Today at Mass we hear St Matthew’s account of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand (14:13-21). This miracle is unique in that it is the only miracle of Our Lord that appears in all four Gospels. And so I would like to write today on the topic of miracles. We sometimes say of miracles, “For those who believe no explanation is needed. For those who do not believe no explanation is possible.”
Miracles are important for us because they help us to believe. Our Lord said to the Jews, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 4:48). So they give us motives of credibility. If Our Lord really came from God there should be certain signs and wonders (which is what miracle means) to prove His claims. And throughout His ministry JESUS worked many miracles, not for Himself or to make money and neither did He do them to amaze people. He told us why He performed them. “If I am not doing the works of My Father, then do not believe Me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38). And so we should expect many miracles to accompany the beginnings of Christianity because miracles are there to convince people that this is really true and that the message is really important and from God. Thirty five miracles of Our Lord are recorded in the New Testament, including curing the blind, the deaf, the lame, calming the storm at sea, and three tell of the raising of the dead. But He must have worked hundreds, even thousands of miracles because, “there are also many other things which JESUS did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). So the miracles Our Lord worked guaranteed the truth of His message. If He worked miracles by His own power He showed Himself to be Lord of the Universe and God, with His own Resurrection from the dead being the crowning glory.
St Thomas Aquinas defines a miracle as events “which are wrought by divine power apart from the order usually observed in nature” (Contra Gentiles, 3). So a miracle has to be divine, that is by the power of God, it has to be above the order of nature and it also has to cause wonder to our senses. Today’s Gospel would be such an event. It is the disciples who comment that the large crowd following JESUS were tired and hungry and suggest that He should send them away. And so Our Lord tells them there is no need for them to be sent away and that the disciples should feed them themselves, but there are only five loaves and two fish. But JESUS raises His eyes to Heaven, takes the bread and the two fish, says the blessing, breaks it and gets the disciples to distribute it with the two fish to the crowd. They all ate to their fill and twelve baskets of scraps were collected after and well over five thousand people were fed. So this is a miracle because it is worked by a Divine Person, JESUS, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Secondly it is above nature to multiply the five loaves and two fish to feed well over five thousand people, and thirdly it would have caused wonder to the crowd. This was a true miracle and was not people simply sharing their lunch as some modernist writers like to assert.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand is the only miracle of Our Lord contained in all four Gospels
Miracles of course didn’t cease when Our Lord ascended into Heaven. He promised He would be with His Church until the end of time and so the miracles continued. Just read the Acts of the Apostles and see how many miracles they worked. Peter and Paul raised the dead. People would put out the sick so that Peter’s shadow would cure them as he passed (Acts 5:15). Similarly, when the Church is being founded in a new part of the world or in a new culture many miracles accompany this work. For example in 597 AD Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) sent St Augustine (d. circa 604) here to England to preach the Gospel, and we have a letter from the Pope to Augustine warning the monks not to become too proud of their power to work miracles. The Pope was worried about the salvation of their souls if they became too proud. So something supernatural and miraculous was obviously happening.
I love the story of St Joseph of Cupertino (1603-1663), an Italian Franciscan priest who is most famous for levitating and as a result he is the patron saint of pilots. It usually happened when he was before some sacred image, or before a crucifix or an image of Our Lady. It was very difficult to get him down and they tried shouting, pinching and even burning him and poking him with needles – all to no avail, but he would always return to the world at the command of his superior! He would frequently levitate during Mass too. Many very important people witnessed his levitations including Pope Urban VIII. While bending over the feet of the Pope to greet him, Joseph became so enraptured that he rose into the air and only returned to the ground at his Father General’s command!
St Joseph of Cupertino levitating during Mass
On one occasion a sceptical Lutheran witnessed this and he was allowed into the sanctuary to put his hand under his feet and around him to make sure there was nothing pulling him up. When he realised it was genuine he converted to Catholicism.
Many of the saints had the gift of bilocation – the ability to be in two places at the same time. Perhaps the most extraordinary concerns Venerable Mary of Agreda, a Spanish nun who died in 1665. One day in 1620 she was mystically transported to New Mexico where she was commanded by Our Lord to teach the Indians the Faith. She spoke in Spanish but they understood her. They spoke in their native tongue and she understood them. The Indians didn’t know her name and called her the “Lady in Blue” because of the colour of her mantle. Reports of a nun teaching the Indians reached the Archbishop in Mexico, one of them from Mary of Agreda’s Confessor who wanted to see whether her report to him of her bilocating to Indian territory was true.
Venerable Mary of Agreda, Virgin, Abbess and Mystic
The Indians themselves testified there was a nun in blue who used to come and teach them about the Lord JESUS Christ and they asked for more missionaries to be sent. When two priests arrived they found the native Indians already very well instructed and so they baptised them. The Archbishop sent someone to investigate to see if the reports of Mary’s bilocating to the Indians were true. When she was questioned under obedience in Spain, (her humility would not allow her to reveal what had been happening unless she were ordered to do so) she told everything she knew about the visits and could describe everything in New Mexico exactly as it was, even the customs of the different tribes, the climate and so on. Venerable Mary of Agreda bilocated for eleven years between 1620 and 1631.
The saints continue to work miracles even in modern times. St Padre Pio (1887-1968) who lived during many of our lifetimes had many mystical gifts including bilocation, the stigmata and he worked countless miracles including raising the dead. He was such a gift to the Church and the world in these unbelieving secular times. God is telling us through St Padre Pio “I still work miracles through My saints.”
A woman with a suitcase was in the queue to confess to Padre Pio who was by now famous for working miraculous cures. When her turn came she opened her suitcase and burst into tears. She was coming to Padre Pio to ask him to cure her sick baby son but he had died on the way. However with great faith she put the child in the suitcase and continued her journey. She opened the case in front of Padre Pio who took the little boy’s body in his arms and prayed for a few moments. Then he said authoritatively to the mother, “But why are you shouting so much? Don’t you see that your child is sleeping?” The woman stopped her shouting to find that her son was breathing normally and sleeping tranquilly.
St Padre Pio
Then there is the well-known story of a girl born with no pupils in her eyes, and therefore blind from birth. Her name is Gemma di Giorgi. In 1947 Padre Pio cured her – she could suddenly see. Gemma who was 7 at the time is still alive today and continues to see but she still has no pupils in her eyes! So this is an ongoing miracle.
Many miracles are connected with Marian shrines. A French woman called Madame Bire had a withered optic nerve and had become blind in 1908. In the same year she went to Lourdes where Our Lady had appeared to St Bernadette in 1858 and received Holy Communion at the grotto. Later on the priest who was carrying the Blessed Sacrament in procession passed by her and at once she saw the statue of Our Lady.
The Blessing of the Sick during the Blessed Sacrament Procession at Lourdes
She was taken to the hospital for tests and her optic nerve was still withered and yet she could read even the smallest letters in the newspaper. Three months later, upon further examination the optic nerve had been restored. Now there is no natural means of a dead, withered optic nerve becoming functional again. Not only is this a miracle but it also proves the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, because it was when the Host passed her by that she was cured instantly. The Holy Eucharist really is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.
The final miracle I will mention was the most major of the Twentieth Century and happened at Fatima in 1917. Our Lady had appeared to three children, Jacinta, Francesco and Lucia whom she told at a certain time and at a certain place she would perform a miracle so that all would believe. Tens of thousands gathered on 13th October. There had been torrential rain for over 24 hours, but 70,000 people witnessed the Miracle of the Sun in which it danced in the sky for 12 minutes before plummeting towards the earth. People thought the end of the world had come. But then the sun returned to its place in the sky and everything and everybody was clean and dry. The miracle was recorded in the secular International Press of the time and many converted. Many miraculous cures took place in the crowd who were present and the miracle was seen from 30 miles away. All this gave testimony to the truth that Our Lady was appearing there and the authenticity of the message. The message was about the importance of salvation and also a warning that many people were living lives which if left uncorrected would result in Hell. There were also prophecies about Russia and the First and Second World Wars which all came true. So the message was very grave and still applies to us today. The miracle and message at Fatima is just as important for us today as it was then to help us change and guide us towards salvation.
The crowd in the Cova da Iria at Fatima 13th October 1917 witnessing the Miracle of the Sun
The Miracle of the Sun reported in the anti-Catholic Lisbon newspaper “O Seculo” in 1917
These few miracles I have mentioned are only motives of credibility for believing in the supernatural. As I said earlier, Our Lord worked thousands of miracles during his time on earth but many chose not to believe in Him. So miracles are not enough on their own. We have to choose to accept the truth with our hearts and minds. But at the same time we have to be careful. I have known people who see a miracle around every corner. Genuine miracles are a rare occurrence. God doesn’t always work miracles when we ask Him because it may not always be for our good. Our Lord healed many but He didn’t heal everybody. Miracles have to be profitable to us. They can also point to religious truths but they are not an end in themselves but a means to an end.
May God bless you all.