Thoughts on a gorgeous afternoon at summer’s end:
Recently someone said to me, and I’m certain it was meant as encouragement, “You know, Paul, if you believe in miracles you won’t be upset by the things medical science has to say about brain cancer.”
No doubt about it, I agree completely. I’ve met people who believe in miracles and, truly, I can’t imagine them being troubled by any doctor’s prognosis. A bad prognosis only seems to make them more convinced there’s a healing around the bend. Come to think of it, I sometimes feel that people who believe in miracles hold medicine in contempt. To paraphrase President Reagan, they’re convinced that “medicine can’t solve your health problems, medicine is your health problem.” To those who believe in miracles, a doctor or nurse is just one more ‘Gloomy Gus’ who brings on disease by expecting it.
So, we’re left with the question, “Do I believe in miracles?”
First of all, I want to point out that there’s a difference between asking me, “Do you believe miracles happen?” and “Do you believe in miracles?” I absolutely believe miracles happen and I spend time every day thinking about how delighted we would all be if a miracle cured Pam’s cancer; but that’s a different matter entirely than believing in miracles. People who believe in miracles root their faith in the miraculous. Their confidence in Providence, their hope for justification, the very substance of their prayer is an outgrowth of their conviction that God works miracles. This conviction inevitably leads to the conviction that ‘God will work a miracle in my life’ and then, finally, to the spiritual dead-end of thinking that ‘God will work a miracle in my life … if I have faith.’
Let us say, for example, that you were to arrive at our home with a barrel of water from Medjugorje. Suppose you instructed Pamela to bathe herself seven times in the water and told us that if she did she would be cancer free from then on. How do you suppose I would respond? Chances are I’d advise Pam to give it a shot, “We’re already doing extraordinary things for your health,” I might tell her, “what’s the harm in doing something so simple as washing?”
Extending the supposition further, let’s say Pam did what you said and was, as you foretold, cancer free from then on. I promise you, I would never hesitate to say that a miracle had happened before my eyes and I would never deny that the miracle was caused by the waters of Medjugorje. I’d say all that — but I wouldn’t believe in miracles.
I don’t believe in miracles because I already believe in something better, something more believable. I believe in the mercy of God. I believe in the power of repentance. I believe in the cross of Jesus. I believe in the Eucharist. I believe in the universal solidarity of humankind. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. I could have a miracle happen in my life, or I could have a thousand or I could have none — it won’t affect my faith up or down.
Well, this post reeks of religion already, so — if you’re still reading — you probably figure I’m going to drop some gospel on you, and I will. My Bible is marked, chapter and verse, and I’m ready to go — so watch out!
Here it is: Jesus said to the scribes and the Pharisees, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say to this paralytic here, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Lk 5, 23)
So, we move away from the question, “Do I believe in miracles?” to the question, “Which is easier…?” The easier task, I shall tell you, is the one that’s less important — and I detect confusion among believers as to which of the two is of real value.
Pam is taking a walk with Jesus; so am I; so are you. If you don’t know where we’re walking, I shall tell you — we’re all walking up Calvary Hill. We’re closing in on the source of mercy, the source of reconciliation, the source of joy. What do you suppose joy is? A healthy body? A happy family? Is it financial security? Is it freedom from difficulty? Is it … after you die?
When people pray, how many times are they praying for a miracle? Maybe a big miracle like cancer remission, maybe a little miracle like money to pay the electric bill. We’re geared up to praise God when He comes through with the miracle. That’s what we do; but is it what we should do?
My prayer is to keep my eyes focused on what’s really important. Pam is really important. Her cancer, on the other hand, isn’t worth me getting upset — not if getting upset takes my attention away from her. My prayer is to see Pam as God sees her, to love her as God loves her, to fix my hopes for her where God fixes His hopes for her.
It wouldn’t bring me any closer to joy if I learned to believe in miracles but neglected to find a way to believe in her.
That’s it for now,