By John Norton
If you're looking to spark an energetic discussion the next time you're in a group of people you've just met, mention miracles.
I've noticed even among my friends, some people are very comfortable with the concept and even see mini-miracles --smaller manifestations of God intervening in human history -- occurring all the time as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Other friends, however, are visibly put out by such talk. Sure, they're willing to accept the miracle of transubstantiation every Sunday at church, but they're much happier thinking about the universe as a place with immutable laws that God doesn't rock, at least not regularly since biblical times. It doesn't help them that there are a lot of addled people out there peddling questionable miracle experiences.
This week, the 150th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes, gives us an opportunity to bone up on what modern-day miracles look like and what they mean (see In Focus, Pages 9-12). Chances are, for anyone even vaguely familiar with Catholic culture, Lourdes evokes mental images of a white statue in a stone grotto and old-fashioned wooden crutches piled next to the shrine's pool of miraculous healing waters.
Because of the numerous healings, the shrine set up an office, complete with medical consultants, to rigorously examine each reported healing through the eyes of modern science before certifying it as miraculous. Only 67 healings in the past 150 years have passed the strict standards out of hundreds of reported cures.
But without downplaying the significance of the physical miracles and the message of God's merciful power they provide, Lourdes has a lot more to offer than a frigid bath. The bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes tells us it is faith and prayers, not water, that heal (see Page 12).
And as Rex Rund, who took his sick 9-year-old son to Lourdes, writes, sometimes the healing comes in ways that are not expected (see Page 14). His son died months after the visit but underwent a transformation first.
The most significant healings -- at least from the perspective of eternity -- go unnoticed at Lourdes every day. They are tied to the message of conversion and prayer of Mary, who revealed herself to an uneducated peasant girl at Lourdes as the "Immaculate Conception."
Lourdes' Bishop Jacques Perrier says conversion of heart is one of the more common miracles to occur at the shrine.
"Because Mary is without sin -- the Immaculate Conception -- she is a refuge of sinners. Mary has no contempt for sinners; she welcomes them," Bishop Perrier said.
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-- John Norton
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