Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Science of Love and Miracles - Homily for the Epiphany (A)

Do you know the story of Segatashya of Kibeho?  (Say that three times fast!) Segatashya of Kibeho.

Recently, I was at dinner with a wonderful family and, sometime in the middle of dinner, the mom brought up the book she had been reading: The Boy Who Met Jesus. It’s the story of Segatashya of Kibeho, a young boy who lived before the Rwandan genocide. He came from a pagan family and he had never heard of Jesus; never knew Him, never stepped foot in a church. One day, while the young boy was sitting under a tree, a young man visited him. His name was Jesus—The Jesus. Segatashya was having a vision—much like St. Paul.

Long story short, Segatashya would have many more visions and conversations with Jesus. The young boy’s family would find out. So too would the villagers. And they would bring others to see if the young boy would have another vision. Eventually, doctors and scientists would come to the scene. And there’s a story where, as Segatashya was conversing with Jesus, one of them put an entire needle through his body—but the boy miraculously did not move; he didn’t feel a thing. There are more miracles to mention here and it may all sound fantastical. But scientists and the Church together instigated this matter. And while science could not come to an explanation, the Church approved the visions as of supernatural origin—that is, miraculous.

As our dinner continued, we talked about more miracles in the Church and their connection to science.

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For example, there are miracles involving the Eucharist, like that of the miracle at Lanciano in the 700s. There, in the small Italian village, during Holy Mass, the bread and wine turned into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus-- just like it will today here. However, unlike most Holy Masses where we cannot see that change, in Lanciano, people could see the change: in the chalice, the blood had coagulated; the host appeared as flesh. That's pretty miraculous. What's more, scientists investigated the matter—in the 20th century—which is itself miraculous that these elements had lasted 1300 years. After the scientific investigation, the scientists concluded that the blood from the miracle at Lanciano was truly human blood and that the flesh really was human flesh—and, specifically, that it came from the muscle of the human heart.

That’s just one of the Eucharistic miracles. There's Orvieto in the 1200s (from which we get the Corpus Christi Mass); Santarem in the 1300s; Siena in the 1700s. All of these left physical evidence which is verifiable by personal visit and by science.

And not just Eucharistic Miracles, but other ones as well.

For example, a young man named Juan Diego, who lived near Mexico City, approached the local bishop (with much hesitation, mind you), to tell him that the Virgin Mary was appearing to him. And that this wasn’t just any apparition, but Mary’s image was emblazoned on his tilma. This tilma—that is, the outer garment made of cactus pulp and which ordinarily would have deteriorated in 20 years—still remains intact today, nearly 500 years after the event. Scientists were invited to investigate this miraculous tilma and could not explain not only how it still exists, but how it was painted. They also verified that the stars of Mary’s cloak actually depict the constellations of stars as you would have seen them on that night of the vision (December 12th, 1531). And here’s the kicker: the stars on the cloak are not as if you looked up in the sky, but as if you were from God’s perspective looking down. Scientists also verified, using a high-powered microscope, that in Mary’s eyes, there is the reflection of everyone who was in the room (including the bishop) when Juan Diego unfurled the tilma. Science was at a loss at how to explain this.

There's Lourdes, 300 years later, how a poor girl, Bernadette, was visited by Mary. How scientists put a candle under Bernadette’s hands during the apparitions to verify the authenticity and how she felt nothing. How a miraculous spring came forth, a spring that has since cured thousands—and with scientific and doctors’ verification.

There's Fatima in 1917, how 70,000 people—and not just believers, but atheists too—witnessed the miracle of the sun. And how people even many miles away, who knew nothing of the apparitions, witnessed the miracle too.

So many miracles….

And then, as we were discussing all of this at dinner, someone asked a rhetorical question: with so many miracles, why would a person remain as an atheist?

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Of course, I have encountered many atheists and I have my list reasons. But I think our Solemnity today—the Epiphany—helps us with two of those reasons.

On the one hand, we see Herod and the Three Kings. All of them see the miracle of the star. For Herod, he dismisses this event out of hand. And who knows why. But for the three kings, they approach with wonder. Now, these three kings aren’t fools; they’re not fundamentalists or crazies. They are wise men, not wise guys. They want to know the Truth of things. This is the first reason of some people's atheism: for whatever reason, Herod has lost his sense of wonder and, subsequently, a loss of the pursuit of Truth. Or perhaps he never had it. Perhaps this was the moment that God was trying to give Herod wonder and a new lease of life.

On the other hand, I know of many atheists that have had wonder, but have fallen away from the faith. One of the reasons why is that they have been hurt or scandalized by those claiming to believe in miracles—that is, by Catholics (including priests). On multiple occasions, I’ve heard people say, “If you say that there is a miracle at Holy Mass—that bread and wine change into God—and that you literally receive God and all of His powerful love into your being, if you believe that, then aren’t you supposed to be changed by that?... I’ve seen many Catholics who go into Mass and come out of Mass the same kind of person—the bad kind. Why do I need that?”

And that’s a valid question, I think. Because, you see, whether atheists know it or not—and whether we know it or not—they are doing an experiment on us. 

They are asking where our wonder is. They are asking about our belief in the miraculous. They are looking at our lives and what we say we believe and they ask: “Ok, if that’s so, then where are the miracles of love?” "This is my experiment: if the miraculous is happening at your Mass as you say it is, then where is the proof?"

The proof is supposed to be how we live. We are supposed to be different.

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After all, back in the Three Kings' pagan country, who is going to believe the Kings' story if the Kings return with just the same life as when they left? If the Three Kings  really met the King of the Universe and it was miraculous, then shouldn't they be just a little different?

After all, who from that country is going to travel the thousand miles they did? Who else could verify the origin of the star? No one but The Kings. Which means that the country would have to trust the words of The Kings. And the only way they could trust The Kings’ words was if The Kings’ lives were different than when they had left.

Which it was. It says they "went home by a different route."

The Kings had approached the baby Jesus—who is God and whose divinity and glory are just as hidden and just as small as the Eucharist here-- they had approached Him and opened their treasures just as we open our hearts here at Mass. And, like us, they say "Here is my gift, small as it is, I bring it to your feet."

And Jesus does not send them away empty-handed. The Kings receive new treasures: the gift of The Truth; the gift of divine grace to strengthen them in Charity; the gift of New Life. In other words, The Kings receive Jesus!-- the very same gift we receive here at this Holy Mass!

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Did we come here expecting miracles? Did we come with wonder? Do we believe that we receive treasures here?… Will we go home by a different route—that is, will others see our change?

The world needs to see this divine light in us—for “you are the light of the world” says the Lord! We must be different! We must be like the Three Kings whose miracle of a new, loving life is the proof that miracles indeed happened at this Mass.

How do we do that? What does it look like to be one of the Three Kings in the pagan land of the East?

We need to be the first ones to forgive—especially to our children and our families. In ancient times, people converted to Christianity in droves because they saw how lovingly Christians treated their families. I know family is often the hardest to love, but as Christians they must be the first we love—and receive the best of our love. We must believe in that miracle and we must be the first to open that treasure.

We need to be first who are open to life. And not simply telling others not to have abortions. We need to believe in the miracle that God is going to provide for our families and that we can open the treasure of our fertility and family planning to the care of God. We must be different here—while all the world is contracepting, Catholics must have larger and more loving families.

We need to be the first to have faithful marriages. We need to believe in the miracle that God gives through the Sacrament of Marriage, where He makes the man and woman one flesh. While the world simply cohabitates and divorces, we must show the miracle of a free, total, faithful, fruitful and ultimately sacrificial love that lasts until death do us part. We must believe that God will get us through the good times and the bad—and miraculously so! The world needs us to open that treasure for all to see!

We need to be the first to help free people from the slavery of addictions. And we must be the first people who seek freedom if we are addicted to something. Our Lord came to set the prisoners free—we must be the first to believe in the miracle of such freedom and ask God all the more for it so that we too may open this treasure for the world.

We need to be the first who are generous—and not only in monetary gifts, but in our prayers, our sacrifices, the call to duty and responsibility. While all the world is saying, “it’s my right to do whatever I want,” we must be the first to fulfill our responsibilities.

And if we have failed in any of these. If we have had an abortion, gotten a divorce, used contraception, been greedy or selfish or disbelieving—we must be the first ones who know and who can declare the great miracle which is God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. How He has changed our lives that once dwelt in darkness—how He has changed us to be a light to the nations. That someone so lowly as you and me have been given a light and, indeed, have been transformed: God has made us to be the kings that proclaim and indeed witness to the miracles of His presence miraculously here given.

That is my prayer for us today. May the world in its science see the miracles of our love—and believe.

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