Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Nature of Our Miracles

On Sunday, Mother Theresa was declared a saint.  A week ago, on Wednesday, on NPR's Morning Edition, I heard a story about the miracles that must be attributed to her, or anyone nominated for sainthood. 

It's not enough to work miracles in life on this side of the grave; one must also work miracles after one's death:  "The idea is that a person worthy of sainthood must demonstrably be in heaven, actually interceding with God on behalf of those in need of healing."  The doctors come in, and if there's no medical explanation, the healing is declared a miracle.

Now I'm all for sainthood, even though I'm not a Catholic, and I've always understood the importance of setting the bar high so that not just anyone becomes a saint.  But on Wednesday, as I heard the news report, I thought that the standard for miracle might not be high enough.

I thought of all the people I know who are alive now but would not be if we were living 50 years ago.  Cures that would have once seemed miraculous--especially many cardiac operations--are now routine, occurring across the nation, many of them each and every day.

Does anyone go back to previous saints to examine those miracles?  We could, after all.  The news story reports that "more than 95 percent of the cases cited in support of a canonization, however, involve healing from disease." I'm not suggesting that sainthood be revoked.  But it would be interesting to see if those stories of miracles hold up, in light of later medical developments.

To me, the true miracle of Mother Theresa is her faith, even as she felt God's absence, as her letters from her later years document.  If someone can do the great things that she did, even while being unsure of God's presence--that's the true miracle to me, to carry on in the face of great doubt.

As I think of the many people I know, it seems that many of us are living some form of that miracle.  We teach our students, even as we wonder if anyone leaves our classes with a solid grasp of the subject.  We make our art, even in the total absence of any validation that it matters.  We love our families and friends, even though some days we think our efforts might be better spent on a pet or a plant.

But then, if we're lucky, we see the seeds of our efforts blossom.  And if we're not lucky enough to know for sure, we're still building something larger than ourselves.  I am a hopeless optimist; I still believe that a million people creating their own art in their own solitude leads to a world that's better than if they hadn't done it.  I still believe that even the most resistant student is changed by our teaching.  I still believe that every act of love beats back the darkness of chaos.

Let us all beat back that darkness a bit more today.

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