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One of the great errors of the modern world is that everything can be understood in terms which can be observed and measured and duplicated through natural human efforts. This error, known as “positivism” denies reality to anything that we can not design an experiment to measure. It accepts that we may not always be able to perform the experiment in practice—we may not be able to journey to the nearest star or to the very bottom of the ocean—but at least we can imagine an experiment that would verify the reality of something if we could.
Paradoxically, modern science—specifically, quantum physics—has discovered that it is not possible to measure some to the activities in the very tiny volume of the atom. The movement of the electron, they tell us, can only be predicted statistically, for it is not possible to measure both the momentum and the location of such a small particle. Until the electron interacts with something else, they tell us, we can know nothing more than probabilities associated with it being in any location. For the rigorous positivist (and quantum physics has its share of them), the sub atomic particles are not real until they interact and “collapse into existence,” only when they are observed!
It is not surprising that the positivist, therefore rejects the possibility of spiritual things and of miraculous intervention with the things of nature. The positivist takes the position that “miracles cannot happen, and, therefore they do not”—so all of the miracles of our Lord were either fraudulent or the invention of the writers of the Gospels. Even when faced with the reality that the eyewitnesses and near eyewitnesses were willing to die in exchange for their testimony, they are convinced that divine intervention into human affairs simply could not have happened.
One way, often attempted to “explain away” the miracles of healing found in the Bible, is to attribute them to psycho-somatic illnesses and cures. The positivist sees not the casting out of a devil—for he is sure that there is no devil—but rather the healing of a mental illness. The woman with a hemorrhage, or the man with the withered hand, or the man born blind, simply must have imagined those illnesses. Lazarus, or the daughter of Jairus, or the son of the widow of Naim, must have all been in a catatonic state, for surely (says the positivist) “no one can rise from the dead!” They all seem to ignore the fact that even if Jesus was nothing more than a psychiatrist, His cure rate, when compared to that of modern psychiatrists, was nothing short of miraculous in itself. And, He cured His patients on the spot—He didn’t schedule them for a few years worth of weekly sessions on His office couch.
But some people are ever skeptical. Perhaps that is why some of our Lord’s miracles involved the things of nature, and were not limited to curing the sick. The wind and the sea and the fish are not subject to hypochondria Look at today’s Gospel. Peter and the others had been fishing all night and had caught nothing—a rather perilous situation for people who depend on the sea for their livelihood and are never very many days away from going hungry. Our Lord arrives with a large crowd, and asks to use their boat as a speaker’s platform, so that He can be seen and heard by those on the shore. When He is finished, He provides a great reward for this small favor. The catch of fish was so large that Peter’s nets are in danger of breaking, and when they get help from another, both boats are filled to the point of sinking. Our Lord was more than a great fisherman (in addition to being a great psychiatrist!)—He was a miraculous fisherman! Peter, who was a fisherman, and who had spent his whole life on the boats, recognized this immediately—this wasn’t just a good day’s catch, it was an extraordinary catch, with the fish all but jumping into the boat!
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Peter, who was a fisherman recognized that such a thing was possible only to the One who put the fishes in the sea to begin with.
Now, sometimes, people ask why God doesn’t continue to perform miracles with the magnitude and frequency of those performed in the New Testament. While our Lord was a supremely compassionate man (compassionate enough to take our sins upon Himself on the Cross), He does seem to have had the motivation of establishing His authority. He was God, the Son of God, and He would ask people to believe that, and to act accordingly—so He had to give them some reason to accept these claims. Indeed, He even passed some of this miracle working ability on to His Apostles, who were also known to cast out devils and cure the sick.
We do, occasionally, see such major miracles worked for the suffering. At Lourdes, for example, they are scrupulous about trying to find a medical reason for each of the cures which occurs there—but sometimes there are no medical reasons—people who have tried everything else sometimes go the Lourdes, and have no explanation for their return to health, other than the miraculous.
And we tend to be blind to the smaller miracles which we witness in life. Some of us want to ask God to He change the laws of the universe to satisfy our wants—but it is precisely those very laws which preserve the high degree of relative stability we must have in our lives. We might not be able to deal with the world at all if God were to continually suspend its laws to fit our whim. This grand order in the universe is a miracle in itself.
To claim that our Lord turns bread and wine into His flesh and blood, is to claim a great miracle; but we ought not lose sight of the fact that God has made our bodies capable of turning our food into our own flesh and blood. That is something of a miracle too—a little bit slower, and seemingly routine—but something which our technology is still far from achieving. Or think of the miracle that a man and a woman can bring forth one of their own kind to replace themselves on this earth—that a small mass of cells, fully human in itself, will be a walking, breathing, thinking adult man or woman within a few short years. That is something utterly impossible for our science, which can do little more than tinker with what God has provided.
There really is nothing that we can do without God. Sometimes His help seems miraculous. Most of the time it seems routine. But it is always a part of our existence. We should not be too disappointed when our plans don’t work exactly as we would like. We certainly are in no position to demand major miracles of God, even though He does keep working those minor miracles of life.
Saint Paul tells us that: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.” That somehow or another, creation itself will be delivered from the slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.” His words are part of a larger chapter in which he describes the redemption of mankind as sons and daughters of God the Father. It should be no surprise that nature itself, over which mankind was given dominion at the time of creation, will be sanctified along with those sons and daughters. What was impossible for us before will be miraculously accomplished in those who follow Jesus Christ.
Like Peter, we can all say that we are sinful men or women. In the Gospels, and even in the world around us, we see things that are truly miraculous, wrought through the power of God. We may not become “fishers of men,” we may not “leave all” of our possessions behind us, but nonetheless our response to Jesus Christ must be the same as Peter’s—we must follow Him.