The New Testament witnesses to many miracles which Jesus performed. He showed His control over nature by walking on water. He showed His power over sickness by curing the ill. And He showed His authority over death by raising the dead.
In today’s gospel, Jesus multiplies loaves and fish to feed the crowds who had gathered to hear him speak. As it is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels, we know it must have made a deep impression on the apostles. They would have understood it not only as a sign of His great power, not only as an example of His compassion for others, but as a foreshadowing of the greatest gift He would leave to His Church - the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the Eucharist.
When we think of miracles, we often consider them as a phenomenon of the past. They took place in Jesus’ day and in the early Church, but they do not happen today. With our knowledge of science and our advanced technologies is there still room for belief in miracles? Can we still believe that God bends the rules of nature to give His people a sign that He is still alive and active among us?
Those of us who have the gift of faith can say without a doubt that God still performs miracles. And we do not have to look too far back into the past to find them.
One example of just such a miracle took place less than twenty years ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A priest had just finished an evening Mass when a woman came up to him to say she had found a host that someone had dropped on the floor. It seems that the person who dropped it accidently did not want to consume it because it was dirty. In accord with the law of the Church, the priest picked up the host along with any particles, put it in a glass of water to dissolve and placed it in the tabernacle.
About seven days later, the priest checked on the host to see if it had dissolved. Instead, he was shocked to find that, rather than a host, there was a piece of flesh in the glass that was oozing blood. Immediately, the priest called his bishop, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, whom we now know as our beloved Pope Francis, and told him what had happened. The Cardinal sent a photographer down to take pictures of the phenomenon. After consulting with some other priests, it was decided that they keep the whole affair secret and wait to see if anything else would happen to the host.
In 1999, after four years, the flesh continued to ooze blood. So Cardinal Bergoglio along with his advisors contacted a physician who took a sample of the flesh and sent it to be examined by Dr Frederic Zugiba in New York. To ensure the objectivity of the analysis, they did not tell the doctor where the flesh had come from.
After examining it, Dr Zugiba concluded that the flesh was taken from the heart of a man who was alive when the sample was extracted. Furthermore, because of the high white blood cell count in the tissue, he concluded that the man had suffered a great deal of agony and torture.
When Dr Zugiba delivered his findings to Cardinal Bergoglio and his advisors, he was shocked to learn that the flesh he examined did not come from a living man but had been kept in a jar of water for over four years. He was further surprised that the flesh had come from a consecrated host. After learning these facts he stated: “How and why a consecrated Host would change its character and become living human flesh and blood will remain an inexplicable mystery to science - a mystery totally beyond her competence.”
It is good for us modern women and men to study these miracles and learn about them. They remind us that there is more going on in our world than what we can see with our eyes or examine under a microscope. They assure us that God is at work in our world even despite its skepticism and lack of faith. If we were ever to feel tempted to believe that God has abandoned us or that He does not hear us, they call to mind the fact that He is in control of all human history. Our Heavenly Father continues to perform miracles to strengthen the faith of His people - especially their faith in the reality of the Eucharist, that it is no mere symbol but truly the flesh and blood of our Risen Lord.
Of course, those of us with gift of faith witness miracles every day. We see the hand of God even in the most ordinary events of our lives - the sunrise, the budding trees, the birth of a child or the love of our family. We witness His power when enemies become friends, when hardened hearts welcome God’s mercy and when our prayers are mysteriously answered. The work of God is all around us. Where others see coincidences or luck, we see our God at work.
And in no other instance is that more true than in the gift of the Eucharist. What many consider merely a wafer, we worship as the flesh of our Savior. What many consider merely cheap table wine, we revere as the Blood of Jesus. Only faith can see beyond the appearances to the reality of the great gift that God offers us in every Mass. Only faith can welcome that gift and allow it to change us from the inside out.
Whenever we struggle with our faith - particularly with our faith in the reality of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist - the only way to overcome it is through prayer. Because it is beyond our reason to understand, we cannot sit down and try to figure it out. We cannot just read a book or have someone explain it to us. Those things might help, but they cannot solve our dilemma. The only way to have faith in the Eucharist is to ask God for it because faith is primarily a gift from God. If we believe, it is because God has given us the grace to believe. And if we are to grow in our faith, it is because God leads us to deeper belief. As we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ this day, let us ask for the grace to believe with all our hearts that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. Let us pray for the grace to adore Him more and more. And let us pray that when we receive Him we will be changed forever.