Thursday, June 27, 2013

Burn your bridges

Thirteenth Ordinary Sunday Year C

Whenever I prepare couples for marriage, I spend additional time exploring one of the questions which I would be posing to them during the rite of marriage: “Are you ready, freely and without reservation, to give yourselves to each other in marriage?” The couples usually have no problems answering this question in the affirmative but I doubt whether they actually understand the enormity of the demand made of them. I guess when I begin to mention a few scenarios, it only dawns on them how serious this demand is made of them, and how really radical it is to make an irrevocable promise that is both free and unconditional (without reservation). I usually use the analogy of taking a cruise on the Titanic to make my point. “Just imagine that you are taking a cruise on the Titanic with your future husband/wife. There’s no turning back. There are no life boats. There is no emergency reset button. You either sink, swim or drown together. That’s what it means to have no reservations!”

Most people would consider what I’ve just outlined above as severe. No one really expects you to ‘burn your bridges.’ In fact, "not burning your bridges!" is often a piece of advice given to people who are going through major changes and significant moves in their life. Caution demands a tentative commitment - we need to have an ‘insurance policy’, a ‘Plan B’, just in case things don’t work out. It’s playing it safe and having a fallback. And that is often good advice when it comes to most matters. Whether you’re talking about employment, family, or money, the old adage applies. Don’t burn your bridges. Keep your options open.

But, conventional wisdom is turned on its head when it comes to Christian discipleship. Those who are called by God are often asked to burn their bridges.  They are not called to do the safe thing; they are called to do the risky thing. There is no retreat. It’s taking the “leap of faith.” Following Jesus is like skydiving. Once you make the jump you are totally committed! Those who are called by God are not called to do the easy, safe thing. They are called to burn their bridges. They are called to take a cruise on the Titanic with their Master whom they have decided to follow. They are called to take a leap of faith.

And sometimes that feels more like judgment than salvation. The first reading is about the call of Elisha to succeed Elijah as God’s prophet. God told Elijah to anoint Elisha as the next prophet of Israel. So Elijah found Elisha in the field ploughing in the field. Elijah then placed his cloak upon Elisha as a symbol that God had chosen Elisha to be Elijah’s successor. Elisha knew exactly what this meant. It meant that he would have to leave his job, his family and his friends to follow Elijah. And so Elisha asked if he could perform a symbolic action of cutting off his connection to the past by kissing his Mother and Father goodbye. Elijah agreed. But, Elisha did more than just say goodbye to his family. He had a barbeque for the whole community. He slaughters his oxen and uses his plough to fuel the fire. The cost of discipleship was high for Elisha. This was not just a meal. It was a symbolic way of accepting God’s call. He literally burned his bridges; he burned his only means of making a living in order to move on to a new way of life. It was a costly and risky thing to do. There is no going back for Elisha.And throughout the Bible you see the same story being repeated.

If you believe that this demand made of Elisha was severe, wait till you hear what Jesus does in today’s gospel. A far greater demand is made for those who wish to be Christ’s followers – they have to risk homelessness and being deprived of family support. Last week, Jesus had already outlined the meaning of discipleship. If any wanted to follow Jesus on that route, he wanted to make the consequences clear. They would have to take up a cross. They would have to share the sacrifice as well as the glory. Discipleship has a high price tag. When the disciples of Jesus take up the mantle of faith they also take up a cross. The cross and the resurrection are always within the vision of Jesus. He knows what he faces, and he knows that anyone who goes with him must be totally committed. They too must be prepared to face the same odds. He will be rejected and his followers will be rejected as well. There is a foreshadowing of this rejection in today’s gospel – Jesus is rejected by the Samaritans, as he will be rejected by the chief priests, the elders and religious leaders at Jerusalem.

It is not only the fear of what lies ahead that serves as an obstacle to us following Christ. The gospel now focuses on what lies in the past that hinders us from making this radical step of committing to discipleship. It boils down to the question: what are your prepared to give up? Is it our time, our income, our security? Is it our fear of commitment? Is it our fear of rejection by others or objection from our loved ones? The call of God overwhelms and overshadows everything else in the lives of Christian disciples. God’s call takes precedence not only over the worst things in our life but also it takes precedence over even the best things in our life. Even life’s most important duties are nullified by the call to follow Christ.

Most of us dread that moment. We think that it would be better to have a faith that does not require so much of us. We think that it would be better to have a faith that allows to remain comfortably entrenched in our old way of life. We would prefer a soft version of the gospel. Jesus tells us this is not possible. Jesus says that if we put our hand to the plough and then look back we are not fit for the kingdom of God. When one is ploughing, it is always important to keep a fixed point that is far ahead of you in your sight. In this way you are able to plough a straight furrow. The words of Jesus are another way of saying that disciples must always keep their eyes fixed on him. As Pope Benedict reminded us in his first encyclical, God is Love, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

And like him we are encouraged to look beyond the shame and frustration of the moment to the eternal hope of resurrection and salvation. Remember the road to Jerusalem is not only about a crucifixion but also a resurrection. That was true for Jesus, and it is true for us as well.

The call of discipleship is often stark, demanding, and uncomfortable. Going with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem is always dangerous. Going with Jesus will change us and change is always painful and frightening. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran theologian who gave up a safe asylum to teach in New York in order to return to his homeland to be imprisoned and executed, once said that when Jesus calls us to follow him what he's really saying is "come and die". And yet, despite the challenge, it is a journey worth taking. St Paul reminds us in his letter to the Galatians, that the call of Jesus is a call to liberty – Jesus by calling us to “come and die” means to set us free from “yoke of slavery” to sin, to liberate us from our addictive ‘self-indulgence.’ It is only through the long and difficult personal struggle to follow Jesus that we learn the paradoxical truth that He taught us in last week’s gospel: “For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it.” That's the paradox of discipleship. In order to get what you want, you have to give up what you want. To have the holiday of your life on the Titanic, we must forget about the paper chase we’ve left behind at the office, not concern ourselves about whether our home will be burgled, or even fret over the location of the life boats on the ship. We give up the illusions posed by our false securities in this earthly life, so that we may attain the treasures of eternal life. To follow Jesus means that we have to burn our bridges – no turning back, no turning back.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Without the Cross, we are not Disciples

Twelfth Ordinary Sunday Year C

Last week’s gospel is a fitting prelude to the event recorded in this week’s passage. There we encountered the sinful woman who knelt at the feet of Jesus and anointed them with her tears and ointment. The woman’s actions do not merely display humble contrition and extravagant love. What she has done was also a prophetic and revelatory. Already in the actions of this woman, we discern the faith of the Church announcing and revealing to us the identity and mission of Jesus, the one whom we call Christ, the Anointed One. This week’s gospel articulates clearly what the woman had wished to express through her actions – she anointed the one who is the Anointed One of God, Christos. She shed tears of both grief and joy for the one who would shed his blood on the cross for our redemption.

Luke, unlike Matthew and Mark, gives us no indication of the place of this event but tells us that Jesus had been spending time in private prayer and that it was in this privacy that the question of His identity was put to the disciples. Prayer is the ordinary context in Luke’s gospel; for disclosures of Jesus’ identity. After having questioned his disciples on popular notions of who he is, he then directs his questioning to his disciples. They now become the focus on the issue of identity because the prerequisite of being a disciple of Jesus would be a comprehension of who Jesus is. The crowds were way off the mark; let’s see whether the disciples get it right. Luke’s version of Peter’s reply expands on Mark’s version which has Peter merely say, “You are the Christ,” in other words, you are the Anointed one. But this begs the question, ‘who’ had anointed Jesus? Luke provides the answer which the early Christians already knew and professed – He is the “Christ of God,” the Anointed One of God.

Peter’s confession is monumental. It is the watershed of the gospels. But this profession, though accurate, would be incomplete. It was a partial, imperfect, and even tentative confession of our Lord’s identity. The categories by which Peter used to make this personal confession were not unlike that of his contemporaries. His views were consistent with the expectation of the Jews of his day. They were expecting a human messiah, a religious leader, albeit a political liberator, who will deliver his people from oppression. The confession was also faulty on a second account: not only was Peter’s “messiah” not divine, but he was surely not a suffering messiah. It is in the accounts of Matthew and Mark that Peter’s violent reaction to the Lord’s disclosure of His imminent rejection, suffering and death are recorded. The very same person who rejoiced in Christ’s identity as Messiah, rejected the possibility of Him being a suffering Saviour. Peter’s “messiah” was therefore a distorted “messiah,” a messiah of his own hopes and aspirations. His narrow vision of the messianic mission would betray his own limited understanding of the kind of discipleship that was required of him.

Jesus’ response to the “great confession” of Peter must have caught the disciples off guard. Jesus said two things which would have been very perplexing to them. First Jesus’ charged his disciples not speak of his identity, to avoid perpetuating the already widespread misconception about his mission. The reason for this strange-sounding command is to be found in our Lord’s second statement. As God’s Messiah, He must be rejected by the leaders of the nation, be crucified, and then rise from the dead three days later. In other words, a more complete revelation of his identity must necessarily involve the cross. The disciples needed to affirm that the Christ of God is also the Son of Man who must suffer, be rejected and killed and on the third day be raised.

Having told the disciples of His cross, He immediately goes on to tell them that they will have a cross as well, if they follow Him. If the cross was a necessity in Christ’s life and his mission of salvation, the same necessity defines the life of those who would be Christ’s followers. But the disciple’s cross entails more than just external persecution, and occasionally martyrdom—it entails death to self-will, self-interest, and self-seeking. It’s a call to absolute surrender and complete abandonment. In the words of Jesus, it requires denying self. The “way of the cross” is the way of death to our own interests. As our Lord set aside His glory and prerogatives as God in order to come to earth and “bear His cross,” so the disciple of Christ must do likewise. Denying self requires us to give up anything that we would want or seek that would hinder our doing the will of God. Christianity is not an add-on to our already full, self-directed way of life. Discipleship means deliberately choosing to follow another person's way rather than making our own way.

This action of abandonment to the will of the Father is not just an isolated incident, a momentary inconvenience in an otherwise problem free life. Luke’s gospel adds a certain intensity to the demand of discipleship expected of those who wish to follow Christ. The disciple is not only expected to take up his cross once in his lifetime, but the cross is to be taken up ‘daily.’ The cross is thus lived in the every-day of on-going history.

I’ve heard people describe our crosses as burdens we have to bear in our lives—the chronically ill relative, the alcoholic or unfaithful husband, the demanding boss, a short temper, recurring health problems. So taking up your cross means putting up with these things, enduring them and soldiering on. We basically have no choice in the matter. With self-pitying pride, they say, “That’s my cross I have to carry.” Such an interpretation is not what Jesus meant. The cross was never meant to be a mere accident, an unwanted burden. Grudging reluctance to bear the cross daily can only lead to resentment – to see life as a curse, rather than a blessing even in the midst of our daily crosses. What made the cross salvific was precisely the freedom and deliberateness by which Christ chose to embrace and die on it.

Commitment to Christ means taking up your cross daily, giving up your hopes, dreams, possessions, even your very life if need be for the cause of Christ. And this must be done with utmost freedom and love, rather than to assume that it is an unfortunate lot that has fallen upon us, one which we cannot avoid. The cross becomes our salvation only because we can choose to accept it and deny it. Thus discipleship becomes an act of freedom, of choosing to lose everything for the sake of the kingdom. For those who freely choose the cross, it is no longer a symbol of misfortune, a curse or an unwanted burden. The beauty of the cross only becomes apparent when we embrace it for love of Christ. Thus, we can echo the words of that medieval mystic, Thomas à Kempis, when he unabashedly confessed that “in the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection against our enemies; in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the Cross is strength of mind; in the Cross is joy of spirit; in the Cross is excellence of virtue; in the Cross is perfection of holiness. There is no salvation of soul, nor hope of eternal life, save in the Cross.”
It is only in recognising the necessity of the cross in our Christian lives, that we can choose to resist the temptation of fleeing from it. Our two Popes have given us a potent reminder of the pervasive necessity of the cross. In his last address to an emotional crowd, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded the Church that his resignation did not mean coming down from the cross. He must have been prophetic as proof of this is found in his continuing crucifixion by critics of the Church and pseudo-fans of Pope Francis. The latter extol the simplicity of the new Pope at the cost of tarnishing the character of the old one. They equate the Pope Emeritus with their own poor notion of the Middle Ages—dark, backward and decadent—and speak as if the saintliness of the new Pontiff is an anomaly among the Successors of Saint Peter. Pope Emeritus Benedict continues to bear the cross, not just as a misunderstood figure, a victim of a relentlessly aggressive media, but he chooses to bear the cross for the whole Church. His decision to live a monastic life of prayer within the confines of the Vatican, hidden from the world, is his free and deliberate decision to bear his cross for the Church and the World. It is a sign of courage, not a sign of cowardice; it is an act proclaiming the victory of cross, rather than resigning oneself to defeat.

It is indeed providential, that as one Pope concluded his pontificate with reference to the cross, a new Pontiff would begin his reign by speaking of the necessity of same object. The path of the Church always entails difficulties, Pope Francis said in his first homily after his election to the pontificate, and Church leaders should be prepared to embrace them. He explained that “when we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess a Christ without the Cross… we aren't disciples of the Lord.” The Pontiff therefore reminds us once again, that without the cross “we are worldly. We are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, (and I would add lay and religious) but not disciples of the Lord.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Love means saying you're sorry

Eleventh Ordinary Sunday Year C

One of the most iconic romantic movies of all time is “Love Story” starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. I see some of you going teary-eyed and dreamy – it’s an instant give-away of your age, I’m afraid. In spite of the fact that most young people have never heard of or even watched the movie, the movie has left a vestige for future generations, a piece of popular wisdom imprinted in the collective psyche. It is a catchphrase from the movie which appears once in the middle, and a second time at the very end, the last line of the film, thus providing it with its grand theme. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Remember that one – one of the most memorable lines from a movie that many can’t remember. A line so famous it got voted #13 in the American Film Institute’s top 100 movie quotes.

If you really care to think about it, I believe many would agree with me that this is probably the silliest and most meaningless advice ever stated. If there were an Oscar category for the movie containing the dumbest line ever, I'd vote for this. Of all the many phrases used to define what love means, this is one of the worst, yet adopted by an entire culture. It’s ironic how often clichéd and dumb ideas like this influence popular culture, substituting a lie for the truth, banality for culture, stupidity for wisdom. This sentiment, however, was not brand new. In the 1949 film ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,’ the John Wayne’s character says “Never apologise and never explain, it’s a sign of weakness.” Another absurdity added to a long list of nonsense we have been buying into. So if you say you’re sorry, you’re a weak person, as if you are giving the other person some kind of power over you.

The truth is it takes strength and love to apologise. Taking responsibility is the hallmark of maturity. Admitting our mistakes does not mean that we will no longer commit the same mistakes. In fact, never admitting mistakes means they will likely be repeated. When actions don’t seem to have any consequences, when you don’t have to take responsibility for messing up, it makes it so much easier to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

I think John Lennon is much closer to the truth on this matter when he wrote “Love means having to say you’re sorry every fifteen minutes.” That’s an exaggeration, of course, but seems closer to the truth. In my view, the adage that makes the most sense is “love means always being ready to say sorry.”

The Bible and the history of the Church are not filled with super-hero saints who were impeccable, free from mistakes, who knew no sin.  On the contrary, our history is populated with men and women who were fallible, who sinned, but yet able to say, "I'm sorry"… people who were able to accept God's forgiveness and who could live with joy and peace because they were again at one with God.  They were people who could love much because they had been forgiven much! Confessing our guilt and saying sorry is at the very heart of our faith. There is nothing the Lord loves more than a repentant sinner. Both David in the first reading and the sinful woman in today’s gospel are excellent examples.

Let us turn to King David. Here was the ‘anointed’ of God, a prefiguration of Christ, “The Anointed One”, who ended up committing the worst dastardly crimes and sins of adultery and murder. He thought he got away with it but Nathan the prophet would demand an account for David’s sin. When confronted, David finally admitted his guilt: “I have sinned against the Lord.”  As king, David could have had Nathan executed right then and there. Other kings had prophets executed; David could have done it. David might have been slow in understanding the serious nature of his actions, but once he got it, he was sincerely sorry, if not he would not have been able to compose the beautiful words in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love...”.

In today’s Gospel story a contrast is made between the righteous Pharisee, the seemingly gracious host, and the sinful woman, the unwelcomed visitor. But like so many other gospel stories, the enigmatic encounter with Jesus will expose the lie that disguises itself as the truth; it is the unwelcomed visitor, the sinner, who offers true hospitality to Jesus. Both the righteous and un-righteous (often self-righteous) are exposed in the dazzling revealing light of the Incarnate Word. The Pharisees’ self-righteousness is unveiled as he displays miserliness, an inability to show love and compassion. For a man convinced in his own righteousness, who only recognises the faults of others, there is no room for an apology. On the other hand, we have the sinful woman. Though not mentioned, we can assume that this woman, who could recognise her own sinfulness, had the courage and humility to say, “I’m sorry.” Because so much was forgiven, the sinful woman is made righteous with God and thus overwhelms Jesus with her display of love. This woman is not forgiven because of her lavish demonstrations of love; rather, the loving actions follow from her experience of having been forgiven. The miracle of salvation began with her ability to acknowledge her own sinfulness. Her repentance becomes the occasion for her salvation and expands her heart to embrace God who now enables her to love as He did, without any reservation or inhibition.

Two of the most difficult and humbling words in any language are: "I'm sorry."  By the same token, they are two of the most wonderful words, as well. Saying, "I'm sorry," begins the process of healing, and re-establishing relationships.  Repenting of sins and making humble confession to God is being able to say, "I'm sorry."  That, in part, is the meaning and purpose of Holy Communion.  That is why after committing a serious sin, we cannot receive Communion without having first gone to Confession. On the other hand, it is always easy to give an excuse and point the finger at someone else – Adam and Eve did. It takes great courage to take responsibility for our actions. What really counts in the Christian life is the capacity for looking into one’s own heart and discerning the sin that lies embedded there. What really matters for faith, is the willingness to own up, and see the real cause of the problem, our own sinfulness, rather than to dwell on the faults of others. What really makes the difference in human relationships – especially in marriage and in family life – is a readiness to admit fault and ask forgiveness.

When parents can’t admit their faults for fear that this would be a sign of weakness, how can they expect their children to learn how to say sorry on their own volition. When leaders are unable to admit their mistakes, can we expect a moral leadership that will inspire a culture of accountability? It is not a weakness to acknowledge that one has been wrong; it is a sign of strength, it is the foretaste of salvation. From beginning to end, the Bible shows us that a free admission of guilt is the royal road to freedom and new life. True liberation is found in coming before the throne of God without defenses, without excuses, without posturing, in the secure knowledge that the Father will not withdraw his mercy and compassion to the repentant sinner.

Pope Francis tells us to never forget this: “God never wearies of forgiving us, never! So, … what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that we grow weary, we do not want to, we tire of asking for forgiveness. He never tires of forgiving, but we, at times, we tire of asking forgiveness. Let us never tire, let us never tire! He is the loving Father, who always forgives, who has that heart of mercy for all of us.” So, let us never tire of saying, ‘I’m sorry!’

Friday, June 7, 2013

So which is it?

Tenth Ordinary Sunday Year C

Albert Einstein once said, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." So which is it?

Both the first reading and the gospel provide us with putative miracle stories involving the resurrection of dead persons. ‘Why putative?’ you may ask. Is it a miracle or isn’t it? Well, at least that seems to be the conclusion of the eye-witnesses, the faith communities that passionately shared and passed on these stories, the Bible authors who meticulously collated the oral traditions and recorded the same for posterity, and the contemporary believer who reads these tales through the lenses of faith. On the other side of the fence, the modern sceptic may come to an entirely different conclusion. He comes with kid-gloves off, equipped with the reliable weapons of modern science and literary hermeneutics, ready to spar with the naively gullible. The sceptic attempts to peel away what he considers layers of filters, myth-making, primitive beliefs and provide the story with a more plausible interpretation that accords with modern sensibilities. Rather than a resurrection of a dead person, he is more likely to read the stories as accounts of the resuscitation of comatose persons. So, which is it?

Was Jesus a healer, a miracle worker, the Son of God or a practitioner of medical science? So which is it? In recent decades, strenuous efforts have been made and are still being made by many biblical scholars to represent that the miracles of Jesus Christ as myths and nothing more. Many, in their zeal have even denied that these miracles ever took place. They often state that they do this so that Jesus as a person can emerge in purity without all the myth surrounding Him. Their goal is the ‘Historical Jesus’, one free of the idealised or ‘idolised’ accretion of faith. While this may be a lofty goal, many have gone too far as we human beings are often wont to do. They have altogether thrown the child out with the bath. They often end up denying the two scriptural beliefs that form the foundation of our Christian faith, the Incarnation, the event of God becoming man, and the Resurrection, Christ rising from the dead. So, which is it? Did it really happened or didn’t it?

I think the real problem is that many people, both believers and non-believers included, are often of the opinion that religion and science are mutually exclusive; that they are incompatible. Unbelievers, atheists and sceptics often think that faith is pre-scientific nonsense and pure superstition or mythology. It is easy for them to make fun of popular religion, whether it is the simple pietism of Roman Catholics, amid the plastic holy water bottles in the shape of the Virgin at Lourdes, the masses who flock to alleged miraculous sites to gain some personal favour, to the poorly-educated happy-clappy Evangelicals and Pentecostals and the naively gullible who spend their live savings investing in holy schemes, fail-safe novenas and miraculous handkerchiefs.  According to the former, the latter have abdicated reason when it comes to faith.  It is interesting to note that both fideism (exclusive reliance on faith alone and the exclusion of reason) and rationalism (the rejection of any knowledge that cannot be supported empirically or proven scientifically) are rejected by the Church and considered erroneous and heretical positions.

For true believers, it’s never an issue of choosing between faith and reason. The question, ‘which is it’, is misplaced. The Catholic Church consistently teaches that faith is not opposed to reason. Rather, faith seeks understanding, ‘fides quarens intellectum.’ Faith is never a sacrifice of the intellect. But it also takes humility, as Einstein reminds us, to recognise that rationality and sciences has its limitations. Is it not possible that there is a faculty of understanding in human-beings which is neither rational, nor irrational, but rather 'supra-rational', beyond the reason, higher than the reason? In other words, although faith does not contradict reason, faith can go beyond the limitations of reason. Blessed John Paul II, in the  introduction to his encyclical letter entitled "Fides et Ratio” (Faith and Reason), explained it beautifully: "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth-in a word, to know himself-so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves."

While it is important to see the gospel stories in a historically critical manner in order to get to the original intention of the biblical authors, going so far as to deny that the miracles of Jesus were real is missing the point altogether. His miracles were an essential part of His ministry. Quite aside from the obvious human angle of the relief of suffering that the miracles achieved, they were also a most important way of arousing the faith of his people. Miracles are challenges to faith. The people were meant to go beyond the miracles, beyond the spectacular and crowd pleasing firework displays, and come into contact with the saving Word of God which would change their lives. The people were aroused from their spiritual lethargy and inspired to follow the Word Incarnate, and finally to reap the ultimate gift which Jesus had intended to give them and all of us, eternal life.

Jesus’ miracles are not so much displays of power as they are signs of the presence of God’s Kingdom in the person of Jesus. Their significance in Jesus’ life and ministry is captured nicely in his own words: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the Kingdom of God has come to you” (Lk 11:20). This saying provides the key to a proper understanding of Jesus’ miracles. During his lifetime there was little doubt about Jesus’ ability to heal and perform other types of miracles. Even his opponents acknowledged his power to do such actions. Their question concerned the origin or source of Jesus’ powers. Did his power come from God or from Satan? In response, Jesus tried to show the absurdity of their question, because his miracles were clearly signs of God’s victory over Satan and the defeat of the powers of evil. The miracles proclaim the arrival of the kingdom of God, and the era of Christ (Lk 11 : 20; Mt 11: 4-5). They were meant to give us a fore-taste of Paradise. The Catechism of the Catholic Church was quick to warn that Jesus’ primary mission was not to “abolish all evils here below, but to free men from the gravest slavery, sin, which thwarts them in their vocation as God’s sons and causes all forms of human bondage. (CCC 549)

For many, miracles have become an end in themselves. They have become obsessed in looking for sensational signs and wonders. They too miss the point. These people fail to recognise that miracles are not intended to “satisfy people’s curiosity or desire for magic” (CCC 549). They fail to recognise that this preoccupation detracts from the ultimate purpose of miracles. Miracles reveal the mystery of Christ who stands behind these signs and symbols. Miracles act as signposts and neon lights pointing to the greatest miracle of all – the salvation of humanity through the Incarnation of the one who is the life and resurrection of all believers. While the Incarnation is the root miracle of salvation, the Resurrection is the definitive and ultimate sign. If there should be any miracle that should attract our attention and earn our adulation, it should be these central mysteries of faith. Therefore, any Catholic who gives their primary attention to alleged private revelations and putative miracles at the expense of ignoring the central mysteries faith contained in Sacred Scripture, the teaching of the Church, sacramental life, prayer and fidelity to Church authority is off course.

Miracles will always have as their primary purpose the glorification of God and the calling of people to salvation. The signs worked by Jesus attest to His divine authority and invite belief in Him (cf. Catechism, no. 548). They show us that the one who cured blindness, leprosy and paralysis is the same one who provides us shelter and haven from the roaring winds and raging seas. They reveal that the one who changed water into wine, is the new Wine of the Eternal Covenant, the never drying fountain and source of living water.   The ultimate aim of the miracles of Jesus is to give us the wonderful experience of Heavenly Bliss in God's Kingdom. After His Ascension and Pentecost, Christ's disciples worked miracles in the name of Christ, thus giving the people signs of His divinity and proofs that He is who they said He is. In the same way later saints worked miracles to testify to a higher authority and that people are called to His kingdom. But miracles aren’t the main point! It is what those miracles point to and lead us to that is fundamentally important – the salvation of souls; this is the primary mission of the Church. The Church’s mission, all its prayers, rites and activities, are directed and devoted to the salvation of souls: calling people to turn from the Way of Death and to embrace the Way of Life.