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“Ask a Priest: Should We Put More of a Spotlight on Miracles?”
Q: I’ve been a Catholic for 27 years and I’m just now learning about the Eucharistic miracle of Argentina in 1996. My question is this: As an evangelical Church, why don’t we lean into these miracles more sternly? Especially with as science-obsessed as our culture has become, it seems like it might be a wonderful evangelical tool. Is there something I should be cautious about if I lean into a Eucharistic miracle as an evangelist? – J.K.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: While miracles can give a great boost to a person’s faith, their effectiveness in evangelization is sometimes limited.
There are exceptions, of course. One miracle that had enormous impact on evangelization was the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe which appeared in 1531 in Mexico and which helped to convert millions of the indigenous people to the faith.
But that was something of an exception. Miracles, including Eucharistic miracles, aren’t always the great persuaders that we think they should be.
Miracles require a bit of faith or at least an openness to the supernatural. This isn’t always present in people. This might explain why even today some people simply shrug when they look at the image of Guadalupe or read about the miracle of the sun at Fatima or hear the evidence of Eucharistic miracles. Such skeptics simply remain unconvinced.
None of this is new in history. Jesus did numerous miracles – feeding the multitudes, curing the sick, raising the dead – yet he still faced skepticism. Remarkably, even people who knew of Our Lord’s miracles taunted him on Calvary. “He saved others; he cannot save himself. … Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42).
Perhaps all this is one reason why the Church might seem to downplay miracles when it comes to evangelization. To unbelievers and skeptics the miracles might seem like pious fables.
Moreover (and this might sound odd), miracles don’t reveal anything new about the faith. In fact, they aren’t considered by the Church to be essential to the faith.
All the most important truths of the faith for our salvation have already been revealed by Christ, though we are still unpacking the contents of his teaching. Those truths are accessible in Church teaching.
What this means in practice is that the Church bases its work of evangelization more on the preaching of the Gospel and on works of charity rather than on the extraordinary occurrence of miracles.
For conversion means to accept Christ as savior and to live in accord with his teaching. Conversions based on miracles, while valuable at times, can be shaky. Unless a person undergoes a change of heart, the allure of a miracle can fade.
None of this is meant to denigrate miracles. They can be a great help to a person’s faith. But they won’t always be an enduring motive for turning one’s life over to Christ. This kind of commitment requires a deeper, long-lasting response from a person.
(For more reading, and a different perspective, see https://www.catholic.com/index.php/magazine/online-edition/miracles-and-evangelism.)
Whenever you are involved in the work of evangelization, a first step will be your own prayer life.
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