“African Christianity puts a powerful stress on the miraculous, on eternal life, on the active providence of God, on healing grace, and on the divinity of Jesus… The reason a supernaturally oriented Christianity grows is that it is congruent with the purposes of the Holy Spirit, and also that it presents something that the world cannot…When Christianity collapses into purely this-worldly preoccupations…it rapidly dries up.”
I was particularly struck by Bishop Barron’s observation regarding the supernatural nature of Christianity, of a Christianity that stresses the miraculous, eternal life, the active providence of God, and healing grace. Bishop Barron, it seemed to me, was intentionally trying to reconnect modern western Christianity to its roots, to shake it from a slumber of comfort and worldliness.
The Supernatural Church
It wasn’t long after I read Bishop Barron’s blog that I ran across the book, “Raised from the Dead” by Fr. Albert Hebert, in which he catalogs the stories of 400 saints who have raised people from the dead. As I leafed through the pages of the book, I was stunned. I was also challenged and encouraged. Reading the accounts, it became clear to me that perhaps the most miraculous of miracles- being raised from the dead, did not end with the apostles. Even among well-known saints, though, we rarely hear of their miraculous feats. It almost as if we, in the west, are afraid of what we cannot understand, and reduce even great saints to mere moral caricatures.
St. Patrick had a lot more going on than the lore of chasing snakes from Ireland. A man named Machaldus, and his friends, decided to mock St. Patrick. They covered one of their group, with a cloak as if he were dead, and asked Patrick to raise him to life. Patrick, knowing the trick, told them the man was, indeed, dead. After uncovering the now dead trickster, Patrick raised him from the dead. Machaldus, who had attempted to mock Patrick, converted and became known as St. Machaldus.
St. Stanislaus, as bishop, purchased property for his Church from a man named Piotr, who died shortly after the sale. 3 years later, Piotr’s sons contested the sale as part of a plot against Stanislaus. The saint ordered Piotr’s grave to be opened, touched the man’s bones with his crozier, and his entire body filled out. Piotr gave witness to the sale, reprimanded his sons, and then asked to be returned to the grave.
St. Francis Xavier
In the city of Combutura, a boy fell into a deep well and drowned. After the body was recovered, Francis prayed over the dead child. Francis took him by the hand and ordered him to rise in the name of Jesus Christ. Immediately the boy returned to life.
St. Vincent Ferrer
St. Vincent Ferrer is credited with many miracles, one of which has a “Silence of the Lambs” quality to it. The wife of a man who had given lodging to the saint had gone insane while the man was away. Upon his return, he learned that his wife had cut their young sons throat, chopped up the body, and roasted some of it, even attempting to serve it to him as food. St. Vincent came to the home, gathered up the bloody pieces of the corpse, prayed, and made the sign of the cross over the reassembled body. The body parts immediately reunited and the boy came back to life.
A woman came to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio, carrying her dead six-month-old baby. As the woman cried in her despair, Padre Pio took the baby’s body and prayed. After a few minutes, he said to her, ‘Why are you yelling so much? Don’t you see that your son is sleeping?’ The baby was very much alive.
Martin of Tours
St. Martin of Tours is credited with raising at least three people from the dead. A woman, carrying her dead baby and accompanied by a large crowd, came to St. Martin for help. The woman pleaded with St. Martin, then a bishop, to give her son back to her. The bishop took the child in his arms, knelt and prayed. When he rose, the child was alive.
Stretching the Paradigm
For the record, I have never seen a person raised from the dead. But, I have been witness to people being miraculously healed. I have seen people receive healing in heart, mind, and body. In one instance, I witnessed a deacon with fused discs and pins in his lower back, bend over and touch his toes. With a huge smile on his face, he said, “This is impossible, but nothing is impossible with God.” It is an amazing thing.
In every experience, I see a common denominator. The supernatural, whether it is healing, movement of God in a person’s life, or an intimate encounter with Him, builds faith and hope. It witnesses to the individual, and the world, something that is other- worldly. It raises our hearts and minds toward Heaven. Many of the saints above understood that the supernatural expressed into the natural world is a very effective evangelization tool. St. Vincent is said to have converted upwards of 200,000 souls in his life, many of them after witnessing amazing miracles.
The supernatural, though, is not a parlor trick. Neither is it an end to itself. I believe that Bishop Barron has it straight on, that supernatural Christianity is congruent with the work of the Holy Spirit. Its purpose is to demonstrate the intimate love and the amazing power of a good God. It always points back to its source.