One of the greatest evidences for the veracity of the Catholic Church has been her miracles. Fitting, for her founder offered the same credentials for his own life and work:
“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves” (John 14:11). The sheer concentration of the miraculous in the life of Christ was a “sign” (in fact, John’s Gospel calls Jesus’ miracles just that, “signs”) that God was powerfully moving in and through him – yes, even as him, to advance his saving plan for the world.
This continued, of course, through his followers, who did even “greater things than these” (John 14:12), because, in the apostolic age, Jesus was now performing his mighty works through ordinary humans. Peter’s mere shadow would heal the sick (Acts 5:15). A handkerchief that had touched Paul would do the same, casting out demons, too (Acts 19:11-12).
But miracles like this, which help authenticate the Gospel, are not limited to the time of Christ and the apostles. Every age in the Church has been marked by the miraculous. In the Catholic Church, miracles literally never cease.
This February, we celebrate the feast day of a saint whose life was touched by myriad miracles, all of which give stunning testimony to Catholic truth. Saint Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), only 14, encountered the Blessed Virgin Mary in the grotto of Lourdes in the South of France on February 11, 1858, though at the time, she did not know who it was.
Bernadette was a poor peasant girl, not afforded formal religious education. When, on March 25, “the Lady” (as Bernadette called her) told her in the local dialect, “Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou” (“I am the Immaculate Conception”), her pastor could hardly believe it. Four years earlier, the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception had been proclaimed by the Vatican. But Bernadette would have had no way of knowing, less understanding, what this meant.
Another impressive confirmation of God’s action at Lourdes was the miraculous stream unearthed by Bernadette at Mary’s behest. These waters have been the source of innumerable healings over the years, inexplicable by natural means.
Unlike some modern “visionaries” and spirituality gurus, she shunned publicity and refused to profit from her experiences (she would never have appeared on Oprah). Her fame was her cross, and her later consecrated life in the convent of Nevers did not spare her this. She often would taste the bitter jealousy of her fellow Sisters of Charity.
Although Bernadette’s Lourdes has been the source of so much healing, the saint’s own life, as is often the case, was marred by sickness and suffering. She died at only 35, but God saved one of his greatest graces for Bernadette until after her death. Her body was found to be incorrupt, and is today the most beautiful of all the incorrupts in the Church’s history.
I have a friend named Brad, a Protestant. For months I tried to explain to him the truth of Catholicism, but no argument moved him. After my wife and I returned from our honeymoon in Rome, we showed Brad and his wife pictures from our travels. I was hoping our visits to the Vatican and the luminous churches of the Eternal City would attract them to the beauty of the Faith. However, I had forgotten that family photos usually only interest one’s family! Predictably, they were bored to tears.
But as I flipped through our slideshow, I noted, “Oh, and here’s the incorrupt body of Pope John XXIII”. “Whoa! Hold on a minute”, he said. “Go back to that slide. What?” Brad was incredulous. My carefully constructed theological arguments never piqued his curiosity, but the miraculous did.
A question for Brad and others like him is this: Why does the Catholic Church alone boast of the continuous presence of miracles in her midst? Why would God preserve so many Catholic saints incorrupt? One simply does not see this in other Christian traditions. The incorrupt bodies of saints like Bernadette, no longer speaking in audible words, give eloquent testimony to the incorruptibility of the Catholic Church herself.