Zac Efron, who I can’t say I’ve been a huge fan of, made this delightful and insightful series on Netflix with a friend of his. It’s called “Down to Earth with Zac Efron,” and it’s all about ways people are trying to live more sustainably and healthily on our planet. All well and good. I’m down with sustainability.
My wife and I were enjoying these episodes when, out of left field, one episode was at least a third about the Catholic faith, and in a good way!
In this episode, Mr. Efron and his friend have a conversation with a doctor who’s job it is to analyze the so-called miracles that happen at Lourdes.
A little background: Lourdes is a very special place for many Catholics. As the story goes, the Virgin Mary appeared to a girl there. Among other things, Mary told her to start digging at a certain spot. As she did, water started bubbling up from the ground. This water was soon given to medical patients and many were said to be healed by it. Today, thousands, if not millions, flock to the site for miraculous healing.
Back to the doctor. He explained that most alleged miracles at Lourdes don’t make it past his rigorous screening process. But he pulled out one that turned out to be, from what he could tell, authentic.
A man had had his left leg, at the pelvis, eroded by cancer. It was attached “only by skin and muscles.” Still in his cast, he was bathed in the waters of Lourdes. As he was pulled up, he said, “I have no pain,” and he immediately felt his leg to be firm and solid. The healing of his leg happened immediately.
You can see the stunned look on their faces as they listen to the doctor and look at the before and after x-rays of the healed man. In a later episode, my good Catholic wife pointed out that the two hosts of the show had what looked like bracelets from Lourdes around their wrists. I guess it made an impression. (We’re praying for you, Zac)
This doctor is not the only one studying purported miracles. The Vatican will send relevant documents, x-rays, etc. to medical professionals to verify whether a miracle really happened. Jacalyn Duffin, an atheist, is one of these professionals who was tapped by the Vatican to look into one that would later be presented as cause for the canonization of Marie-Marguerite d’Youville, the founder of the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal.
After that incident, Dr. Duffin was so fascinated by this that she gained permission to go through the Secret Vatican Archives and the Vatican library to analyze other miracles stories over the last 400 years. She now holds a skepticism about the notion that everything can only have natural explanations. She seems to consider that idea a dogma as much as anything else.
Another story: many years ago there was a child who, when he was born, was given the wrong silver nitrate solution in his eyes. Instead of a 1% solution, it was a 50% solution, which could bore a hole through solid wood and had been in the infants eyes for two hours before anybody knew something was wrong. The child’s sight was absolutely destroyed.
But the Catholic sisters who worked at the hospital prayed for the boy all night, begging their late foundress who had died three years before to pray to God on behalf of the boy.
The next morning, a doctor came in to see the damage done, but when he pulled back the eyelids of the little boy, he saw two beautiful newborn eyes looking back at him.
That boy grew up to be a priest and died as recently as 2002. (link)
I could tell a thousand more stories. People are in need. They pray to God. God answers with a miracle.
It doesn’t happen all the time. God doesn’t heal every man’s cancer or every newborn baby’s ailment (even though in faith, I know everyone who turns to God will be healed, whether in this life or the next).
Why do I tell these stories? Because miracles are part of what ground my faith. Jesus fully meant for his miracles to have the same effect on the people he spoke to. Atheists or modern thinkers often brush them aside. But why? Part of me thinks that attitude only betrays a kind of intellectual prejudice or bias. These miracles are documented. They are attested to by witnesses.
There’s good reason for bringing forth a miracle as proof of the truth of Christianity and not some philosophical argument (however useful those can be). It goes back to what I said in my previous post. The God of Christianity is a God who is there. He’s the God that showed up. Miracles are part of how he shows up.
Arguments melt away at the point of a miracle. We can discuss the problem of evil existing alongside a benevolent God. We can banter about the creation story and whether it’s myth or literal and what that says or doesn’t say about the Bible and science.We can philosophize about a contingent universe, the Big Bang, and what that says about the existence of God. But miracles cut through all that.
Think of it this way. Imagine we suddenly discovered tomorrow an animal out in the wild that was the size and shape of an elephant, but it could float in the air – no wings, no aerodynamics, nothing. It can just float there like a Sky Bison. It wouldn’t matter how many arguments we muster to explain why such a thing can’t happen. It happened. Now we get the joy of figuring out why.
The little boy’s eyes were healed. The man’s cancerous leg suddenly worked. The tsunami stopped right where the congregation was praying before the blessed sacrament. The man was crucified and then came back to life three days later.
You can do what you want with that, I guess. For my part, I’ll believe.
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