Monday, June 1, 2009

The June Catholic-by-Grace Article

(from diocesan papers across the country)

Signs and Wonders

Most Protestant denominations don’t talk about it at all. As Catholics, we know that it happens because we have witnessed it in the lives of many saints and holy ones. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina was no stranger to the miraculous. He experienced the stigmata, bilocation, healings, and the unexplainable “knowing”.

And yet, this Saint had an interesting response when asked about these great mysteries. He did not deny the existence of the unexplainable, but he firmly directed the seeker to focus on faith.
I’ve been in a number of classrooms in which a priest or deacon stops by for a visit and gives the students a chance to ask any questions that might be on their minds. Young people aren’t like grown-ups. They barge straight into the unexplainable and ask questions.

I’m like those students. That’s probably why I picked up Padre Pio’s biography a few weeks ago. I grew up in a faith tradition that didn’t “go there” and I found his story fascinating. Padre Pio’s life was filled with the mysterious, but he always affirmed that the endgame is faith and heaven, not signs and wonders which merely serve as guideposts along the way, and he always submitted to Mother Church for a careful discernment of his unique gifts.

The Enlightenment tried to purge the mysterious completely. It tried to recreate a world (and Christian religion) that was “free” of the unexplainable. Miracles like the flood and the bodily resurrection of Our Lord were rendered something less than miraculous. Even the True Presence was reduced to a piece of bread that helps one “appreciate” the story of salvation rather than the re-presentation of the Paschal Mystery in which we can participate and truly receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Catholic teaching and the watered-down theology of the Enlightenment were worlds apart.
My own faith tradition was affected by the Enlightenment, but the ironic thing of it is this. While my father didn’t preach about it in all thirty years of being a Protestant pastor, he knew first hand that sometimes signs and wonders do occur, but there was no room for him to talk about it from the pulpit. Presbyterians just didn’t talk about these things. They left that to the independent charismatics and Catholics. (Today, I realize that, while it was correct to leave these matters to Mother Church who is equipped to discern, “enlightened” Protestants were incorrect to deny the existence of such things.)

Like my father, I knew first hand that unexplainable things happen. I knew Protestant theology could not adequately account for it or discern it. In coming home to the Catholic Church, I found solid teaching in all areas, including the area of extraordinary charisms.

I don’t understand many things about the faith, but I know that it is good, and I know that we are not to be afraid. I also know that all things, especially the extraordinary and unexplainable, must be submitted to the Church for discernment. I am not on my own in determining what is authentic. This is one more beautiful gift that Mother Church provides. Signs and wonders are real, and we have a source of discernment that is reliable and true.

And so, we pick up books about the saints, and priests and deacons smile when teenagers ask about signs and wonders. They answer the questions young people always have and usually end with something similar to Saint Pio’s advice. As Catholics, we believe in the miraculous and mysterious, but we keep our eyes on the endgame, the heavenly prize.


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