Miracles are events beyond our experience, our knowledge,
our understanding, If we could understand how they occur they would no longer be miracles! So how can we understand them? The following analogy may help you to understand:
Start by comparing our universe to a church organ.
An organ is an instrument that has three parts. The most visible part is that of the various keyboards. At the heart of the organ is the bellows that provide the necessary wind, without which it would be impossible to produce sound. And finally, an organ has various stops or switches, each one of which changes the sound the organ makes.
Now think of God as the bellows. The breath, the wind he produces, is the wind necessary to make the music of nature. If he were to stop blowing, the music would stop, and we would cease to exist, as God holds us all, the whole of nature, in being. We only exist because God wishes us to. Now, the breath of God enables the keyboard, nature itself, to produce a simple melodious sound, which we can call the beauty of nature itself following creation. Over time these first simple stops were added to as evolution made the Universe richer, acquiring new sounds as God added new stops. The Universe evolved until there was life and mankind, gaining yet more stops. God made the organ, provided the breath, and added the stops.
Let us think now of the theme of the miracle. Why can’t we think of a miracle not as something that acts against nature, but as an enabling of the Universe? In a given moment God gives to nature a strength that goes beyond what it is ordinarily capable of, and for this reason it is able to do more than it ordinarily can. This is the miracle, rather like a glimpse of what our resurrected Universe will be like in its final stage, when it will continuously have more and more stops open, sounding much more melodious, a reality much more spectacular.
Why do miracles occur?
“Their essential purpose is to indicate that the human person is destined and called to the kingdom of God. These signs therefore confirm in different ages and in the most varied circumstances the truth of the Gospel, and demonstrate the saving power of Christ who does not cease to call people (through the Church) on the path of faith.”
Pope Saint John Paul II, General Audience, January 13, 1988 –
Miracles are supernatural signs that occur in the natural world. God’s miracles teach us about what is beyond creation. Some people invoke science in opposition to miracles. Yet, science allows us to know what is natural so that we can also know what is supernatural. Miracles communicate a specific message: they are signs of God’s glory and His loving plan of salvation. Miracles are a call to faith, appealing to our reason so that our faith may grow.
So, how does the Church recognise a Miracle? What is needed for it to do so? The church always looks for three essential elements or dimensions:
1. The first of these is called the “psychological” dimension. In nature extraordinary things do occur, things that surprise us, but this does not mean that they are miracles. A miracle has to be something that greatly surprises, that leaves us with our mouths open, that astounds us, that we find impossible to understand or to rationalise. Why? Because a miracle does not fit in with our understanding of nature, of what we consider to be natural. If our understanding of nature can explain what has happened, then this cannot be a miracle.
2. The second dimension of a miracle is the dimension of “significance”. A miracle is not just a sign of the strength of God, of his power, but ultimately it is a sign of the love of God for us, a demonstration of his mercy as directed towards one person in particular. Miracles always seek to help us believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God.
3. The third dimension of a miracle is the ontological one. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, of becoming, of existence, of reality. This dimension of a miracle tends to be the one that is most often questioned, and often rejected. In order to accept this aspect of a miracle we need first to accept that it is possible to go beyond what we know nature to be capable of, that nature is in fact able to go beyond what we understand to be natural.
For Christians this should not be difficult to accept. With the discovery of the process of evolution in the Universe, demonstrated clearly by fossilised remains, the Church came to realise that instead of one single act of Creation by God, as had been previously thought, God created a Universe in evolution, a Universe that is becoming more perfect. Evolution shows us that our cosmos not only continues transforming, but also continues to grow in being, in existence, and that it now has a greater level of being than in its beginnings. Our Trinitarian God put into place the laws of nature that would govern this evolution, and still creates as He individually ensouls and thus creates each and every one of us. God, as the source of all being, empowers and perfects our world in order to lead it to its fullness. Understanding that God created the laws of nature enables us to accept that God has power over these laws, and as such has the ability to change these laws if He wills and perform miracles.
Finally, we must remember that only God can perform miracles. A Saint as we have seen can intercede for us by asking God to perform a miracle, but the saint himself cannot perform one. Only God, who is the source of everything, is capable of making a natural cause do more than it can possibly do on its own and can thus alter the laws of nature out of love for a human being.
Photos, left to right; Pope John Paul II; the pipe organ in the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Triq Melita, Valletta, Malta ©Frank Vincentz; the universe from earth © Tsvetoslav Hristov; ultrasound of 8 week and 1 day old baby, 167mm long from crown to rump shown by a white dotted line the actual size in the womb seen as a dark bubble © Ragesoss