Miraculous Signs

tabgha loaves fishes multiplication mosaic

They all ate and were satisfied. (Matthew 14:20)

This verse, perhaps more than any other, has given rise to the widespread misconception that Jesus Christ was Italian.

But let’s rejoice in the wonderful God-incidence that sees us reading about the Feeding of the 5,000 at Holy Mass today. We would have read this passage at Mass yesterday, had not August 6, and the Feast of the Transfiguration, come along and supplanted the readings for the 18th Sunday of Year A. Which might have proven vaguely awkward for us this coming Sunday, when we will read the sequel, Matthew 14:22-33.

…Why did the Lord Jesus work miracles, like multiplying the five loaves and two fish?

To show us that the Father had sent Him as the promised Messiah. To inspire us to believe in Him, and in the Kingdom of Heaven that he has brought to the earth.

In other words, Christ did not work magic tricks; he made miraculous signs. Signs of the greatest miracle of all, namely that we mortal and sinful lumps of clay can look forward to eternal bliss.

The particular miracle of the multiplication of the loaves signified something in particular. We read: “He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves, He said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples.”

He said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to His disciples. Sounds familiar. Sounds like…Holy Mass/the Eucharist/the Bread that does not, cannot, and never will run out.

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Four Feeding 5,000s

Your unworthy servant at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves on the Sea of Galilee
Your unworthy servant at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves on the Sea of Galilee (back in ’08)

…Speaking of the idiosyncratic ancient manuscripts that make up our beloved Bible…

Reading St. John’s account of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, like we do at Holy Mass today, gives us particular satisfaction.

All four holy gospels recount this miracle, and only this one. Yes, all four gospels tell us about Jesus healing blind people. But in each instance, it’s different blind people. And, yes, of course all four gospels tell us that Jesus rose from the dead. But they recount different appearances of Christ after He rose.

So the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 binds the four gospels together. This miracle is like a strand of golden twine that ties the four books into a single bundle. Must be uniquely important, then, this miracle.

God fed the wandering Israelites with manna from heaven, as Moses led them through the desert to the Promised Land. And, of course, God continues to feed us wanderers with the Bread of sincerity and truth, which we receive from the holy altar of Christ’s sacrifice.

So maybe we can say: The miraculous feeding of the 5,000 offers us the best-possible image of God providing for His beloved people. The moment gives us the singularly vivid picture of Divine Providence. If we can imagine and meditate on the miraculous feeding, then we can begin to grasp how we fit as individuals into the grand divine design.

In his account, St. John tells us what time of year it was. Passover was near. Early spring.

The grand divine design involves our having a springtime picnic together, a picnic that will last forever. He provides the food.

Happy Candlemas Day!

tjefferson

I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. –John F. Kennedy, White House dinner for Nobel laureates, 1962

From the First-Black-President (Clinton)/First-Catholic-President (George W. Bush)/First-Gay-President (Obama) File…

Tomorrow’s school homily, aimed at 21st-century Catholics, as opposed to old-fashioned doubters, like Thomas Jefferson:

Last week the second grade wowed me with their knowledge of our Lord’s miracles. In the gospel passage, we hear about Him working not one, but two miracles, including raising a young girl from the dead.

Why did Jesus work miracles? After all, He did not come to the earth to eradicate all illness and suffering. There is still plenty of illness and suffering. But He healed some people during His earthly pilgrimage in order to show us two crucial things:

1. That He is all-powerful. That He possesses the omnipotence of Almighty God. Jesus Christ is no mere man; He is the God-man.

2. But He showed not just raw power with the miracles He worked. Actually, He shrank from conspicuous displays. He didn’t want to wow people like a magician. He worked the particular miracles which He worked because He wants us to believe in Him, and He wants us to believe in something in particular about Him.

Russell Wilson lossTherefore, Christ only worked one particular kind of miracle. He never made huge boulders levitate, or turned people into toads, or made lightning strike His enemies. He only worked miracles that helped people–especially weak, poor, suffering people.

This is because He wanted to reveal that all the divine omnipotence, all the power that made the heavens and the earth—He wanted to reveal that it all has one goal: namely, our well-being. The infinite power of God is a special kind of power. It is love. The miracles of Christ are not just miracles of supernatural stunning-ness. They are miracles of pure, selfless love.

Which means, having read the gospels with open minds, we can settle a question which plagued one of our great forefathers here in our beloved state of Virginia.

In 1781, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Our numberless afflictions make it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath.”

In other words: Is our life a blessing or a curse?

The idea that life is easy, or 100% fun, or pleasant all the time, or a cake walk—all you have to do is ask Pete Carroll or Russell Wilson, and they will tell you that life involves some afflictions.

So the $10,000 question is: Taking all the difficulties of life into account, does God have a plan for it all? A plan which, in the end, involves a good outcome? Is God mean, or is He kind?

Left to ourselves, we wouldn’t know the answer. We would be stuck like Thomas Jefferson was stuck. But Jesus has shown us the truth. Jesus endured the most cruel afflictions Himself in order to show us that: God is love.

When Someone with a Beautiful Smile Dies

The Lord Jesus came to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. He came to raise our eyes to heaven, to lift us above petty conflicts, above the struggles of day-to-day life. He came to open up the ultimate reality: God loves us, provides for us. And He longs, above all, to welcome us into His embrace in heaven.

tombstone crossChrist exercised His power to cure diseases and handicaps. While He walked the earth, He showed the depths of the divine love by healing and helping people.

At the end of His pilgrimage, He conquered death. He died and rose again. By doing this, He showed His even-greater power of healing our mortality altogether. God took our mortal flesh to Himself in order to transform it into something other than a lump of clay that sooner or later runs out of steam. Christ has the infinite divine life to give. A day will come when all the dead will rise.

The miracles the Lord worked while He was on earth beckon us to have faith in His promises of heaven. And He Himself did everything necessary so that we could have the help we need to believe. In order for us to believe in heaven, we need grace from heaven. Jesus won that grace of faith for us by suffering and dying for us on the cross.

Now, all of these sublime realities confront us when we say goodbye to a beloved friend who has died. Recently, in Rocky Mount, Va., we lost a parishioner with an unforgettable smile. We cannot think that the Lord adorned the earth with that smile, only to remove it forever by death. No.

In Christ, the Almighty has smiled on us. We can, therefore, stand firm in the truth that we will see our loved ones who have died again. We say goodbye. But the goodbye is just for now, not forever. The Day of the Lord will come, and death will be no more.

Completing the Prophets’ Picture

The saints who wrote the four holy gospels had an enormous task, namely to present to us the Person of Jesus Christ, the God-man.

The evangelists’ primary literary means for doing this was to recount the ways in which Christ fulfilled all the prophecies that had foretold His coming.

The prophecies express the beautiful vision of salvation. And yet, the picture does not come fully clear in the Old Testament books. Only when they were fulfilled in Christ did the meaning of the prophecies fully emerge.

The evangelists grasped this, and wrote their books in order to complete the Bible, to make the Old Testament make sense by writing the New.

The vision of the prophets included the healing of the blind and deaf, and many other miraculous works which transcend the fallen state of created nature.

Above all, the prophets foresaw the New Covenant as a whole: the state of reconciliation and friendship between sinners and the Creator, Who had previously been justly offended by sin.

This is why the four evangelists narrate the miracles worked by Christ as a series of preludes, leading up to the miracle of His death and resurrection. Faith in the New Covenant made in Christ’s blood is the ultimate miracle. It is the miracle of the restoration of the original friendship between God and man. This friendship, which we have by faith in Christ, is itself the foundation of all the many other gifts of the Creator, like sight and hearing, knowledge and wisdom.

Provocation to Humility

Mt. Precipice, Nazareth

Jesus said, “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.

“Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. (Luke 4:25-29)

Last Sunday we read that the Lord Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and announced to the faithful Jews in His hometown that He is the Messiah.

We might think that this dramatic revelation would have led to immediate euphoria. We might think that, when the Messiah revealed Himself to the people who had known Him since He was a boy, everybody would have believed, and rejoiced, and smiled, and hugged, and said nice things about each other.

But this is not what happened. The people in the synagogue doubted. “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

Continue reading “Provocation to Humility”

The Sea Christ Sailed (and Walked on)

Mary Ann pics 3 020

Today we visited the sites of Upper Galilee.

There is a church built over the stone where the Lord set five loaves and two fish–before He multiplied them and fed 5,000 men and their families. The place is known as Tagbha, and the German Benedictine fathers have built an absolutely beautiful church, where we prayed.

Mary Ann pics 3 009
On the Mount of the Sermon
We ascended the Mount of “Sermon on the Mount.”

At the top is a Barluzzi church dedicated to the Beatitudes. We celebrated Holy Mass in the crypt and then strolled through the beautiful gardens.

A short distance away, we visited the Church of the Primacy of Peter. This church encloses the Mensa Christi, Christ’s Table, where the Lord cooked fish for some of the Apostles after He rose from the dead.

We were at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Some of the pilgrims waded in and collected water, stones, and shells to bring to back home.

Mary Ann pics 3 015

Then we went to eat some fish caught in the Sea of Galilee. The fish were served with their heads. We played with the heads, using them as ventriloquist dummies.

After lunch, we took a breezy boatride, looking at the the entire Sea of Galilee—the scene our Lord Himself gazed upon two millennia ago.

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Synagogue in Capernaum
After the boatride, we visited the excavated town of Capernaum. We saw the ruins of the house of St. Peter, where the Lord Jesus lived for long periods of time and worked miracles.

We sat and meditated in the reconstructed ancient synagogue, built on the foundations of the synagogue where the Lord Jesus taught.

Mary Ann pics 3 017

Disputable Articles

a rod review
Look, I was AIMING for that camera!

The big ecclesiastical news of the past month is that Pope Benedict intends to make it easy for Anglicans to come into full communion with the Church.

Entire Anglican parishes–even dioceses–will be able to unite fully with the Pope while retaining some distinctive Anglican practices.

book common prayerWhich brings us to the Book of Common Prayer, the Anglican liturgical prayerbook.

This book was a companion of mine for years, before my reception into the R.C. Church in 1993.

The Book of Common Prayer book was originally published by the Protestant bishops in England in 1549. It has undergone a number of revisions. Different Anglicans use different editions.

The Preface to the edition published by the Episcopal bishops in the new United States in 1789 concludes with an exhortation about the use of the prayerbook:

It is hoped that [this book] will be received and examined by every true member of our Church, and every sincere Christian, with a meek, candid, and charitable frame of mind; without prejudice or prepossessions; seriously considering what Christianity is, and what the truths of the Gospel are; and earnestly beseeching Almighty God to accompany with his blessing every endeavor for promulgating them to mankind in the clearest, plainest, most affecting and majestic manner, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Savior.

Granted, this is a thoroughly edifying sentence. But the book contains errors.

The book features only two of the seven sacraments. The prayers in this book do not honor the Blessed Virgin or any of the saints, and the rules prohibit praying for the souls in Purgatory.

The book does not include prayers for the Pope.

The book systematically refuses to express that the Holy Mass is the sacrifice of Christ and that He is truly present–Body, Blood, soul, and divinity–in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. The book requires that the chalice be offered to the people.

The Church embraces many styles of ceremony for the celebration of Her faith. But there is only ONE faith, the Catholic faith.

st-augustine
St. Augustine
The faith is expressed in the teaching of the Popes and Councils, including the Council of Trent. Parts of the Book of Common Prayer were originally published precisely to contradict the teachings of the Council of Trent.

The Book of Common Prayer was edited for use as a Catholic liturgical prayerbook in 2003. The errors of doctrine were fixed. The revised book is called the “Book of Divine Worship” (this link takes a long time to load).

Apparently, a few Anglican-use Catholic parishes already use this revised prayerbook. Perhaps this version will be the book used in all Anglican-use churches.

…Last Sunday I published a silly little sermon about miracles. I tried explain that the Lord Jesus worked miracles not for the sake of working miracles, but for the sake of communicating the mystery of the Kingdom of God. In other words, His miracles were signs, as St. John called them in his gospel.

Anyway: St. Augustine explains this much better in the first part of his Sermon 98

Tough loss for the Caps this evening. Bad news: After a fisticuffs, Ovechkin left the ice with an undisclosed “upper body” injury.

ovechkin scuffle

Praying for Miracles

hot-dog

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”

And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”

…Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

Immediately he received his sight… (Luke 10:46-49, 52)

This is what happened when the Lord Jesus was leaving Jericho. In two and a half weeks, I will be entering Jericho myself.

The blind man had the sense to cry out to the Lord, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” The blind man persevered and kept calling for help even when they tried to make him stop.

We pilgrims are going to the Holy Land to cry out like Bartimaeus, to beg the Lord to have pity on us, to ask God to do good things for us and help us.

maerati(If you have any particular intention for which you would especially like me to pray, write it down on in the comment box, and I will carry it with me to Israel.)

Bartimaeus had the faith and the courage to ask the Lord for what he wanted. He wanted to see—which is a reasonable enough thing to want. Most of us take it for granted. It’s not like Bartimaeus was asking for something extravagant, like an Xbox or a Maserati.

Continue reading “Praying for Miracles”