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What price a miracle?

Bill Avent’s last piece for Webdiary was A gooey glob of yellow hubris

What Price a Miracle?'
by Bill Avent

On Friday night, in Melbourne's Telstra Dome, one man carried a placard reading You think your religion is true. Prove it. $100,000 reward. He was John Perkins, president of something calling itself The Secular Party.

Ho hum. $100,000. Proof — Ho bloody hum. How much reward money do you want to prove it isn't true, John? And what price a miracle? Of course, I remember, you secularists don't believe in miracles, do you? So try proving that none exists. Name your own reward. But bear in mind, if you are able to stretch your mind that far, that miracles rarely have anything to do with money.

Mary MacKillop had no money. She grew up in a poor family, and when she grew up she vowed to live her life in poverty. Examine the life she led, consider all she said and did, and see if you agree with me that if we all had a bit of what drove Sister Mary in us there would be less poverty in the world today. Less absurdity altogether, and no kiddies digging in the garbage dumps of the Philippines at all.

While the Pope is here, surrounded by wealth and by anti-Catholic placards, he will visit Mary MacKillop's tomb. It is in a little chapel in Mount Street, North Sydney. Before Mary's remains were exhumed and moved to there in 1914, they were buried at the cemetery at Gore Hill. While she was there, people kept taking earth from her grave and carrying it to their homes, believing it to be sacred. Crazy superstition, the non-believers will say. Think what you like; it works for me, the believers will reply. Funny how these days it is the religious who tell us we are free to think as we like, and the secularists who insist that everyone must believe as they believe.

The Pope will probably contemplate and pray for guidance on whether or not she who stands so much higher than he should be declared a saint. Higher than he because she is already beatified, by his predecessor. From being excommunicated when she was 29, for the sin of leading her sisters in insubordination, and for refusing to stop singing so much, she is now being considered for sainthood. The one who declared her persona non grata, and then on his death bed changed his mind, or had his mind changed by his God, is long forgotten. He was Bishop Shiel, for those who need to know.

Being considered for sainthood is not quite correct. The Church readily concedes that there are many saints in Heaven who are not officially recognised as such on earth. The church does not create saints. All it can do is examine evidence to determine whether or not a person can be proved to be one. It is a laborious process. Some have been declared saints on the basis that they were martyrs to Christ. In other, more common cases, two essential things are taken into account. The first is whether or not the person lived a wholly holy life; to resolve this question the life in question is minutely picked apart and examined. The second is that at least two examples of miraculous intercession between people and their God, ascribed to the candidate for sainthood, can be established as real. People pray to figures they believe to be saints, and true saints are able successfully to lobby God on their behalf, is one overly simple way of putting it.

Such a thing may sound outlandish to our all too sophisticated, modern way of thinking, but the faithful might tell us to put those thoughts aside and consider the results. What we are having trouble with is the way of putting it. There are some things which we are simply at a loss to explain. We may be well advised to look beyond attempts to explain and understand, and instead try to appreciate the mystery itself. The world is full of such mysteries. Our self-satisfaction, our sophistication and dedication to scientific method can put blinkers on us. Jesus spoke of ears, but were he here today he may well say: He who has eyes, let him see.

Beatification requires less demanding criteria than canonisation. It calls for incontrovertible evidence of a faultless life, and only one miracle. Mary MacKillop was considered for beatification in 1995. Her life having been found faultless, the miracle attributed to her was then painstakingly studied. Despite every effort, no earthly explanation for what had happened could be found. Of all the hundreds of thousands of comparable illnesses examined, none other had without treatment spontaneously vanished without trace.

It involved the relapse a young woman who had been afflicted with leukaemia. She had responded well to treatment, and seemed to be cured. She was confident enough of her cure to become pregnant. During check-ups, though, it was discovered that her illness had returned. Now chemotherapy was not an option, if she wanted her pregnancy to continue. Her only options were termination or prayer. She settled for prayer, and prayed to Mary MacKillop. Some months later, on the 8th of August, the very anniversary of Mary MacKillop's death, her healthy baby boy was born. Without any medicine or treatment, the woman's leukaemia was inexplicably gone, never to return. She went on to have several more children in the years following.

The members of the Josephite Order now calling for the Blessed Mother Mary's canonisation can show evidence that she is universally revered. They have letters of devotion from all over the world. And pilgrimages to her tomb in North Sydney have been increasing year by year, numbering in the hundreds of thousands every year. Thousands of prayers go out to Mary MacKillop every day. Anecdotal miracles abound. All the Josephites need now is another provable one.

One of those being put forward for examination is that of another woman who suffered from cancer, in this case cancer of the lung and brain. No cure-oriented treatment was possible; doctors could only offer treatment to ease this woman's suffering. She was given weeks to live. A devout Catholic, she had a picture of Mary MacKillop, and a piece of cloth from a habit the nun had worn. She kept these with her day and night, and thought of little else; and the weeks turned to months, with no apparent deterioration of her condition. From all indications, the growth of her cancer seemed to be slowing down. Or perhaps, miracle of miracles, it might be stable, or even shrinking? When they X-rayed her head and chest to see how far her tumours had progressed, the doctors at first thought they must be looking at someone else's pictures. Her lungs and brain were perfectly healthy. There was no sign of any cancer at all.

Then there is the case of Sophie Delezio. Sophie, for the benefit of those who may be reading this from a country far from hers, is a little girl, now seven years old. When she was two, a car crashed through the wall of her day care centre. It pinned her to the floor, and burst into flames. She suffered burns to 85% of her body.

Doctors had never known anyone to survive burns so severe, let alone together with all the other injuries she had suffered. They suggested to her parents that the kindest thing to do might be to take her off life support. It was little short of miraculous that she had survived this far. If her injuries didn't kill her, the multiple and complicated operations needed to repair them surely would.

But Sophie's parents sought help from God, through Mary MacKillop. They insisted that their prayer card, and their relic, together with a photograph of Sophie, should be with their child throughout all her operations. And so what could be done for Sophie by the surgeons would be done; and everyone who believed in prayer prayed for her; and those who didn't believe in prayer wished they did. And who among the sceptics was in a mood to argue with the surgeon when he emerged from the operating theatre with the news: It's a miracle!" Sophie would survive. And as captivating a smile as the world has ever known would not be lost to it.

Was the surgeon a Catholic, or a secularist? I don't know. And it makes no difference. His reaction was spontaneous — it came from his heart, not his head. Sometimes things happen which make us believe, whether we are believers or not.

And then it all happened again. Sophie's life again seemed certain to be taken from us when she was struck by another car and flung from her wheelchair to suffer more horrendous injuries. More prayer, and a nation once again holding its breath.

Few who saw Sophie on their TV screens when eventually she emerged from hospital after her second accident will ever forget her words. From her wheelchair, swathed in bandages, she smiled the most beautiful smile anyone has ever seen and said: "I am feeling better now. And thank you, everyone, for caring about me."

That will do me for a miracle.

And thank you, Mary MacKillop, for answering people's prayers, if that's what you do; and for caring about what happens in the world.

We don't need to believe in a Holy Roman Empire to suspect that miracles may be possible. We don't even need to believe in a Father which art in Heaven. All we really need to do is keep an open mind. Keep your $100,000 reward, John Perkins. If you don't need it, try to think of something useful you might do with it. If you ask her nicely, Mary MacKillop might guide you.


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Over here, Geoff Pahoff

Geoff Pahoff [from the other thread]: "My quip had a tiny sting just for you. Obviously the sting was too subtle. I should have known." etc etc yadda yadda yadda.

Nah, I either didn't read it at the time or simply ignored it, as I've ignored your more recent Dutchman 'jibes'.

The demonstrable fact is that most people ignore you, or otherwise avoid engaging with you. Seems it's only the moderators who take you seriously here, but then it's their thankless job, after all.

Planting rings in the garden

I've done something similar. Twice, I have to admit. The second time I felt that I didn't deserve to get it back, after repeating the same mistake.. But, it turned up - quite astonishing in a rather overgrown 1800 sq metres Or is that mettres sq? I now wear my rings on my slightly fatter right hand fingers, and people can make of that what they will.

Anyone who has had ESP experiences - not uncommon evidently - doesn't find miracles hard to believe.

But, when I lost my first ring, a total stranger arrived around with his two young sons and a metal detector, and spent an hour or so searching for it ... there goes his Saturday afternoon. The goodness of good people, and their kindness, is astonishing ... but, in my experience, a very everyday kind of miracle. Btw: one of his young sons had a brain tumour, yet he still had time for a stranger.

Heard it before

"Let's go back to 9/11 four years ago. The ruins were still smoldering when the reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell went on television to proclaim that the terrorist attacks were God's punishment of a corrupted America."

They stole that line from Osama.

San Diego at Saint James

Jenny Hume: "Eliot, I am sure you wil cope. You may even find your relationship is enriched."

Well, it has certainly been a surprise. I should find out how Roy Campbell managed?? She's a great girl, so I don't feel I can criticise what she's doing.

I'll just go along with it. Maybe that's what Roy did, because he died in Mary's arms eventually (after a car crash)...

John Pratt: "Eliot, watch out: it may be infectious."

It's funny you should say that. As we were leaving the Cathedral, we crossed the street to get to Saint James Station and were waiting for the lights to change to get to the subway.

A group of black-clad young Emo-looking art-student types nearby, probably coming from the Bienale at the Art Gallery near the Domain, spotted all the action outside St Mary's.

Rather predictably, they began to sneer a bit at what was happening around the park and on College Street.

Lots of nuns and fairly churchy looking kids in track suits.

As we waited, though, a big crowd of Spanish kids, waving Spanish flags and cheering and singing, suddenly began to wend out of the Cathedral.

A boy amongst them, a few steps behind the front, held aloft a brass crucifix atop a wooden pole.

I have to say,  there was definite Flamenco rhythm to their singing and hand clapping.

As they crossed the intersection at right angles to us, I couldn't help notice at least one of the Emo girls was by then smiling and waving back to them.

Malcolm B Duncan: "Tell her to get out of the kitchen."

I think that's were I went wrong!!

Here is a real miracle

Now this is what I call a miracle.

More than $35,000 has been donated to an Adelaide family whose young son needs special eye treatment in London because of a rare form of cancer.

Olivia and Craig Muller launched an urgent public appeal last week so their two-year-old son Isaiah can be treated.

The family says it has already exhausted all options in Australia and needs to spend 6 weeks in London.

Mrs Muller says she is thrilled by the public's response.

Just imagine what could have been done with $210,000,000.

Pope Benedict's security with most estimates placing this at about $20 million, making for a total tab of $210 million and counting.

Oh well; thousands will go home with a warm glow in their hearts and maybe with dreams of making the world a better place.

Miracles, saints and sinners

Eliot, watch out: it may be infectious.

Bill, nice piece sort of warm and cuddly. I must confess I have a granddaughter who has flown from Perth to Sydney to attend WYD. I hope she has a great time and makes some good friends.Who knows, maybe even get a little inspiration.

Personally I have a problem with saints and miracles. If we believe there is a god who intervenes when necessary to favour one or two with a miracle, how do we explain his callousness towards those who miss out? There are millions of people who surely deserve a miracle. If we believe in a god who can suspend the laws of nature then all we need do about climate change and peak oil is pray.

A god who can do a miracle or two can also punish us it we sin against him.

I should know I have had several emails from "believers" who believe the attack on the Twin Towers was the will of god.

I know these things; all of us know these things. But we also know that the "violence-of-God" tradition remains embedded deep in the DNA of monotheistic faith. We also know that fundamentalists the world over and at home consider the "sacred texts" to be literally God's word on all matters. Inside that logic you cannot read part of the Bible allegorically and the rest of it literally; if you believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection, and the depiction of the Great Judgment at the end times you must also believe that God is sadistic, brutal, vengeful, callow, cruel and savage - that God slaughters.

Millions believe it.

Let's go back to 9/11 four years ago. The ruins were still smoldering when the reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell went on television to proclaim that the terrorist attacks were God's punishment of a corrupted America. They said the government had adopted the agenda "of the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians" not to mention the ACLU and People for the American Way (The God of the Bible apparently holds liberals in the same low esteem as Hittites and Gergushites and Jebusites and all the other pagans of holy writ.) Just as God had sent the Great Flood to wipe out a corrupted world, now - disgusted with a decadent America - "God almighty is lifting his protection from us." Critics said such comments were deranged. But millions of Christian fundamentalists and conservatives didn't think so. They thought Robertson and Falwell were being perfectly consistent with the logic of the Bible as they read it: God withdraws favor from sinful nations - the terrorists were meant to be God's wake-up call: better get right with God.

Bill, your god might be warm and cuddly but some people's god is downright nasty. We really need to sort out this god business before it destroys us. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Or is he a manmade idea?

Personally I believe we are on our own and we need to make this world a better place using our own strength and intelligence. We can instill hope and love into our children by our own actions. We need to grow up, drop the believe in Santa Claus, and change the world through truth and justice, not fairy tales.

On cold beers and warm and cuddly Gods

Richard, your "beer is living proof" quote is generally attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Over the ages there have been quite a few quotes about God and beer. One I quite like goes: If God had wanted us to drink beer, He would have made us with stomachs. I don't know what wit gave us that one.

John, I have no God to call my own, warm and cuddly or otherwise. But nor do I believe as you do that we mere mortals are capable of changing the world for the better. We have been given plenty of time to do that, and failed miserably. It looks to me as though our strength and intelligence are decreasing, not increasing. I don't think "this god business" is what is going to destroy us. I don't think we're going to be destroyed anyway; I think our civilisation is what it going to destroy itself. I have written on this elsewhere. Some seem to think I am being pessimistic. I don't think I am. A new start is what I am talking about there.

Good guy, bad guy? Or is he a manmade idea?

The last, would be my best guess. But the concept behind the guy seems to be universal. It stretches out in all directions, both in space and time. Seems to me we could learn something from that. Different people will put different faces on Him, or ascribe different characteristics to It (and they have). But even today it is the odd man out who would deny the existence of something higher than himself.

As for the sacred texts, I do have some empathy with those who would have us preserve them. Apart from some of the most wonderful poetry ever devised, those texts contain a wealth of insight, of a kind we modern mortals seem to have lost the ability to replicate. We seem also to be losing our ability to read and appreciate such things according to the spirit in which they were written. The trouble is not with the texts themselves. It is with the fundamentalists' refusal to wrestle with what has been given them, instead lazily deciding to take everything literally. As if taking such things literally could make any possible sense. They read the words, and ignore the sense. That, I am certain, was not what was intended by those inspired individuals who wrote the stories and compiled the texts.

In Christianity, and I suppose in all religions, inconsistencies are bound to arise. One inconsistency which critics always point to is the notion of a benevolent God on the one hand, and chaos in His world on the other. This is explained away by the doctrine of free will. The texts tell stories to explain it. But then we have the idea of prayer. How can people petition a God who cares, but at the same time has set us free of His control by giving us free will, to suspend the laws of nature as a favour to us? That would seem to be altogether too much of an inconsistency.

Christians believe that God came into the world as a man — a perfect one — to teach His people, if they of their free will would deign to listen to Him, how to be perfect too. Or, in the words of one ten year old Aboriginal believer who explained her understanding of Jesus' mission to me in conversation one day: to show them how and be people properly, yous dumb shits.

And that is where the saints come in. In their quest for perfection in accordance with Jesus' teachings, some people have attained some measure of it. Through prayers to them, manipulation of God's laws of nature are possible. At least, that's what it looks like. If someone has an alternative explanation for the miracles attributed to saints, then let us hear them. Simply denying their existence on the basis of disbelief in God won't do.

Meanwhile, if young people want to gather together in some city to celebrate their shared belief system, my reaction to that is to wish them well. I can't even begin to understand why some among us would be hostile to what they are doing.

I believe in miracles

I'm surprised, John Pratt.  For some reason I didn't expect you to be this much of a cynic.  If you believe that the altruism of a donation is a miracle, then you live in a world full of miracles that you probably don't even realise are happening.

Whether the truly reality-reshaping events are created by divine anthropomorphisms or combined and focussed human mental energies is a completely different ball game.  I'm more inclined to the latter than the former, though every now and then something happens to make you wonder.

A recent "miracle" in my life

Richard, I still live in wonder.

Recently I experienced something of a miracle in my life.

An old family story often told by my mother about twenty years ago was of a lost ring.

The ring was dropped from some stairs into a large shrub. My family searched and searched for the ring even to the extent of chopping the shrub to the ground and thoroughly raking the ground. No sign of the lost ring. The ring had been given to her by her mother who had died a few years earlier. One day many months after the ring was lost and the shrub regrown my mother looked into the shrub and to her amazement there was the lost ring. A small miracle and my mother swears that her dead mother played a part. We all wondered but never really believed.

A month or two ago I was doing some gardening (hard to believe I tore myself away from WD). I had worked all day covering most of my garden. In the evening while showering I noticed I had dropped my wedding ring (a ring I have worn for over forty years). I had taken rubbish bins to the tip - the ring could have been dumped or it could be anywhere in the rather large garden. My wife and I searched for hours raking and crawling on hands and knees, I emptied out some full bins no sign of the ring.

I remembered my mother's ring and felt my ring would be found. A week or two ago my wife was dragging me through some jewellers' shops planning to buy me a new ring. I kept putting the purchase off. Last Sunday I was doing some edging with a hoe, something I had not done in the five years we have lived in Cairns, I dug a small trench about 1 metre by 50 mm. Turning over the dirt I saw the lost ring. Now that is a miracle but I am not sure that makes my mother a saint.

Cheers John

Unseen but not Unknown - except for gooses

John, we believers do not rely on miracles and signs for our faith. Ray Palmer (not sure who he was) some 100 years ago sums it up for me::

Yet, though I have not seen and still
Must rest in faith alone,
I love Thee, dearest Lord , and will,
Unseen, but not unknown.

We have no proof of anything but I have always felt my life was better for my faith than without it.

Perhaps I am a goose and a half as Marilyn claims with seeming authority on gooses - Ok you pedants - geese. But then, when is a goose not a goose? When it is a goose and a half? I don't know much about gooses. We only ever had one, bought by father to be raised for the next Christmas dinner. He died in old age. How could one kill a goose that cheerily greeted one every morning? Mother would have none of it. No one was to kill Goosey, she ordered. Actually, I think he had a worse fate, I think a fox took the poor old girl. But he did have many happy years. I missed him when he had gone.

I would miss my faith too if it was gone. But if it can survive the slings and arrows launched at faith and religion on WD since I was here, I guess it is pretty strong.

Cheers and I like your miracle story. Very strange things do happen. One should keep an open mind, methinks.

Honk if you love Jesus

Jenny: "We have no proof of anything but I have always felt my life was better for my faith than without it."

The same goes for me Jen.

Looks like we are gooses together then.  

You had me in fits over your little riposte yesterday:"Watch out! Watch out! Here comes Marilyn again on her trusty steed charging across the playing field of unsuspecting bloggers, mallet swinging furiously to club this one, then that one - steed straining and frothing at the mouth - watch out, watch out - here comest the return sweep, keep your heads down all ye faithful..."

Too funny!

Well dear Jen, some would say that we were on "a  wild goose chase."

Ah, but we know better, don't we? (winks).

 I am reminded of this old joke. It still makes me smile.

Honk if you love Jesus

Got a letter from Grandma the other day. She writes...

The other day I went up to a local Christian bookstore and saw a "Honk if you love Jesus" bumper sticker.

I was feeling particularly sassy that day because I had just come from a thrilling choir performance, followed by a thunderous prayer meeting, so I bought the sticker and put it on my bumper.

Boy, I'm glad I did! What an uplifting experience that followed!

I was stopped at a red light at a busy intersection, just lost in thought about the Lord and how good He is... and I didn't notice that the light had changed.

It is a good thing someone else loves Jesus because if he hadn't honked, I'd never have noticed!

I found that LOTS of people love Jesus! Why, while I was sitting there, the guy behind started honking like crazy, and then he leaned out of his window and screamed, "For the love of GOD! GO! GO! , GO!"

What an exuberant cheerleader he was for Jesus! Everyone started honking!

I just leaned out of my window and started waving and smiling at all these loving people. I even honked my horn a few times to share in the love!

There must have been a man from Florida back there because I heard him yelling something about a "sunny beach"...

I saw another guy waving in a funny way with only his middle finger stuck up in the air.

Then I asked my teenage grandson in the back seat what that meant, he said that it was probably a Hawaiian good luck sign or something. Well, I've never met anyone from Hawaii, so I leaned out the window and gave him the good luck sign back.

My grandson burst out laughing...why, even he was enjoying this religious experience!

A couple of the people were so caught up in the joy of the moment that they got out of their cars and started walking towards me. I bet they wanted to pray or ask what church I attended, but this is when I noticed the light had changed.

So, I waved to all my sisters and brothers grinning, and drove on through the intersection. I noticed I was the only car that got through the intersection before the light changed again and I felt kind of sad that I had to leave them after all the love we had shared, so I slowed the car down, leaned out of the window and gave them all the Hawaiian good luck sign one last time as I drove away.

Praise the Lord for such wonderful folks!


Oh Kath. Don't you just love the grandmas of the world

Kath, I cannot stop laughing. Dear innocent grandmas, jokes or no jokes.

Rather reminds me of the time Ian saw the police pulling over traffic up ahead and he told my poor old Mum, then 82, to wind down the window as we approached. She obliged but it was clear they were not going to pull us up, so he said:

Quick Mrs! Yell out mug copper. Poor old Mum had her head turned to obey, opened her mouth, then shut it smartly..

She gave his nibs what for for a few miles after that, reckoned he wanted to get her arrested. Cheeky devil.

Guiding hand

Maybe not, John, and maybe the fact that both of your minds were working on the problem had nothing to do with it either.

I've experienced a couple of similar incidents involving rings and my great-grandmother.  Knew the guiding hand.

There's still so much stuff we don't know about, until it happens to us.

On the other hand, while writing I just heard somebody say on the radio that "Beer is living proof that God loves and wants us to be happy."  Can't argue with that, as I doubt would Bill, and most certainly not Father Park.

Yes Bill

Yes Bill, even from me, thankyou. That is a really moving piece. And did you see that little Sophie right in there at WYD still inspiring everyone. That kid has got more guts than the whole nation.

Recently I found in my late sister's papers an unpublished manuscript by a nun who worked with her fellow nuns in the Kimberleys back in the 30s-40s. She and her colleagues are all dead now, but this manuscript tells of lives of incredible personal sacrifice to help sick indigenous people in some of the most remote areas of the country. Very uplifting reading.

Eliot, I am sure you wil cope. You may even find your relationship is enriched.

By the way, did you ever get a reply to your letter to Ambassador Todorov at the Bulgarian Embassy about those orphans? I know Todorov' has gone back now.

Thankyou Bill

 That was a beautiful, heartfelt  and upbeat post Bill. One full of hope and promise.

"All we really need to do is keep an open mind. ."

Dead right,  Bill!

What can you say?

My partner is turning Catholic before my very eyes - at an alarming rate.

It started a year ago with her reading the life of Mary Campbell, the poet Roy Campbell's wife. Mary turned Catholic during the Spanish Civil War while the Campbells were living in Spain.

Mary had had an affair with Virginia Woolf and there were other issues in the background that put a strain on the relationship with Roy, and they went to Spain to make a fresh start.

After they'd been there a few years, Mary witnessed anti-Catholic attrocities by the Republicans and she went Catholic more or less on principal.

My partner loves Spain and found Mary's story and separately accounts of the alleged visions of the Virgin at Ezkioga during the war fascinating.

Since then, she's done more and more research into the Church.

Yesterday she was in St Mary's Cathedral while a group of Mexican kids over here for World Youth Day began singing the responses in their delightful way to the Mass.

She had tears streaming down her cheeks.

So, I think a conversion is definitely on the cards. She's pinned a postcard of the Virgin and Child to our cork-board.

What can you say?

What can you say Eliot?

Tell her to get out of the kitchen.

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