On Miracles

"Pour celui qui sait regarder, tout est miracle."  That was one of the sentences I had to translate during my Reading French class last night ... For those who know how to look, everything is miracle.

I have an interesting relationship with miracles, ranging from unbelief to mystery.  On the one hand, anyone who has prayed for a very bad thing NOT to happen, only to have it happen, is devastated. Likewise, someone who prays FOR a very good thing likely finds themselves disappointed when it does not take place.  Feelings like devastation and disappointment can lead to nagging doubt in the very existence of miracles in the first place.

But then there are those wonderful moments, some unexpected, others against all odds, of life and love and the presence of God all around us.  That's where  mystery comes in.  I've experienced such moments, and my guess is you have too, even if you haven't called them miracles per se.

Of course, our Roman Catholic tradition has a specific type of thing in mind when it uses the term, "miracle."  I was just reading this morning in the NYT of the newly invigorated effort to canonize the certainly saintly Dorothy Day.  They noted that the effort faces a rather large hurdle, namely two miracles that must occur through prayers of intercession to her. In the print version of the story, the article said something to the effect that this would be harder for Dorothy Day than someone like Mother Teresa, since so many more people know who Mother Teresa is and presumably would be praying to her.  But I don't think it's a numbers game.

No, I don't think it's a game at all.  Rather, I think that saints are people who experience and respond to the love of God in a particularly profound way and that miracles are opportunities for us to catch a glimpse of God's love and powerful presence in our lives.

Today is apparently the feast of the Miraculous Medal (pictured to the right). My mother had a special if private devotion to Mary.  After her death, I found one of these medals in her jewelry box.  Now, I had returned to the active practice of my Catholic faith a few years earlier, but the idea of dedicating my life in service to God as a Sister was very far from my mind.  I simply missed my mother and knew that I would have to go through a lot in the weeks and months ahead without her, and so I decided to wear the medal underneath my clothes as a special way of remembering my Mom and having her be present to me.

Well, there certainly was a lot to deal with in the time ahead.  The funeral was hard of course, as was the sorting through of her things, but also learning how to be a family without her here with us (we're still figuring that out truth be told).  Then, around the first anniversary of my mom's death, my Dad had a brain injury and emergency surgery.  I flew to DC to be with him while he was in ICU.  It was a very scary time, and I found myself touching the medal around my neck from time to time.

I was there by myself for the first few days while my siblings rearranged schedules.  I needed some time away, so I took a break at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception which was very near the hospital.  There I discovered a shrine to the Miraculous Medal.  I learned the story of the medal that I'd been wearing every day for more than a year.  I discovered St. Catherine Laboure whose vision of the Virgin Mary inspired the medal.  And I learned that in the tradition, wearing the medal with faith and devotion can bring special graces through the intercession of the Virgin Mary.

I was admittedly floored.  Because, you see, during that very hard first year without my mom in my life, I had indeed also experienced many special graces.  I'd developed a prayer life that gave deep meaning to my life.  My relationship with God had matured.  I found a goal and purpose for my life and renewed life and energy.  And I had begun to explore that maybe just possibly I might have a vocation to religious life in general and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in particular.

Now, if someone had told me, "Wear this medal and you might receive special graces through Our Lady," I no doubt would have laughed and said no thank you.  But I had been drawn to the medal through my memory of my mother and her devotion to Mary.  I wore the medal faithfully and it was a great source of consolation to me.  And the rest, well, let's just say I can find no other word to describe my very unexpected vocation journey and the deep love and joy and life it brings me daily other than miracle.

I no longer wear the medal.  It's in storage in Seattle, I think. There's more to my vocation story than the medal of course.  Important people helped me discover that quiet voice deep inside and the outward expressions of a call.  Incredible experiences of the power of God's love for me opened my heart.  I experienced affirmation, confirmation, and peace in many ways. But if I'm honest, the medal is at the very least a part of my story, part of my experience, and proof to me that my mother is journeying with me along the way.  What, after all, is more miraculous than the power of a mother's love?

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