Today’s gospel opens with a very dramatic scene. John the Baptist finds himself in prison after criticizing Herod for living with his brother’s wife. Stuck in a prison cell, John has time to reflect on his life and the mission God had given him to prepare the way for the Messiah. In particular, he begins to wonder about Jesus of Nazareth who has just began preaching throughout Galilee. If this Jesus is the Messiah, then John’s work is done and he will likely die in prison. If Jesus is not the Messiah, however, it is likely that God will find a way to bring John out of prison so that he can continue his mission until the real Messiah appears.
And so, John sends his disciples to Jesus with a very clear question. “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?”
As is often the case, Jesus answers a simple question with a deep and probing answer. He challenges John’s disciples to tell him what they themselves see. And what they see is that the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in Jesus. “The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them.”
What is Jesus doing here? He is offering evidence to John and to his disciples that He is indeed the Messiah.
This is something that Jesus did throughout the three years He spent preaching the good news. Certainly, many came to believe in Him because of the words He spoke. But even more compelling to them were the mighty works He performed. He drew great crowds not only because He spoke with authority but because He healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons. Jesus performed these deeds as evidence that He truly was who He said He was - the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus did not require those who followed Him to have blind faith, to just believe in Him because He said so. Rather, He gave them reasons to believe.
The same is true for us today. God does not require us to have blind faith. He does not simply want us to believe because the Bible or the Church say so. Rather, He wants to give us reasons to believe.
Now, there are many reasons to believe in the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. It would take more than one homily to go over them all. However, since Jesus offered miracles as evidence that He is the Messiah, let us also look at some miracles which have happened in our own day which point to the truth of the gospel and the power of prayer.
For holy women or men to be recognized officially as saints by the Church, it must be shown that miracles were accomplished through their intercession. Once someone makes a claim that a miracle has taken place, the Church convenes a panel of scientists to review the circumstances. If they conclude that there is no natural explanation for phenomena, then the Church recognizes it as a miracle.
Such is the case with Saint John Paul II.
Sister Marie Simon Pierre, a nun in France, began experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, an affliction of the nervous system, at the age of 47. Her disease had advanced to the point that she could not even move her legs. However, after asking the holy pope’s intercession, she woke up one morning able to walk. All traces of Parkinson’s disease had disappeared. After a panel of doctors reviewed her case, the Vatican was able to confirm that, indeed, a miracle had taken place.
Another incredible story comes from the United States. A young couple, the Engstroms, were devastated to learn that their baby was stillborn. In her distress, the mother, Bonnie Engstrom, began praying to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a popular speaker whose television show was one of the highest rated programs of the 1950’s. Even though their child had been dead for over an hour, suddenly his heart began to beat. A panel of doctors reviewed the case and declared that there was no medical explanation.
Miracles are not a thing of the past. God continues to work in mysterious ways to help us to believe and to strengthen or faith. While we should be careful not to be obsessed with looking for miracles, they can help us when we begin to have doubts or when the cares of life start to weigh us down. Often, seeing so much evil and darkness in the world today, we can feel disappointed and drained. Taking some time to read about all the miracles that still take place today can remind us that God is in charge and that He will make all things work out for our good. He has a plan and no powers of this world can keep Him from bringing them to fulfillment.
Of course, the greatest miracle of all is that simple bread and wine will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus on this altar. The One who made the blind see and the deaf hear will enter into us to bring us His healing gifts. For those who receive with faith, no other evidence is really necessary.