Miracles happen. Hardly anyone disputes that. Oh, the occasional cynic will posit that there are no miracles only unexplained phenomena that one day man might figure out, but on the whole the belief in miracles seems universal. Nearly everyone has at least heard of some extraordinary event that seems to have a divine origin. Miracles are a reality of our human experience.
Sometimes these miracles are spectacular. On August 6th, 1945, a B-29 bomber, named the Enola Gay after the pilot’s mother, dropped the first atomic bomb ever unleashed on humanity on Hiroshima, Japan. The bomb was named “Little Boy” and it exploded about 600 meters above the city. The Aioi Bridge was the intended target, but the bomb drifted by about 250 meters and instead detonated directly over the Shima Hospital which was instantly vaporized by the 4,000 degree centigrade heat of the weapon. Some 80,000 people died within hours, mostly from agonizing third and fourth degree burns. Another 400,000 would parish in the weeks and months that followed either from the injuries they sustained at the time of the blast or from gamma radiation poisoning. This was not an easy death.
Eight blocks from the Shima Hospital was the Jesuit Church of Our Lady’s Assumption, where eight missionary priests resided. Miraculously, they and their church survived the blast and they suffered no ill effects from the radiation. Scientists and doctors have not been able to explain why they were not killed. The priests attributed their survival to their devotion to Our Lady and their daily practice of praying the Fatima rosary. This miracle was repeated a few days later when the priests and brothers of a Franciscan Friary established by St. Maximilian Kolbe were spared the harmful effects of radiation from the atomic bomb that fell on Nagasaki. They, too, credited their survival to the protection of Our Lady and their devotion to the rosary.
Nine days later on August 15, 1945, the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption, President Truman ordered U.S. forces to cease fire.
Fast forward to December 26th, 2004. In the Indian city of Chennai, the second cathedral ever constructed over an apostle’s tomb called the Santhome Cathedral in honor of its patron, St. Thomas, was in the path of the devastating tsunami that struck the region and killed thousands. The cathedral sits only a few meters from the ocean and while buildings and homes were destroyed all around the cathedral and a half-mile inland, the sea did not touch the church. The pastor of the Cathedral credits the intercession of St. Thomas.
Legend has it that when Thomas was in the region before his death in AD 72, a giant log fell into a nearby river and caused flooding in a small village. The local king offered his royal elephant to help remove the log, but the pachyderm was unable to move it. St. Thomas came along, removed his girdle from his waist and handed it to a man and told him to wrap it around the log and pull. Miraculously, the log easily moved and flood waters subsided from the village. Later, Thomas used part of the log to create a post. The story goes that Thomas stated that “the sea would never rise past this post.” Today, and on the day of the tsunami, a portion of that post sits atop a concrete pedestal at the top of the steps leading to Santhome Cathedral.
Moving closer to home; my wife and I recently had an encounter with a miracle that we attribute to someone who is not yet an official saint. A few months ago, we were honored to become godparents to the infant daughter of a young couple who went through the RCIA program that we help out with at our parish. The baby was born healthy; however, not long after doctors discovered that one her legs had not formed properly. It was twisted in an odd angle and the doctors told the baby’s mother that surgery would be the only option. At the urging of a friend, Mom began asking Venerable Mother Maria Luisa Josefa, who was a Carmelite sister in Mexico in the 1920s and endured the religions persecution that was common in Mexico at that time, to intercede on behalf of her daughter. Last week, our goddaughter’s mother called to tell us that her daughter’s leg straightened out. She took her daughter to the doctor, and he confirmed that the baby’s leg was now perfectly normal, and that no surgery was needed.
Yes, miracles do happen. They serve as reminders of the love our God has for us. One of the things that make them so special is their unexpected nature. We are in awe of the times when it seems that Our Lord has gone the extra mile for us. Yet as fantastic as the miracles described above may prove, how ironic that the most tremendous miracle; the one that exceeds all others in grandeur and beauty; this miracle of miracles remains completely and utterly predictable. We know when it is going to happen. We plan and prepare ourselves for it.
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” - Matthew 26:26-28
This greatest of all miracles which so often gets pushed to the ordinary resides in the Holy Mass of the Catholic Church. When the priest consecrates the simple bread and wine and it becomes the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, no other miracle can compare. Every hour of every day somewhere in the world it happens again and again. Christ communes with His people in the flesh.
If one has taken Christ into one’s heart, then the wondrous miracles that sometimes manifest themselves in one’s life are in a sense passé. If Christ can make Himself truly present in the Eucharist, then why should anyone be surprised by what else God can do out of love for His children? Of course God can deflect a nuclear blast. Of course God can hold back the ocean. Of course God can heal an infant’s malformed leg.
How merciful and patient our Lord is with His children who view the mass as a Sunday obligation to be gotten over with; who entertain distraction during the most important part of the mass; who complain about the choir singing an extra verse of the closing hymn because they want to get to coffee and doughnuts sooner. They seek the Lord in the extraordinary events that happen in the world completely overlooking the supernatural wonder that just took place in front of their very eyes.
The Lord simply shrugs His shoulders and maybe thinks to Himself, “You missed it that time? That’s okay; I’ll show you again, and again, and again.”
It happens at the same time every day or every Sunday.
This scheduled miracle.
This ultimate gift of love.
This Holy Eucharist.