We attended a prayer vigil, and prayed the rosary at night. We hoped for good news, while also preparing ourselves for the worst. And, in the end, there was good news: a medical miracle, the likes of which I (and quite a number of doctors and nurses, I am told) had never personally seen before. The baby of a dear friend had been healed by Jesus, brought back from the brink of death by the God who conquered death. There would surely be a long road of healing ahead but, miracle of all miracles, the child lived! And not only that, but this incredible blessing has deeply changed and moved no small number of people in and outside of our humble faith community, a truly beautiful thing to witness.
Yet not three weeks later, we found ourselves desperately pleading with God yet again–this time, though, it was not a miracle per se that we were asking for. This time, a sweet friend had died most unexpectedly. We prayed for comfort and peace for her family, and for the repose of her soul. We remembered her beautiful smile, and wished we could have spoken to her one last time. We wondered how we might have better loved her, while she was here. And we attended the rosary, and then the funeral, where I couldn’t help but wonder in my grief: where was that family’s miracle?
Is it trite, or cliche, even, to ask such a thing? Probably. And, of course I recognize, intellectually, that both good and bad things are permitted by God. I trust he will work all things for the good of those who love him, and I know Jesus never said life itself would be easy. The Messiah may have raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, but He certainly didn’t promise to bring every Palestinian child back to life. Still, in our broken and vulnerable humanity, we grapple and long (oh, how we long!) for answers.
Dorothy Sayers, the acclaimed English novelist, playwright, and poet, wrote in her essay The Greatest Drama Ever Staged:
“For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is — limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death — He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.”
There is a strange and unexpected, bewildering comfort in Sayers’ words. They at once both affirm our own lived experience — marked by shortcomings, failures, and even occasionally despair–and the fact that Jesus has been there, done that. God took his own medicine. And not only that, but he thought it well worthwhile.
I’m reminded of a section in Willa Cather’s 1927 novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, where the two missionary priests discuss the subject of miracles. One priest, referring to the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, says to the other, “Doctrine is well enough for the wise, Jean, but a miracle is something we can hold in our hands and love.” After pondering this awhile, the other priest replies:
“Where there is great love there are always miracles…One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always” (50).
What if, then, we already have the miracle we so desperately seek?
That miracle is, as both Sayers and Cather knew, the hope of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. And it is also his Church — the fullness of the faith — and the sacraments, which save, nourish, and sustain us. There is, furthermore, a multitude of saints in Heaven to intercede for us, people from across all times and places. And finally, our Blessed Mother Mary, the Queen of Saints, who loves us as a mother and knows first-hand the excruciating pain of loss, fear, and the deepest of sorrows.
Now it certainly may not manifest itself in the way we pray or hope, this side of Heaven, and we may continue to ask why — why did it happen this way, why would God allow that a person suffer the loss of a child, or of a mother, or of a relationship? Why this illness, this setback, this cross? Sometimes we will sit through a funeral, pondering all of this, alongside grief-stricken mourners like ourselves. And then even beyond the why, there is the aftermath of the how. How to move forward, how to live well, how to pick up the pieces. The answer is stunningly simple but also hard, because we simply must take it on faith, this hope we have in Jesus.
So in the midst of sufferings and trials, we must remember that God took his own medicine. He is there, near to the broken-hearted, right there in the sorrow with us. And that, in and of itself, is perhaps the most profound of miracles. We can rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn, because we cling fiercely to the hope we have in Jesus, who loves beyond measure. He is the great healer, of both body and soul, and he promises to make all things new. May we have the faith to see and hear what is there about us always.