge to rule wisely. And so he begged, not for personal riches or for victory in battle or even for a long and healthy life, but for wisdom and understanding so that he could rule with justice and compassion. To this day he is honored for that remarkable goodness of character.

Have you ever been told by someone that he or she has prayed for you for a long time? I have, often. I remember that, when I reported for my 20-year assignment as pastor at St. Brendan’s in Clifton 39 years ago, among the lovely greetings of welcome I received was that of a woman who told me that she had prayed for me every day of the previous eleven years, ever since the day we first met. I can’t tell you, as I couldn’t tell her way back then, how much that meant to me. Many times since, I’ve wondered how much of the strength and wisdom that job demanded came through the caring prayers of people like her.

Was it Plato or Aristotle or some other Greek (I can never keep those sages straight) who said that we do not achieve wisdom until we reach the age of 50? But we pray, and others pray for us, and we ask the Spirit of God within us to guide us in the way of wisdom even before we have attained it sufficiently ourselves. We ask to be able to interpret the events of our life more objectively, freer of personal prejudice. We ask to understand the meaning and eventual purpose of everything we experience. We ask to remain confident, patient, peaceful, especially in times of great personal stress and bewilderment, in times of sorrow and fear and disappointment. Prayers like these are answered always – but we have to trust enough to voice them.

The Gospel passage today is about the Kingdom of God – hidden among and within us, found by persons of faith — the Kingdom about which Jesus said, Seek it first and everything else will be given to you. How do we pray? What do we ask for? The Kingdom of God is recognized wherever there are justice and mercy and kindness and forgiveness and peace and patience and love. Our prayer should always reflect those concerns above all others. Jesus assures us that every particular need of our own complicated lives will be provided if we ask first for wisdom and understanding as the underpinnings of justice and love.

18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2016

When my office was in the city of Paterson years ago, I was driving from it one very hot day, passing through one of its poorest sections.  My car windows were open, the air conditioner not yet on.  Traffic came to a dead stop as I hugged the curb on my right.  Not even 10 feet away from me, there sat on a tenement stoop, almost at sidewalk level, two ragged, weather-beaten, apparently homeless persons, a man and a woman, undoubtedly looking even older than their actual, advanced age.  Oblivious to everyone and everything around them, the man was handing to the woman a small, bright red, flat object, which I recognized to be a Sacred Heart badge. She took it into her own unwashed hands, kissed it with her eyes closed, and responded, in a tone of tenderness and sincerity that I will never forget, “Oh, Jesus!”

Are such moments of grace for the beholder – me, in that case – merely coincidental, or are they somehow planned for our good?  Who knows?  For me this one was a gift I have kept and treasured all these years.  Those two nameless persons were experiencing the love of God breaking through the otherwise impenetrable shell of their squalor and hopelessness.  For one brief, shining moment they were engaging the One in whom their future would be redeemed, the One who alone could undo all the tragedy of their otherwise wasted lives, the One who would make of them what they always wanted to be and could not achieve.

Jesus constantly emphasized the primacy of love.  In fact, as you well know, he said there is but one law, and that is to love God and to love others as we love ourselves.  Exposed, as we are both day and night, to an endless parade of horror stories from around the world, is it really possible for us to get excited at, or even interested in, the idea of God’s powerful love?  It is not only possible, it is necessary and highly advantageous, because otherwise we retreat from the real world into cocoons of selfish indulgence or we go mad with despair.  The universe has been in existence for an astoundingly long time, over 14 billion years, we are told; we humans and our ancestors have been on Planet Earth for the comparatively tiny period of a few million years.  The Divine Spirit that has created everything from nothing can certainly bring that creation, so much abused by us humans, to perfection – but only in the time frame that we are willing to grant.

We Americans were told to feel proud of our might when the 1990 Gulf War was so decisively won. We are encouraged to marvel at our technological achievements.  In one way that’s very appropriate: the sight of a jumbo jet carrying 500 persons across continents and oceans should make our hearts skip a beat.  The almost incredible announcement of a computer chip the size of a thumb tack that can store the entire contents of a small library should take our breath away.  These are, in the biblical sense, true miracles.  But the problem is that we are inclined to make idols of them instead of seeing them for what they really are: manifestations of the intelligence of the God-Creator, who does all things in, and out of, love.

God is love, St. John wrote.  Love is the power that creates and sustains the universe.  It isn’t machines or weapons or songs or politics or money.  It’s love and love alone.  It is our appointed destiny to live in love, to do nothing except in love, and to cherish love above everything.

 

2ND SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2016

I expect never to hear of a real-life example of human love more remarkable and inspiring than that of an elderly couple interviewed on TV several years ago.  Their beautiful daughter had been brutally assaulted and then murdered by a young man.  He was arrested and brought to trial.  It was an open & shut case: he was guilty.  The deceased girl’s parents were asked how they felt toward her assailant.  And this gentle, getting-on-in-years couple responded, He is God’s child also, even though what he did to our daughter was horrible beyond words.  We don’t want him to be executed or to suffer the rest of his life. We are praying for him, that he’ll repent of his crime and accept the grace of God in rebuilding his life so that he can help others, no longer hurt them.  (It still gives me a thrill to recall and repeat that.)

If that isn’t a modern version of Jesus’ death on the cross, I don’t know what is.  “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  Just imagine what kind of world ours would be if every human being had that generous, loving, forgiving, life-giving attitude toward all others!

But that’s precisely what we said yes to when we decided to become Christians.

It’s possible, you know, that, although we were baptized and well instructed in our faith, some of us, maybe many of us, never did really decide personally to become followers of Jesus.

We learn that we’ve made that decision when we look at someone’s crime or evil act and say, “That’s probably the worst thing this person has ever done; but how much good she must also have accomplished. I pray that she will recover from this terrible decision, make amends for what she has done and move on to a good and unselfishly loving life.”

Against the background of a maze of legal nit-picking, Jesus spoke of only two laws: first, love God, your creator; the second: love everyone else, without exception.  Give extravagantly, he taught us; resolve always to forgive, not merely to punish; reward in excess of merit; let your love go beyond the requirements of justice.

It’s as if God were saying through Jesus, “You are made in my image & likeness.  And I am infinitely more than just; I am loving and merciful.  I am forgetful of your faults and always aware of your marvelous potential.  You are less likely to sense my presence in the good order of a tribunal than you are in the splendid splashes of skies and forests and the bottomless well of a mother’s love!”

The Scriptures tell of signs & wonders the early disciples were performing and observing after Jesus’ resurrection from death.  Among them there surely had to be the “miracles” of persons acting in ways that are certainly not normally human.  They were returning love for hatred, accepting hurts with patience and even cheerfulness, giving without thought to cost, forgiving with no strings attached, and rejoicing in the success of others.

People couldn’t help but notice.

The age of miracles has not passed.

Happy Easter!

HOMILY FOR 17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2015

For many years I have not been able to accept at face value the scriptural account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as a miraculous act by Jesus, a demonstration of his divine power. It sounded more like a description of magic than I thought was appropriate to ascribe to him. I settled for another, non-literal, interpretation: the idea that his preaching and his person were so full of love that they penetrated the selfishness of his hearers, who then shared with their neighbors, known and unknown, enabling all to have more than enough to eat. It seemed to me that we could still speak of it as a miracle — not a material one but a moral, spiritual one. I knew that that would be much more important than pulling rabbits (or fish and bread) out of a hat (or a basket). I have preached that interpretation for over 30 years. And then, only a few years ago, I found in the National Catholic Reporter a homily written by a Sister Mary McGlone, in which she described an event in which she was centrally involved and which was strikingly similar to the one we know from John’s gospel. Grateful to Sister Mary, I eagerly share it with you.  She described a 14-hour bus ride from Lima, Peru, on which, she said, everyone was crabby, hungry and thirsty.  And now I quote her directly —

I had one orange hidden in my otherwise depleted food pack. I realized that there was no way I could secretly peel an orange on a hot bus. I waited until I was desperate. Then I pulled out the orange and immediately felt the toddler on its Mom’s lap next to me look and lean into my seat. I peeled the orange and offered mother and child a couple of sections. People started to look at me, so I shared more. Finally, I was left with one section for myself. Then the woman in front of me said, “I have some bread, but it would make us too thirsty.”  A young man said, “I have a liter of Coke.”  Little by little, the bus became the scene of a picnic potluck, each sharing what they had hidden and receiving from one another. And it all got started with an orange.

I can’t claim that our bus ride repeated Jesus’ miracle with the loaves, but there are similarities. Everyone was hungry; no one had enough to meet the need. In Jesus’ case, one child gave all that he had. In our case, each opened up their hidden store and we found that among us there was more than enough. Interpreting both stories, it seems to me that the key is that when we give out of our scarcity, we will find that there is enough. In Paul’s words, we will be living “in a manner worthy of our call” and we will understand how the hand of the Lord feeds us.

And there’s more to the story: it doesn’t stop at the sharing of our food with others in need, especially in hard times (like a national depression) when our store is running low. No, it has also to do with the donation of our time when our schedules are stretched and packed to the point of bursting. It has to do with our speaking up in just causes when we judge that others are wiser or better informed than we are. It has to do with contributing even a few dollars to help the destitute while wealthier persons are giving millions. And so on.

The lesson is that we have to stop seeing ourselves as the source of the donation and decide instead to be the channel of a much larger donation, the source of which is the Spirit of God within us. The possibilities and the power are limitless!

So let’s face it: most of the time all we really have to offer from our own possessions is a few rolls and a couple of fish — or maybe just an orange!  But how they multiply!

HOMILY FOR 4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2015

There probably isn’t a Catholic priest anywhere who, after even a short time in ministry, cannot tell of some very remarkable happenings that followed his anointing of a seriously ill person in the Sacrament of the Sick.  Beginning with my 5 years of hospital chaplaincy in the 50s & 60s, I can testify to several.  The one that always comes to my mind in this connection is that of a young woman whom doctors had given less than 12 hours more to live.  She indicated clearly her eagerness to receive the sacrament, which I was called in to give her.  The doctors remained at her bedside to witness what I would do.  One of them was a German intern about my own age, an English-speaker.  In two previous conversations, he had expressed to me his astonishment that a young, educated man like me could believe in what he called the “unenlightened, medieval rituals” that I was practicing.

The punch line of my story is that the woman made an almost immediate and unexplained recovery and may very well be alive today.  I’m not at all sure of what actually happened that day; I’m not inclined see miracles quickly or easily.  On the contrary, I am always quite skeptical and I look for natural explanations.  I can tell you this with certainty: those doctors – there were three of them – left that woman’s room shaking their heads in total amazement!  The German intern stayed with me for a long time, wanting to talk about the incident – what really happened and what I thought it may have been.  We became friends, and all I can recall about him from that time on is that he invited me to see the Broadway production of “Porgy and Bess!”

My experience has been that what the Sacrament of the Sick bestows is a very evident peacefulness that comes to the anointed and prayed-over person.  New hope; a quiet, inner cheerfulness, often evidenced by a smile, however weak; confident acceptance of whatever may lie ahead.  In this connection, too, the memory of a specific example returned to me from the distant past.  It’s that of a carpenter friend of mine and my family, extremely ill but too young to be taken by death from his loving wife and devoted daughters.  Under the influence, I believe, of the last sacraments, he happily let go of the only life he ever knew and loved and said toward the very end that he could see and feel the arms of Jesus welcoming him to his new and eternal home.  His death, his departure, left much sadness – but not the slightest doubt about his own happiness, well-being and peace.

We can be sure that the man with the “unclean spirit” we met in the Gospel passage we just heard would today be correctly diagnosed as having a recognized and treatable disease.  He was a very sick man – period.  The limited scientific and medical knowledge of his time offered no other rationale than that an “evil spirit” had infected and overtaken his body and mind.  And we are told that Jesus cured him.  What are we to think?

Jesus was neither a scientist nor a magician.  He was the Holy One of God and completely human.  But he was a healer; he exercised an awesome power that was not called down from a distant God but called out of the depths of his own being.  He did astonishing deeds of healing, of restoration, of collaboration with nature.

To belong to Church is to be a member of his body and to share, to one degree or another, in his power.  Jesus is eager to act through any person who is willing to cooperate with him.  There are no special words or rituals we must know or employ.  In the humble strength of a whispered encouragement, the gentleness of a touch, the assurance of simply being there, the prayer uttered with or for someone in need, the blessing of unmerited forgiveness – in these and a thousand other ways, if we are willing, Jesus can and does work miracles through each of us.

I wish you a “miraculous” day!