Q. Why don’t we see many healings today? I’m told that they were more numerous in the early church. (I read that the theologian Athanasius in the year A.D. 354 wrote, “We know bishops who still work signs.”)
Recently, I was watching on television when Pope Francis embraced and kissed what seemed to be a seriously ill child. What if he had laid hands on that child and miraculously cured him, as did some of his predecessors in the past? What an impression that would have made in today’s ultrasecular world! (Columbus, Ohio)
A. Certainly, some miracles do still occur. Recently, we learned of a Costa Rican woman who recovered from a brain aneurysm after praying to Pope John Paul II — leading to that pontiff’s canonization. And at last count, after extensive scrutiny, the medical bureau at Lourdes in France had documented 69 miracles since the virgin appeared there in 1858.
But I have the same impression as you — that miracles are not as frequent now as they were in the early church — so it is reasonable to ask why.
It may have something to do with our faith not being sufficiently strong. Remember in Acts 14, Paul cured the crippled man after seeing “that he had the faith to be healed” and in Luke 18:42, when Jesus said to the blind beggar, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.” Faith, lively and strong, seems to have been an essential ingredient in a miracle and a necessary prerequisite.
Jesus, it should be pointed out, did not cure every sick or disabled person that he met. The number of Christ’s miracles was limited. He seems to have healed not to “put on a show” but only when it seemed critical to the messianic mission or when, moved with special compassion, he wanted to reward a person’s faith.
Why he did not heal everyone is the same question as why God doesn’t cure each sick child whom Pope Francis embraces with obvious affection — and the answer is something I don’t think we’ll fully know while we are on this side of heaven.
Meanwhile, it may be important to broaden our view as to what we consider to be a healing. In the 1960s, after my sister had been sick for several years with multiple sclerosis, my family took her to Lourdes. We were hoping that by bathing in the spring waters of that shrine, she might be freed from her illness. She was not.
But what did happen was that from that day until she died four years later, she seemed perfectly at peace. She evidently felt that she had done everything that God had asked of her, and so she bore her suffering with true serenity. I had wished and prayed for a different outcome, but the Lord, I am confident, was wiser than I.
Q. A few months ago, I visited a Catholic church and noticed that the priest was using a chalice for Mass that was made from glass or crystal. (You could see the wine.) I thought that you could use only a chalice made from precious metal. I wrote a letter to our bishop but did not receive a response. What should I do? (City of origin withheld)
A. The current guidelines of the church allow some latitude on the use of glass chalices. That statement, though, requires a bit of parsing. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, revised most recently in 2011, says in No. 328: “Sacred vessels should be made from precious metal.”
Quickly though, it adds in No. 329 that in the United States, “sacred vessels may also be made from other solid materials which in the common estimation in each region are considered precious or noble.”
The guidelines caution in No. 329 that “preference is always to be given to materials that do not easily break or deteriorate.” And, in No. 332, it states that chalices should be “clearly distinguishable from vessels intended for everyday use.”
Where does that leave glass? Well, if it is thin and fragile, it fails the breakability standard. However, some manufacturers make glass vessels that can be dropped from a table without any damage. And a glass tumbler surely seems more a household product than material that is precious or noble, but cut crystal, artistically fashioned, might well pass the test.
So there is some subjectivity as to what is allowed, and reasonable minds can differ. Clearly, though, there is no outright prohibition of glass.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.