How is a miracle to be explained?

Weeping Virgin Mary

A couple of years ago, at a spiritual retreat, a friend recounted, with extraordinary emotions, how he witnessed a much-publicized sighting of the Virgin Mary, at a prior appointed sight in Northern Kentucky. Those of us at the retreat remembered very well the expectations and accompanying skepticism in the weeks when word spread of the Virgin’s intention to appear at the appointed place and time.

I didn’t go to the appearances, neither did the other retreatants. My reason for not troubling myself even as may be hundreds of people flocked to the place of miracle, was skepticism. I suspect it was the reason for others too. But our friend’s testimony and the tears that flowed down his cheeks as he recounted the sightings, left us wondering about these Virgin Mary appearances.

I grew up in a village on the slopes of Kilimanjaro where the population was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. My family was Protestant and a minority in that particular village. There were many occasions when, as we walked to and from school, the Catholic kids pointed at apparitions of the Virgin Mary on the summit of Kilimanjaro. I don’t recall seeing a vision of the Blessed Virgin; we, Protestants, dismissed the claims off hand. That was our upbringing – visions of the Virgin Mary were a Catholic fantasy.
Here at the retreat, we were all Episcopalians, with some degree of veneration of the Virgin Mary, of course, but my Lutheran background made it hard for me to see eye to eye with our friend who wept his heart out with the joy and awe of what he saw one evening in northern Kentucky.

Now there are reports of a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary weeping in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Hobbs, NM. Tears on the statue were first spotted on Pentecost Sunday, May 20. According to church officials there, they have collected and tested samples of the tears and confirm to be made of olive oil scented with the same perfume for chrism used in baptism, confirmations and ordination.

According to Deacon Jim Winder, the vice chancellor of the Roman Catholic diocese of Las Cruses, something supernatural has been happening. He says, “We do try to take a healthy skepticism to things like this. The church is presented with all kinds of ‘miracles’, so we don’t accept it at face value. We will investigate to rule out any chances of man-made causes or natural causes. We don’t want to jump to any conclusions”.

Their investigation so far has ruled out human causes for the tears. And as far as Bishop Oscar Cantu of the diocese of Las Cruces is concerned, if something supernatural is happening in that church, the decision is to determine whether the source is good or evil. God or Satan, in other words.

The second point, according to Deacon Winder, is that the church need not be too concerned about the fact as to the response of the community. What is significant with the miracle is that may be people have been drawn closer to God. Visitors have flocked to Hobbs, NW from as far as Italy. For many of the believers, there is no need for a church declaration of a miracle. It reminds me of my growing up around the sightings of the Virgin Mary on the summit of Kilimanjaro. As it is said, for those who believe no explanation is necessary, and for those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible.

Often times the church may not intervene and explanations may not be forthcoming. Other times too, miraculous occurrences turn out to be hoaxes. Often too, after some years, miracles may be explained scientifically.

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