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St Catherine Labouré
Virgin (entered heaven in 1876)
I am following closely everything you send me about your ongoing “conversation” with your biology professor. I am frequently puzzled by the great faith that men like him have in atheism. Why is it, I ask myself, that they claim to disprove so definitively something that can be neither proved nor disproved with scientific exactitude? Yes, I have run into many such folks in my day, and be sure that I will join my prayers to yours for his conversion. Judging from your notes, you’re doing just fine. One little “argument” that you may want to pull out some time is the argument from facts. It seems that the good professor is trying to write off much of Catholic spirituality and experience as irrational superstition. For some people, perhaps the faith is indeed connected with certain cultural taboos or superstitious traditions, but this is hardly a reason for its dismissal. You see, he is arguing against facts: the fact is, that prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary have obtained countless miracles by her intercession through the centuries, as have prayers to saints, novenas, relics, and a whole host of other devotions that Mr Biology would discard as “superstitions.” If we were only dealing with a dozen incidents, or even a few hundred, I would give weight to his prejudiced conclusion. The facts, however, indicate thousands upon thousands of incidents. How rational is it to dismiss so many as mere superstition? … the argument from facts – it may come in handy some day.
Today’s saint is a perfect example of the kind of thing that has been happening since the dawn of Christianity, the kind of thing that frustrates dogmatic atheists to no end. St Catherine Labouré was born to a large family in central France. When her mother died and her older sister entered the convent, she took over the housekeeping responsibilities and helped her father as best she could, until she too felt a call to the religious life. Reluctantly, Mr Labouré allowed her to pursue her vocation, and she joined the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. She was sent to their community in Paris after she professed her vows, and soon thereafter was graced with a series of visions in which the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her and spoke with her. It turns out that the Blessed Virgin wanted her to have a medal struck for the benefit of the faithful throughout the world (later known as the “miraculous medal” because of its origin in these miraculous visions). It was to depict the Blessed Virgin standing on a globe with shafts of light streaming from her hands, surrounded with the words “O Mary, conceived free from sin, pray for us who turn to you!” On the back, there was to be large letter “M” with a cross above it and two hearts, one encircled by thorns and one pierced by a sword, below.
At the conclusion of her visions, St Catherine confided the heavenly task to her confessor, who went and carried it out. Funny thing was, she made him promise not to reveal her identity, she didn’t mention the visions to anyone at all, she kept herself in the utmost obscurity, and she was persistently unwilling to appear before ecclesiastical authorities, even when the bishop of Paris was undertaking inquiries into the authenticity of the visions. Of course, as you know from your own experience, the medal was cast, and has since become a common and fruitful devotion for millions of Catholics throughout the world.
How does one explain this and the countless other similar phenomena (like the fact that a child of 12, crippled from birth, was instantaneously cured at St Catherine’s grave a few days after her death) that surround the Catholic faith in every age? Either by admitting that God cares, or by burying one’s head in the sand, I’d say (but don’t tell that to your bio professor).
Your loving uncle,