Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Reality of the Miraculous - Homily for the Epiphany Sunday

God guides those who seek him. He is always, always guiding us. We see this today with the Magi and the Star. God wants to be found. It is as though we can hear the star anticipating the words of Jesus: “seek and you shall find.”
            God has always guided those who sought him. In the Old Testament, we see God guiding the Israelites through Egypt by the Pillar of Fire. God guides Israel by the voice of the prophets. God guides again in His Son whose simple message is to “follow me”—to follow not just the star, but me.
            And we find that it is reasonable to follow Jesus. He gives us reasons to: He turns water into wine; He walks on water; He heals the sick. All the elements testified that He is God and their creator. I love what St. Gregory had to say here:
“All the elements testified that their Creator was come. The heavens acknowledged Him to be God, and so they sent the star. The sea knew Him, for it suffered Him to walk upon it. The earth knew Him, for, when He died, it trembled. The sun knew Him, for he hid his rays. The rocks and stones knew Him, for they were rent asunder. Hell knew Him, for it gave up the dead that were in it. And yet Him, whom all the senseless elements felt to be the Lord, the hearts of the unbelieving … [do not acknowledge] to be God, and, harder than the… stones, they will not be broken by repentance.”
            Yes, it can be said that God’s language is to be found. He presents Himself to be found. And by a thousand miracles He guides the way, giving reasons to follow.
            But, for one reason or another, skepticism and doubt creeps in. Maybe it happens after the death of a loved one or when we see suffering. Maybe it happens after a great evil occurs. Maybe the example of others scandalizes us. Perhaps the doubt creeps in because of simple neglect of faith or ignorance. No matter the reason, the result is that we can forget the star. And, like the rest of Jerusalem, we go about our usual business.
            Yes, only the Magi followed the star—and they alone.

            Some might say, “Well, I have no star in my life. God hasn’t moved heaven and earth for me…” Are you so sure?
            I am convinced that the world is full of miracles. And history attests to this. Because, you see, the miracles didn’t stop with Jesus. They continue:
            -- We see people walking in Peter’s shadow. And they are healed. Not Jesus’ shadow. Peter’s.
            -- There are the “incorrupts.” These are the men and women who were canonized saints. During the process of canonization, they were excavated from their graves and were found not to have decomposed one bit. How is this explained? I particularly like the miracle of St. Januarius. A vial of his blood liquefies unexplainably three times a year. It’s been doing this since about 300AD.
            -- Throughout history, we have seen many Eucharistic miracles. In Laciano, Italy, for example, in 700AD, a priest consecrated the bread and wine at Mass, which became the Body and Blood of Christ. But, instead of remaining under the appearance of bread and wine, they visibly changed into tissue and blood. Science verified this and confirmed that the species is of the human heart.
            -- In 1531, Mary appeared to a Mexican named Juan Diego. Long story short: a miraculous image appears on his clothing, a tilma made of cactus pulp. Ordinarily, this would have disintegrated after 20 years. We are over 480 years now and it is still intact. Not only that, but scientists have examined the tilma and have found many peculiarities: they don’t know why it is still intact; they don’t know how it was painted; and they have verified something amazing: if you were to take a microscope and look in the eye of the Blessed Mother in the image, you would find 13 small figures. They are the reflections of those who were in the room as the tilma was unfurled. This is not a religious belief but an observation of science.
            -- In 1854, Mary once more appeared to a poor girl in Lourdes, France. Long story short, this girl, Bernadette, was to dig into the earth with her hands. A spring bubbled up where she dug. The waters have been miraculous; science has verified thousands upon thousands of miraculous healings from this water.
            -- In 1917—in this last century—three children claimed that Mary was visiting them. They told people and said that Mary was going to show them an amazing celestial event on a particular day. Over 70,000 people gathered to see what would happen. It poured down rain. And then the sun came out, danced, appeared to plummet to earth, and then returned to its normal state. Everyone—and they were not all Catholic—observed this. And miraculously, everyone’s clothes were dry. 40km away, the event was observed. And the secular newspaper of the area—O Seculo—noted for its anti-Catholic tendencies, reported the historicity of the event. The predicted event was verified by science.
            -- In our own lives, we see many miracles. Maybe the miracle of a paralyzed man walking again; the birth of a child; the near-miss on the highway, … In my own life, I have seen many miracles. Just this past week, I anointed someone who was dying. She was fairly comatose and hadn’t opened her eyes in a while. After anointing her and praying with her, she opened her eyes. Her family, which was gathered all around, noticed this. After I was done praying, they told me how this was amazing to them. How they could tell that she was seeing something, responding to the prayers and to someone in the room whom they couldn’t see, but she could. Yes, God continues to guide.
            But one person in the room had a little seed of doubt. “Maybe it was the chemicals or something.” The family member couldn’t give himself entirely to God’s presence at work. He had to reduce it to chemicals. Now, I didn’t respond. But I wanted to. I would have said something like, “sure: it might be some chemical in the body that is responding right now at this particular moment. But don’t you find it odd that it should happen now? And wouldn’t it make sense that God would so ordain the body that such a chemical might respond now so that we might look to Him now? Maybe there is someone behind the chemical that is trying to get our attention.”
Science can verify religion’s claim. Science and religion are not enemies. Science can point to the truth-claims of religion; and in religion, science finds its fulfillment.       
            But let’s be honest. More and more people are becoming atheists. And many are scientifically minded. But this strikes me as interesting: because basic science says that one should wait until the experiment is over until one draws conclusions. In the case of the atheist, the atheist has already drawn the conclusion: God does not exist. But they have done so despite limited knowledge and without the life-experiment having come to its completion. They make their conclusion too soon.
            But I will also admit: for many people, the existence of God is not merely an intellectual issue. It is an emotional one. And it all boils down to a question: Does God love me?
            Again and again, I hear people say: "Father, when it comes to God, I feel absolutely nothing. Some people “feel” God, but I don’t. I pray my heart out, but nothing happens." … This is the heart of the scientist, isn’t it? They are looking for verifiable observations.
            Some go so far as to question whether or not they could be loved by anyone at all. This is the creeping doubt that results.
            A priest responded in a letter to one such person. Here is what he said:
Dear Friend,

If the world had its way, there would be no roses. There would be pavement and businesses and a sea of cars busily traveling to and fro, hurriedly seeking out the latest fad and the next-best-thing. The reality is: today, people have forgotten about the roses.

How can a rose get the world's attention? I don't know that it can. The problem, then, is not with the rose. The problem is with the world. The world around us does not give its attention to the things to which it should be giving its attention. And if the roses had feelings, they would probably be feeling the way you do: abandoned, alone, and wondering why no one pays attention to her.

But you are a rose.

Someday, the world will rediscover the beauty of roses. In the meantime, the roses must remain strong and beautiful, soaking in the sun and the rain alike. The roses must not wilt, for what a tragedy it would be if the world should want to discover roses again, only to find that the roses have wilted! No, the rose must continue to bloom: it must continue to believe itself to be beautiful. And that they are loved.

And you are.

I will tell you, my dear: you need not seek the attention of the world. Seek the attention of the one who created roses in the first place. Now, I know that you often doubt the goodness or the attentiveness of God…. But doesn't that make you like the world that has forgotten the goodness rose?

Don't be like the rest of the world that has forgotten the beautiful things around it!–
else you have become just like the rest of the world that doesn't pay attention to you! Pay attention to that small, abandoned one that no one pays attention to. And who is that small, abandoned one? It is God. He is there in the corner, forgotten by the world-- just like you. Just like the roses.

I know that you want God to make you feel all warm and excited inside. But that is not how God is going to get your attention.  You see, God is going to get your attention in much the same way that roses get our attention: by inviting us to come closer. You see, my friend, we cannot discover the treasure of a rose—that is, its beautiful fragrance—by observing from a distance. We have to press our nose real close and close our eyes.

 If you, of all people, refuse to attend to Him who is so much like you, then how should we expect the world to notice Him-- and, also, you?—much less, a rose.
Remember my dear, only three kings followed the star. The rest of the world ignored it.

You have God's attention.

That you should not feel Him is not a sign that He is not there. Think about it for a moment: if people don't "feel" your presence it isn’t a sign that you aren't there-- is it? Of course you are there! And so is He. Therefore, like those whose attention we wish to have, we must become more attentive to the God who is in our midst, but who we often overlook—like the roses.

It is easy to overlook Him because we expect Him to give us good feelings. This is one of the reasons why people overlook us: we don't give them that immediate rush of feel-good-ness. It takes work to get to know us. And in a face paced, microwaveable world of give-it-to-me-now, people don't want to do the work, so they don't get to know us. The same can be said of God: it takes work to get to know him. But because people don't want to work at knowing Him, they promptly give up.

Remember: Jesus compares our discovery of God to be like finding a buried treasure. 

At the same time, Jesus encourages us: "seek and you shall find!"

How interesting! You and Jesus are both like buried treasure! Maybe you have more in common with Him than you think! And if you are like Him, wouldn't that make Him love you more? Maybe we need to remember that and bring that buried treasure to the surface of our awareness: that we are so close to Him and that He treasures us and He wants us to keep looking for Him. For we are His buried treasure-- which means He is looking for us!
Did you know that? That God is looking for you? And that you have treasure to bring to him?

You have gold within you. Frankinsence. And myrrh. You have gifts to bring.

Again, you might not feel it. But take your own experience: you are searching frantically for love and for God. God is searching even more for you. That is why he gives you a star. That is why he gives you the example of the saints. And all the miracles of history. Even the small miracles of every day life: like breathing, laughing, and roses.

How will He find you? How will you find Him? It's not a matter of how, but of when. In the meantime, you continue to call out to Him and to be the beautiful rose He has made you to be. There will come a day when you realize that He's found you and that you've found Him.

And then you'll realize too: He's been there with you, in you, alongside you all the time. The whole time. Even now.

Yes, the Lord does love us. He wants us to find Him. That is why He gave the Magi a star. That is why He gives us a thousand little miracles in the course of a day—if only we would seek them!
And so, if you are 16 or 60 and doubting God, I say to you: give Him some time. Give yourself some time to finish this experiment.
To the 16 year old, I say that someday you will see the miracle of life: the birth of a child. You will fall in love and your views will change.
To the 60 year old, I say that someday you will see the miracle of life: heavenly life. You will fall in love and your views will change.
Aren’t these themsleves reasons that we should hold off on the doubt for now?—for we haven’t seen it all yet. Let God show you some things. Let Him give you a star. Let Him show you a miracle or two.
And seek that star out. Look for the miracle. For God has promised: “Seek. And you will find.”

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