Superstition vs Supernatural

Copyright © Larry Johnson, April 2020

We don’t seem to see many miracles these days’, said my Christian friend.

‘I wouldn’t say that’, I replied.

‘Well, not like we read about in stories of the Saints. I mean to say there appears to be nothing like the rose that bloomed in wintery snow and was gifted to St. Rita; or the Eucharist turning to flesh in front of the priest, or the miracles of St. Benedict. He was given deadly poison but still lived, didn’t he?’

An initial evaluation would find that my friend appears to have made a valid point. Nonetheless we still read and hear about wonders performed by the Saints through intercessory prayer, after passing from this earth to their heavenly reward. Through evidence of healings etc., the Catholic Church often affirms the attainment of heaven of individuals to whom the intercessory prayer was made. Miraculous healings are well examined and confirmed by doctors and professionals, amongst which are often those who do not believe in God or an after-life. Nevertheless, they are unable to explain these impossible healings and recoveries. Now I can hear the non-Catholic scoff that this is superstition or fantasy; not possible or realistic. That to think or even imagine so is to be living in fairyland. ‘Your heads are in the clouds, you need to get your feet back to solid ground’, they may say. It has been a well-trodden path that since the Protestant Reformation the Catholic Church has been accused of such supposedly superstitious concepts; with protestations that these occurrences have been misunderstood, mis-reported or simply concocted.

Well, are they? I answer that miracles are not without precedent. If you are a Christian, you believe in Christ. Yes? If you are a Christian then you believe that Christ is the Son of God; God the Son, second Person of the Holy Trinity, Word made flesh. Yes? You also believe that Christ walked the Earth as man, dying and then rising to life again. Yes? If you answered no to any of these questions its time, as we were told at school, to do some conscientious revision lest we fail our examination. If you are not a Christian, read on anyway; there may still be something here of interest to you.

So, affirming all of this, we know it is documented that Christ performed many miracles, healing the sick and raising the dead. But wait, I hear the modernist approaching to throw a wet blanket over it all. The modernist protests. These accounts are allegorical, fables to convey a point. They were not meant to be taken literally! But I reply, why not? Are we to say that the Gospels, attested to by all Christians, are fiction? If so, then we have ceased to be Christian, as the Good News is the standard by which we are to live. If we believe the New Testament to be true, we have already affirmed as Christians that Christ is God. And why on earth would the Gospel authors bother to allegorise? Why would they feel they needed to if they were writing about God made man?

Are we to place restrictions on God’s capabilities, His powers? Didn’t God create the universe? Did we not affirm that Christ is the Word made flesh and therefore has no beginning and no end? Are we to say that God can create the Universe but not calm a storm? So, we agree that God is eternal, all powerful, and omnipresent. The doubter, if Christian, must certainly relent now. But another avenue of cynicism appears, ‘Okay, I will concede your point, but what about this business of praying to people who are dead. The Catholic Church encourages intercessory prayer to those it claims are definitely in Heaven. How do they know this? Through these prayers you claim that miracles occur.’ Well, as previously stated, evidence and testimony are gathered from professionals who are often unbelievers and if the events are proven the declaration is made. I am certain that if there was an opportunity to explain it away, I assume that they would grasp it, as this would reinforce their stance of non-belief as the correct viewpoint. But often they are unable to explain the miraculous event. Allow me to assert once more that if they could, they certainly would. The fact of the matter is that the sick person, or those close to them, have offered intercessory prayer through God to someone who has passed from this world seeking cure of the disorder or illness. And thus, it sometimes eventuates. Coincidence you believe? Then there have been many coincidences.

Some of the harshest critics of this purported Catholic superstition are members of Protestant denominations. But many Protestants believe that to be baptized and possess the faith alone provides certainty of their heavenly attainment. How then could it be argued that Catholics have it wrong by declaring some of the faithful have definitely reaching their Heavenly reward? Ah! But you say that praying to the deceased is the problem. How can they help anyway? They are not God. How can they even hear your intercessory prayer? They may be in Heaven, but they are not God; not eternal, all powerful, and omnipresent. And here we come to the crux of it. Doesn’t God know everything that we say and do? Do we not believe that the soul who has attained Heaven is now in union with God and that He may make request of that soul? If we pray to that soul does God not know that we are doing so? Is it impossible that the soul in Heaven, since it is in union with God, hears His request and is made aware of our prayer? Can that soul, through pure love, not make intercession for us? I agree; the matter is entirely with God; but cannot the soul participate in prayer? The sceptic states that God can act on His own – He does not need anyone’s help. So it is. But isn’t it also true that God desires and yearns for our participation in the salvation and well-being of others? If on earth this is so, then why not in Heaven? Our neighbour may ask us to pray to God for them, so we do. Again, the matter rests with God. But should we say to our neighbour, ‘Look, I think it better to pray directly to God – it’s between you and Him: God will hear you without me becoming involved’. Would this be Christian? It would certainly lack charity. Cannot the soul who hears our intercession through God participate in His plan for the individual?

Let us now extend ourselves a little further. What about this matter of the Holy Eucharist that Catholics proclaim to be the Real Presence of Christ? ‘Please,’ I hear the sceptic say, ‘this is an old chestnut that I cannot believe to be true’. I say why not? Particularly since Christ Himself said it was so. The Gospel of John is clear. Christ states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink of His blood you have no life in you”[i]. The counter argument has always been that Our Lord meant this symbolically. If this is so why did many of disciples walk away stating that “this is a hard saying, who can listen to it?”[ii] Moreover, why did Our Lord not call them back to explain that He was only speaking figuratively and that they had taken it too literally? No, He let them go their way. If you believe the Gospels to be the Word of God, you cannot believe anything other than that the consecrated bread and wine truly become the actual glorified Body and Blood of Christ. To not believe so is to not fully believe the Gospel. To not fully believe the Gospel is to not be fully Christian.

The fundamental point with miracles, whether it be those mentioned at the beginning of this essay or healings and cures, is that it is imperative that we not allow human reasoning to be a barrier to the fact that God can do anything God wants. If God desires that bread and wine assume the substance of His Body and Blood, then who are we to reason otherwise. As stated previously, this would be placing limitations on the power of God. God is master over everything and can do whatever He chooses. To place our reasoning above the power of God displays some significant absence of humility.

The miracles referred to the introductory lines would seem to be indeed rare.  On her sick bed St Rita made a request that she would like to see a rose again. It was winter, not the time for roses, but her cousin was able to bring her a rose that had bloomed at her old home at Rocca Porrena, despite the snow. St Benedict was given a poisoned drink and yet still lived. If one were to claim that like events had occurred in the world today, there is no doubt that a pragmatic and cynical society would scoff at them vehemently. Perhaps the issue with the modern world is its general lack of faith in God and a deficiency in the wonderment embraced in previous ages.  There is disbelief in the supernatural. Extant is the misguided view that we are our own masters. Observe history and the many times humankind has hoodwinked itself into the belief of self- sufficiency, only to lead itself into wars, violence, disease, promiscuity, and the effects thereof. At the time of writing the world is under the mallet of the Co-VID 19 disaster.  We could pray for a miracle, and I am sure God would respond, if only there was enough faith in the world to believe in Him and that it is possible. Perhaps if there had been sufficient faith we may have been spared, as such belief would confirm itself in conduct harmonious with God’s precepts.  I cannot help but ponder that our dryness, stubborn and arrogant behaviour, hard-nosed practical approach to life, and our unwillingness to believe in the transcendent prevents any possibility of recognizing or acknowledging miracles, consigning the potentiality of such occurrences to superstition.

[i] Gospel of John Ch. 6 v53, Holy Bible RSV, Ignatius Press, New Testament Copyright 1946.

[ii] Ibid Ch. 6 v60.

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