Tuesday, 22 December 2009

What's in a miracle?

I think the danger for most people when we focus on someone being, what the Roman church calls, 'canonised' or made a saint is that we either make too much of it or too little.

Too much, in the sense that we all become obsessed with the process and curious 'proofs' required. In particular the demand for two verifiable miracles. (There is an interesting little flair of letters in Mt Gambier's Border Watch here)
The Anglican church, being a church not only of Catholic extraction but also of the Reform lost the process of canonisation in the 17th century. It was not until we felt at liberty to change our liturgy that we also felt free to revise the list of saints. That was the 20th century. By then the English Church had moved to all ends of the globe. And the quaint saints of the pre-Reformation days who had survived into the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 seemed very remote indeed here, for example, in the Antipodes. Even though we had fondness for Chad, Aidan, Wilfred and Hilda...saints of the British Isles.. local lists, calendars or suggestions began to emerge and were formalized in different ways and people like the Missionaries martyred by the Japanese in New Guinea, J C Patteson, pioneer bishop of Melanesia, Florence Nightingale, Dietrich Bonhoeffer...and many others came to attention.
Fortunately, we never became obsessed with the sort of legalistic process which demanded miracles. Choosing rather to see 'saints' as just ordinary Christians who happen to have died. (Most Christians, after all, do believe that biological death is not the end of our life in God...so we think of those who have died as being with God... what ever that might mean)
That these people might pray for and with us is what the New Testament seems to talk about...the writer of Hebrews says we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses...

It would be easy to allow this to become too little. Because the truth is when you look at someone like Mary McKillop she is an absolutely extraordinary women. Totally committed to care for and serve the poor, she refused to be cowed by powerful and angry men (we call them 'bishops'--sorry Jeff!...) not because she was just a difficult woman, which is how they often characterised her; but because she was so totally committed to working out her Godly vocation in serving the poorest of the poor that she would not allow anything to stand in the way of that call.
What she then achieved was ... well you could call it miraculous... education for those who no one could give a stuff about. No one, that is, other than Mary and her sisters.
In more secular times she would have been "Australian of the Year", but she is worthy of being on the list. True Australian respect for authority...that is open to be challenged if it stands in the way of justice and truth.
The non-Christian might admire her as an historical figure. Personally I think she is part of the great cloud, and is praying like mad for those who love and care for the poor and marginalised. And her work is continued by many of her sisters, and those who (whether RC or not) are inspired by her example. The miracle proof is coincidental to my mind.

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