November 18, 2018

Do Miracles Really Happen?

Saint John Bosco (1815-1888)

Do miracles like the one in the Gospel of Mark (5:21-43) really happen? Can people—including children—who were actually and literally dead be brought back to life? The answer is“yes,” when it glorifies God and helps people believe in Him. This miracle especially occurs through the intercession of the saints, as shown through numerous documented cases throughout history. There is actually a book, for instance, called Raised From the Dead (by Fr. Albert J. Hebert, S.M.) which describes the true stories of over 400 such resurrection miracles. Several of them were attributed to the holy Italian priest, St. John Bosco, who on two different occasions restored two deceased boys to life (pp. 128-129). Don Bosco, as he was called, was once in Paris to solicit money from donors for the orphanage and school he ran back in the Italian city of Turin. He prayed at the bedside of a dying boy, and a few days later, at the bedside of a dying twelve-year-old girl, and in each case the child was immediately cured and fully restored to health. The skeptical people of Paris were amazed, and thronged after the holy priest wherever he went, hoping to touch St. John or even snip off a piece of his clothing as a relic. Don Bosco murmured, “These people are nuts,” and the coachman driving him around the city—who was often unable to budge his vehicle because of the mobs that surrounded it—was heard to remark, “It would be easier to drive the devil than to drive a saint, for at least with the devil in my carriage, everyone would rush to get out of the way” (paraphrased).

On one occasion in Florence the young godson of a rich noblewoman became deathly ill, and she hurried to find Don Bosco, imploring him to come at once. Upon arriving at her home, they discovered the boy had just died, but the saint asked everyone present to beg the intercession of Mary, Help of Christians, while he blessed the child’s body. As soon as St. John finished his prayer, the boy began breathing, yawned, and opened his eyes—to the amazement and delight of everyone there. His wealthy godmother was so grateful that she became one of the largest donors to Don Bosco and his religious order (Patricia Treece, Nothing Short of A Miracle, p. 152). Resurrection miracles performed by St. John Bosco and numerous other saints are a reminder and promise that our God is a God of life—and those who trust completely in Him shall live forever in Heaven.

We’re told in the Book of Wisdom (1:13-15; 2:23-24) that God did not create death; it came about or entered the world through the envy of the devil—and because of sin, all humanity will experience it. However, as St. Paul says in his Letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15), Jesus became poor by freely subjecting Himself to the human condition—even to the point of dying on the Cross for us—so that we might become rich in grace and in a destiny of eternal glory. Our Lord raised several persons from the dead—including the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Naim, and His own friend Lazarus—as dramatic proof that He is the Lord of life, and that those who trust in Him need not fear the power of death.

That being the case, why is it still necessary for everyone to die? If Jesus triumphed over death on Easter Sunday, why is it still around? Why doesn’t everyone who dies receive a resurrection miracle? Questions like these can be difficult and haunting— especially when we’ve lost a loved one—and the answers we come up with often seem to be incomplete and unsatisfying. Nevertheless, it is possible to offer what may be a partial explanation. First of all, God always respects our free will, even when we misuse it in a way that may result in the death of ourselves or others. If someone dies as a result of reckless behavior—driving 120 miles per hour on a slick road or while intoxicated, overdosing on prescription drugs, playing with a loaded revolver, ignoring warnings not to touch downed power lines, or anything like that—God is not the One Who caused those tragic or untimely deaths, and I think He Himself mourns with the grieving survivors. Secondly, God knows the future, and it may sometimes happen that He allows a young person to die while still in a state of grace because He foresees that if the person lived to an old age, he or she would turn away from Him, die in mortal sin, and thus be lost forever. In such a case, dying early is in fact a great blessing and act of divine mercy, and possibly even a reward for a good deed performed by the person.

Thirdly, no matter how enjoyable life on earth may be, it doesn’t even begin to compare with the happiness of Heaven—and if we truly love our deceased family members and friends, we would not want to deprive them of this joy by selfishly having them return to this earthly life. Fourthly, a very practical consideration is that while Heaven has unlimited space, earth does not; our lifespans have to be somewhat limited so that future generations may also have the chance to know, love, and serve the Lord in this world so as to be happy with Him forever. Life on earth has to be temporary so that we can be made ready for life in Heaven. Lastly, Jesus redeemed us from original sin and made it possible for us to live with Him one day in His Kingdom—but we still have to endure the consequences of sin, including illness, old age, and death. God’s grace, however, can bring good out of every situation; that’s why death isn’t just the end of earthly life, but—for those who love God—the entry into a joyful and perfect everlasting life.

If we had the answers to all our questions, and knew exactly what was going on, there would be no need for faith—and also no real way of demonstrating our love for God and growing in His grace. Death is a mystery, and sometimes a tragedy—but through Christ, it can become an occasion of hope, blessing, and reward. Jesus has conquered death, for He is the Lord of life. This is attested to by the resurrection miracles performed not only by Don Bosco, but by numerous other saints, including St. Patrick, St. Martin of Tours, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Joan of Arc, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Dominic, St. Rose of Lima, St. Martin de Porres, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and countless others—none of whom had access to the wonders and techniques of modern medicine, but all of whom were powerful in humility, faith, and trust. What ultimately matters, of course, isn’t extending our lives and having a few more years here on earth, but living in the manner—and dying at the proper time—which gives us the best chance of immediately entering into Heaven. Jesus died to save us from eternal death in hell, and He promises eternal life in Heaven to those who love, serve, and trust in Him.

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper

REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John's Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.

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Written by Fr Joseph Esper