The MOST Theological Collection: Catholic Apologetics Today: Answers to Modern Critics
"Chapter 3: Wonders Never Cease"
"It is impossible to use electric light and wireless ... and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles."5 The writer is one we have met before, R. Bultmann, founder of New Testament Form Criticism. Modern man is so sophisticated and smart, according to Bultmann, that he can no longer accept miracles.
He explains, "A miracle-i.e. an act of God-is not visible or ascertainable like worldly events."6 In fact, "The conception of miracles as ascertainable processes ... makes belief in miracles (or rather superstition) susceptible to the justifiable criticisms of science."7 Yet, on the other hand, he insists, "When worldly happenings are viewed as a closed series... there is certainly no room for any act of God. But this is just the paradox of faith: it understands an ascertainable event in its context in nature and history as the act of God ... This is the only genuine faith in miracles."8
If the reader finds the above somewhat confusing, he is probably grasping Bultmann correctly. What Bultmann really says is that modern man is too smart to accept miracles. If science cannot explain something, it would be superstition to call it a miracle. But something science can explain can be a miracle.
It is impossible to be more perverse. Really, Bultmann is showing the kind of faith we rejected in our opening chapter, a faith based on nothing at all, a faith as solid as a cloud.
But we, on the other hand, insist on being rational. When we begin our study of the Gospels, we will find accounts of miracles, so it is good right now to ask: Can we believe in miracles?
The answer is: No. For we do not have to believe in miracles-rather, we see and accept as a miracle something that has no other conceivable explanation but the hand of God.
Did such things ever happen? The easiest way to find the answer is to ask: Do they still happen? Let us proceed, therefore, and see.
Madame Biré, a French woman, became blind in February 1908. Medical examination showed blindness was due to atrophy of the papilla; in other words, the optic nerve was withered at the point where it enters the eye. Obviously, there was organic reason for her blindness. No one can see with a withered optic nerve. She was taken to Lourdes, the great shrine at which it is reported the Blessed Virgin appeared in 1858. On August 5, 1908, Madame Biré received Holy Communion at the Grotto of Lourdes. At 10:15 a.m., the priest who was carrying the Blessed Sacrament in procession passed beside her. Madame Biré at once saw the statue of the Blessed Virgin.
She was taken at once to the permanent Medical Bureau at Lourdes where doctors are always available. In fact, any doctor, even an atheist, is permitted to go there and examine cases to his heart's content. (One of these, Dr. Alexis Carrel, came to scoff, but left a convert.9) Dr. Lainey, an oculist, examined her. What he found was even more astonishing than a miraculous cure: She could read even the smallest letters of a newspaper, but the optic nerve was still withered! A month later another eye examination by three specialists found that the nerve had been restored.10 No possible suggestion nor any natural means can make a dead, withered optic nerve functional!11
In passing, we note that a case such as this is not only a miracle, it also proves the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, for it was when the Host passed her that she was cured instantly. It also proves the claims of the Church with regard to the Eucharist, that It is the real Presence of Christ-His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
We often hear claims of cures by faith healers and similar persons. There is no careful checking on these; but some fakes have been detected. The supposed cures are generally of maladies open to the power of suggestion. The mind can do some remarkable things. But no one would dare to claim suggestion could restore a withered nerve.
Some have proposed that Jesus in His earthly life worked miracles by suggestion, or even, that He had found some marvelous natural means not known to others. The claims are false. First, He said He did things by the power of God. If it were merely by natural means, He would have been a liar and a fake. But His whole life, His lofty moral tone and His teaching contradict that. And this cure of Madame Biré-worked by His presence in the Blessed Sacrament-could not have been accomplished by natural means of any kind. For no natural process can make a nerve operative while still withered. Our next cases, too, are far beyond any natural process, as we shall see.
Around 700 A.D., in the church of St. Legonziano in Lanciano, Italy, a priest was celebrating Mass. He began to doubt the Presence of Jesus in the Host and chalice. Then it happened. Most of the Host changed to flesh (the center kept the appearance of bread), and the Liquid in the chalice became five clots of blood. The treasure was guarded over the centuries by monks.
Finally, in November 1970, the authorities of the Church gave permission for a study. A team of biological and medical scientists gathered. They took small samples of the flesh and the blood and put them through a full battery of tests. They found that the flesh really was human flesh, a part of the heart, and the clots were human blood. The proteins in the blood were the normal ratio contained in fresh blood. Other features of the chemistry were normal. The type of the blood in the clots was the same as the blood in the flesh. Yet, no trace of any preservative or embalming agent was found. Obviously, flesh and blood would ordinarily begin to decay in a day or two-yet after so many centuries, and right up to today, they have not decayed.12
So now we ask Bultmann: What natural law can change bread and wine into human flesh and blood and keep them without decay, without preservatives, for centuries, so that every scientific test can verify they really are human flesh and blood?
Here is one more case. On December 9, 1531, an Aztec Indian, Juan Diego, claimed he had seen the Virgin Mary in the countryside near Mexico City. He told his Bishop, who was quite properly skeptical. The Bishop told him that if it happened again to ask the Blessed Virgin for a sign. On December 12 she came again, and Juan did ask for a sign. She told him to pick some roses growing nearby, which ordinarily would not be found there in December. He put them into his cloak and went to see the Bishop. But the Bishop did not look at the flowers; he kept staring at the cloak. Juan had not noticed, but the cloak now held a large full
color image of the apparition Juan had seen.
On November 14, 1921 a powerful bomb hidden in a vase of flowers was placed before the image. The bomb exploded and did extensive damage, heavily twisting a large metal crucifix (which I myself have seen), but it did not harm the image or the glass in front of it!
In 1929, Alfonso Marcue Gonzales was studying the image, and to his surprise he saw a picture inside of the eyes. In 1956, two ophthalmologists, Dr. Javier Toroello-Bueno and Dr. Rafael Torija-Lavoignet confirmed that there is indeed an image in the eyes. This image follows the pattern of the Purkinje-Sanson Law: there should be a threefold reflection in a normal eye, two right side up, one upside down. More recently, Dr. Jose Aste-Tonsmann, using computer-enhanced images, found that at least four figures can be seen, one seeming to be an Indian peasant with hands lifted in prayer. Dr. Aste believes it is Juan Diego. The image shows also a bearded Spaniard.
Further, extensive studies made by infrared and ultraviolet photography and by microchemical analysis of fibers and pigments prove that some trimmings have been added to the picture by human hands, but that the basic picture is totally inexplicable by science; e.g., no brush marks, no sizing on the cloth, no cracking of pigments, etc. The cloth itself should have decayed in 25 to 30 years from the time of the apparition.13
As we said, we could quite rationally claim that these events, which we do not believe but rather see for ourselves, not only prove the existence of a God, but prove the truth of the Catholic Church, which alone proclaims the Real Presence in the Eucharist and the dignity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
However, without in any way denying that these marvels do prove these things, we are going to put them aside, and show still another way of establishing the solid ground for faith.