Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rants Against Mediocrity 6.0: My God, it's a miracle! Shhhh!

(An occasional series, where I get my theological rant on. Apologies to those of delicate constitutions in advance.)

Ok, people. I know what is making me madder than a wet hen this month. It also happens to be reason #452 why the non-immigrant influenced segments of the Catholic Church in the USA seems to be in semi-permanent drift. (BTW, I have that list under lock and key, and you don't want to see that list. It ain't pretty.)

We don't talk about miracles.

(Shhh! Freak! She said the "M" word!)

See, I was in my parish family faith formation class, leading it, actually, and talking about a bona fide medical miracle that happened to me that would withstand the medical scrutiny of the Lourdes observers, for crying out loud. (FYI, Lourdes wasn't involved.) Almost 2/3 of the gathered assembly dribbled out over 15 minutes for the 10:30am mass (the idea is to attend the 8:30 mass and then do this formation meeting from 9:30am-11am). The eight people left were paying rapt attention until all our kids came back early to do foam crafts for Thanksgiving (--don't ask. As religious education crafts go it wasn't bad, but moving from witnessing to the almighty power of God to gluing thankfulness leaves to foam trees for a holiday centerpiece was...bizarre). I realize that the apostle Paul preached the Word under more trying circumstances, but you know, I'm talking about giving a presentation in a church where people are free to be there to praise God and reform their lives. I'm not talking about people facing jail time, torture, shipwreck, and execution to show up.

The issue here isn't that people weren't paying attention to me. Heck, I teach college freshmen at 7:45am. I'm used to that. But this story speaks to the truly stunning power of God to heal and save and surprise us: that is, it's about paying attention to God, not me. And there isn't a space to tell that story in any Catholic parish I know. Another person came up and talked to my husband (since I was busy gluing foam leaves) about a miraculous experience he had, and how obscenely grateful he was to hear someone at a church talk about the miraculous.

(blink, twitch)

Isn't that...utterly absurd?

It seems like the only time it's OK to talk about a miracles is when Jesus did them in the gospels, or you are dead and have been declared a saint.

News flash, folks: God is good. God is great! God is truth and beauty incarnate! I had no real idea who God was, or who I was, until this event happened. Don't you think that we all would want to know a little better this Mysterious One we call Our Savior through sharing these stories and building up our faith? We're talking about mountaintop events where God graciously reveals his love and power to the unworthy...and we'd rather picnic in the valleys and stare at ants.

If we aren't going to talk about miracles in parishes, where on earth (literally) do we talk about the power of God in the world today? Who carries the witness?

(And Peter went out and wept....)


p.s. I've said this before, but I reiterate: I really like my parish, honestly. We have a great priest and many good things happen there: it is a lovely, vibrant community. I got some very positive response from the people who hung in there, and many offered that the set-up was unfortunate for reasons that don't lie with any one person. But I'm ticked off right now due to a sense of parishes scheduling and busying themselves out of real sharing and witness to God's work...because whenever I do share this, people say things like "wow! we never talk about things like this in my church! But let me tell you MY story...."

p.p.s. Encouragement is the theme of NaPraGoMo today. I'll go read that now. Again.


Peter Brown said...

Two things strike me about that "let me tell you MY story" reaction:

1. It illustrates your point that we have no space in which to tell these stories. Other folks don't, either, and so when one person does, they all come out. A bit like what happens when you strike up a conversation with a lonely person; get them started talking, and you can't get them to stop. I'm not sure it's avoidable—it may be that listening with as much grace as you can manage is the best witness you can make to the same Love that healed you.

2. It is very difficult to tell miracle stories in a way that does not call attention to the recipient of the miracle, no matter how much you disclaim it. Even if you succeed in putting the focus on God for most of your audience, it seems like there are always a few folks for whom what they hear is that YOU'RE spiritually special because God did this wonderful thing for YOU. For such folks, there can be a sort of spiritual one-upmanship dynamic going on, and some (not all) of the "let me tell you MY story" can come out of that. I don't know that this is entirely avoidable, either, as long as you're talking to an audience of sinners.

On a related note: you teach college students at 7:45 a.m.? Hey, I teach college students in a computer lab! Let me tell you MY story—oh, wait… :-)


The Ironic Catholic said...

Peter--I'm aware of #2, and maybe that is teh silver lining in finding it difficult to share these stories. It keeps us humble, no temptation to pride (since these gifts are never of our merit).

#1 is interesting. I didn't mean to come across as not welcoming hearing these stories. Indeed, I love to hear them! But your point about "they all come out then because there is no place else to speak them" illustrates my point.

Yes, 7:45am...they're a good group considering the hour...but we're all a bit tired.

Ray from MN said...

I think that one of the problems, I.C., is that most folks consider miracles to be things like "raising from the dead", "curing leprosy", "making the lame walk", etc.

They're not paying attention.

Jesus is regularly talking to us, IF we are paying attention. Thus: "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening" and "Be still and know that I am God."

Many of the miracles that I encounter involve conversations with people who say what I need to hear at that moment.

For example, the other day when I was leaving my hospital volunteer job, I was grumbling to myself that it had been a bad day, I hadn't been very effective, I didn't do my job well, etc.

Then a man walked up to me, saying "Do you remember me?" I didn't; I deal with many people regularly. It turned out that we had had several encounters some months ago and he wanted to thank me. Then I did remember him. He had been on our psychiatric ward and now is in a halfway house. He asked for a rosary.

My step was much brisker after God had told me that I was doing OK.

Ray from MN said...

Another miracle today was realizing for the first time, on the 18th of the month of November, 60% over, that if I had clicked on your little NaPraGoMo link, I would have found some wonderful meditations upon which to ponder to flesh out my extra 15 minutes each day.

Well, I've got 12 days in which I can do it correctly.

That will be another miracle if I do it properly.

pastprologue said...

I'm with you on this one, IC. I am fortunate enough to have witnessed several health miracles in my family while I was a teen, including my mother's healing from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma when the told her she had six months to live. That was in 1984...I just had dinner with her tonight. But when I try to tell others about these healings, they seem to be reluctant to believe. One comment was "Are you sure she had cancer? Uh, yeah!

I really agree that miracles need to be talked about more. They are out there! God still works miracles! Even the Church doesn't talk about them enough. Why are miracles embarrassing? Rant on...

PraiseDivineMercy said...

Ack. Firstly, I sympathize with your frustration.

This is kind of why I go to the parish with Latin mass. Not because there isn't good in the regular parishes, but because the people willing to drive for Latin mass, and the priests willing to learn Latin to say it usually aren't satisfied with mediocrity. Call me lazy or whatever you want.

Secondly, Amen! I do believe in miracles. I also would like to mention that many things we unfortunately take for granted are miracles. Every mass is a miracle when you consider what happens.

MightyMom said...

as a former Protestant, let me add this to your mix and see what you make of it

perhaps it's a reaction to the protestants who seem to see miracles in an empty parking space at the mall in December and finding "just the thing" on sale -"thank God!"

While you're ranting that Catholics don't appreciate the modern day miracles that do happen, I"ve been ranting for years that Protestants see miracles everywhere and think just cuz I asked for a miracle by golly I should get one!! Why didn't God answer my prayer and give me my miracle??

angelmeg said...

I don't know about that mighty mom, I know quite a few Catholics who find it miraculous to find parking spaces and sales items when they need or ask for them

I think the real problem is the whole religion/science debate. Medical miracles are harder to believe because at some point there was a Dr. involved.

I told a story on my blog about a miraculous trip in my car in which the tire didn't fall of the 1 (you saw that right I said one) working lug nut that was holding it to the rim when they pulled it into the repair shop. My own brother couldn't see anything miraculous in the fact that my brains weren't splattered all over the road. My mechanic sure did, he thinks I have a serious local call connection to the big guy upstairs.

I think we forget how miraculous the small things are.

In the RCIA at which I am a volunteer we begin each session with the question" "Where did you see God this week?" Sometimes the participants see God in such small and mundane things that it makes my heart swell with pride, because they are realizing that miracles do happen, we just have to open our hearts along with our eyes to be able to see what is actually there to be seen.