First of Two Parts
Peter said to [Jesus] in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was, he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately, Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why do you doubt?”
— The Gospel of St. Matthew, 14:28-31
Many of us are like Peter in the Gospel mass reading today. We believe, but when we face the winds of the world, we lose faith and begin sinking in the unbelief of being “practical” and “realistic.”
And even when the hand of God is already in our faces, clearly shaping the course of our lives and our world, buffeting winds make us turn away from Jesus, and sink.
Take the man who kidnapped and detained the three shepherd children gifted with six monthly visions of Our Lady of Fatima a century ago.
On August 13, 1917, Lucia dos Santos, 10, and her Marto cousins Francisco, 9, and Jacintha, 7, were going to the Cova de Iria in the Fatima parish in rural Portugal. A man offered them a ride in his car, one of the very few in the village then.
But the man took the children to his home, and threatened them with immersion in boiling oil if they did not divulge the three secrets imparted by Our Lady a month before. The children refused, and townsfolk demanded their release.
The kidnapper himself acknowledged the Miracle of the Sun in the final apparition on October 13, 1917. Yet he lived and died an atheist.
He saw, but did not believe.
Converting the colonies
Thankfully, most of us are not so obstinate. And God has given countless manifestations, from apparitions and miracles, to incurables and incorruptibles, inviting us to believe, repent and pray.
Apparitions of Jesus, Mary and other holy figures are among the most persuasive events, starting with St. Paul’s conversion. Closer to our time, the three visions of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Mexican farmer Saint Juan Diego in 1531, heralded the conversion of 10 million natives at a time when 6 million Europeans turned Protestants.
Inspiring conversions in Asia were Our Lady of Manaoag in 1610, half a century after Philippine colonization accelerated with the Legazpi-Urdaneta expedition; and Our Lady of La Vang, amid the 1798 persecution of Catholics in Vietnam.
Like other apparitions, Manaoag and La Vang saw many miracles, including the protection of crops in Pangasinan against locusts and drought after the image of Our Lady bearing the Christ Child and a rosary was brought to the afflicted farmland.
For those doubting centuries-old tales, Our Lady of Guadalupe manifests God’s power even in our time: the tilma or cactus cloth cape worn by Juan Diego and shown to the local bishop after the latter asked who told the farmer to request a church built for her.
After nearly half a millennium, the tilma image, though unvarnished, is very well preserved, while its reproductions fade in 15 years or so. The image “regenerated” after an ammonia spill, and a dynamite bomb blast failed to damage the cloth or its protecting glass, while objects nearby were destroyed.
An ophthalmologist studied the eyes under 2,500 times magnification. He found images of people, possibly reflecting those present when the tilma was shown to the bishop.
There is debate whether Juan Diego actually existed. But in 1995, a Jesuit priest publicized a parchment in the Nahuatl dialect of the 1500s, containing an illustrated account of the apparition, and notes on the visionary’s life and death. He was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in 2002 — the first indigenous saint of the Americas.
Incurable and incorruptible
More than Vatican affirmation and historical accounts, however, what propagated beliefs and devotions were personal inspirations and miracles through the ages. So it was in three of the greatest Marian apparitions: Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (1830), Our Lady of Lourdes (1858), and Our Lady of Fatima (1917).
The Miraculous Medal, imparted by Mary to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris, got the name for the many wonders attributed to the medallion, with Mary in front, rays streaming from her outstretched hands, and the Hearts of Jesus and Mary at the back. Marvels transpired as soon as the medals were first distributed in 1832 amid a cholera outbreak in Paris. Devotees who wore them got well. The medal was also credited with many thousands of favors, cures and conversions.
Lourdes, of course, is renowned for inexplicable remedies among desperate pilgrims visiting its healing waters. The Church validated a limited number of the thousands of claimed miracles since Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous, then a 14-year-old peasant girl, at the grotto of Massabielle, near Lourdes, France in 1858.
More than 60 have been confirmed, including the 2002 healing of Serge Francois, 56, whose left leg was immobile after surgery complications herniated a spinal disc (see <http://www.miraclehunter.com/marian_apparitions/approved_apparitions/lourdes/downloads/lourdes_cures.pdf> ).
Fatima’s Miracle of the Sun, witnessed by 70,000 people, included not just the fiery orb dancing in the sky, falling to earth, then soaring back to heaven. People also found themselves and the ground totally dry right after the event, despite days of downpour till moments before the miracle began.
Among the best accounts were by Avelino de Almeida, editor of the Freemason paper O Seculo. He went to Fatima probably hoping to debunk the promised miracle, but ended up affirming it, despite ridicule and outrage from his colleagues.
In all three apparitions, miracles happened even after death: the bodies of St. Catherine, St. Bernadette, and St. Jacinta were all found incorrupt decades after their passing.
Truly, our Lord never stops calling: “Come.” Do we?
(Ric Saludo will give Fatima talks in America on Sept. 16-31. Interested groups may email firstname.lastname@example.org.)