The spiritual world has perplexed people from the beginning.
The Protestant communities I grew up in were completely lacking in spiritual depth and understanding. They had a knowledge problem: they “knew” without understanding. Angelology and demonology were never spoken of. Saints were never spoken of. Miracles were actively attacked if acknowledged at all. Most miracles were simply hidden, and members of the churches were discouraged from seeking out any context on their religion and its history, modern or ancient.
People are hungry for miracles in this life. Sorrow and misery abound while God is mocked throughout the nation. One can imagine how shocked many converts, like me, are when we encounter the stories of transubstantiation, Fatima, the Shroud of Turin, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and so many others. I remember asking when I was little: “Why aren’t any miracles happening today like in the Bible?” The answers were always, more or less, “because God wants us to have faith, and we do not need miracles to have faith.”
The Journey of Faith
I fell away from any sort of Christianity when I was younger – I believe around the age of 15. The reasons for this falling away were mostly the open and abject hostility of the pastors I had encountered as well as the shallowness of my liturgical experiences. I started reading loads of science texts and occult mystery texts since something was just lacking in my life. These all seemed to go far more in depth than the religious places I had been to over the years. They delved into the reasons behind things. They were serious studies rather than a coffee-shop self-help group with the occasional Bible verse. I didn’t know what I believed in, but I knew that it couldn’t be the God Christians were referring to, and especially not the one found in the dreaded Catholic Church.
On examination, in my own mind, at least, the morality presented by (what I assumed at the time was) pure science was awful and empty. The morality of occult studies was even worse. It seemed (and is) outright evil. Agnosticism, I have always thought, was a cheap cop-out – mostly because you can’t truthfully say, “I don’t know” and “I don’t really care.” It is the most fundamental question there is. The most particularly galling was the atheism in “scientific” America. As renowned thinker David Berlinski puts it, “is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on” .
Having a healthy respect for science and what can objectively be proved via the scientific process, this presented a problem for me. Having exhausted anything I could think of in the alternative, I decided to find a better Protestant community.
What was it that caused God to put His hand directly into His creation and directly affect events, as He did when Jonah was swallowed by the whale? Why did God part the Red Sea? Why did God destroy the world in the deluge and spare Noah? He is God; He could accomplish any and all of the goals to which these miracles were a means in far less dramatic ways. Now, one could always say it was how He revealed Himself to humanity, and true enough. The more nagging question, in that instance, is “why stop?” I asked this sort of question to Protestant pastors, and on the few occasions where they condescended to answer a peon like myself, I’d get a typical answer akin to “every day is a miracle” or “God does not need to reveal Himself to you; He revealed Himself to the whole world already.”
The Discovery of Ongoing Miracles
The Protestants had it completely wrong. God does reveal Himself to us. Every day is, indeed, a miracle and not to be downplayed. However, to a lost person searching for answers, this is a poor response indeed. Every day doesn’t feel like a miracle when you’re lost. It feels like drudgery, like a miserable whirlwind with no direction and nothing to hold on to.
The common miracle Protestants tend to cite is the number of people who “get saved” in their specific places of worship in a given week. Leaving aside the cheapness and malleability of this claim, it is still a poor answer to the lost. I would hardly call it “getting saved” when people accept a charismatic preacher who never tells them anything they do not want to hear and tosses in a Bible verse sometimes. Yet they post it on their church websites like a badge of honor while (in some cases) willfully misleading the would-be faithful. This smells of the first recorded lie in history: “did God really say…?”
I started to do some reading and exploring. YouTube was full of videos on the miracles of the Church and videos of Protestants denouncing them as “false signs and wonders”…but why, then, did Protestants rarely if ever bring them up? Is it not their job in church to prepare the faithful to recognize and denounce such false signs? If one is never shown the examples, how is he to make a determination and prepare accordingly?
The answer, of course, is that the miracles are real. One cannot “debunk” a true miracle, but one does not have to if the miracles are simply never addressed and are not directly experienced by the person in question.
The miracle I found while browsing around Church history that terrified me was the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano. The more I looked into the confirmed miracles in the Church in general, the more afraid I was. I had no idea that this stuff was going on in the world. I have not seen any of them in person (I can’t wait to), but the accounts and photos are compelling. Researching these accounts of miracles made the whole concept of God solidify in my mind. I felt the need to find out everything I could about the Catholic Church and contacted my local parish about RCIA classes. This was late 2015.
Experiencing the Miracles of the Sacraments
So I signed up for RCIA. The first time I really ever felt at home was when the priest came to make the Sign of the Cross on me during the Rite of Welcome. This was, for me, a miracle. I was so nervous while I was standing there. I thought he’d be like the pastors I had known previously, but he treated me like a person. He was available for conversations with us afterward. During the course of RCIA, we got to meet the bishop during one of our classes. He was knowledgeable, kind, and compassionate. There was so much to learn and is so much to learn still.
The miracle of first confession was a game-changer. I know some people who have been confirmed without ever making a confession. There are others who tell me they do not go even when they know they are living in mortal sin. This sacrament seems far under-utilized.
When approaching my first confession, I wracked my brain and my soul to unearth as many sins as I could (and there were a lot of them – I was never a very good guy). I sat there and, again, expected harsh judgment. I had some grave things to go over and, at 29, a long history of grave and unconfessed sins. I was definitely not let off easy, and it is far from what I have heard described as by Protestants: that it gives you a license to repeat the same sins and then just confess again. That is not at all what I felt. I felt a massive burden lifted from my shoulders, and when the priest helped and asked questions, even though I felt like just running away, I was given the strength to give honest answers. When the absolution was complete, I felt like a whole new person.
Confirmation gives the seal of the Holy Ghost. This seal is a great comfort to new converts. It is difficult to describe how much of an effect this has. The Confirmation, I believe, is what makes every day a blessing. It gives you a purpose and fills you with something quite alien. If you have spent a life working toward ends directly in opposition to the teachings of the Church, it helps you walk the right path instead and gives you the strength to go to Confession time and again when you fall.
The beauty and grace of these sacraments intertwined and individually is truly amazing and awe-inspiring. Since Confirmation is combined with the Eucharist, it is difficult not to be overwhelmed. As you stand there, the cross on your forehead, waiting to receive the Holy Eucharist, you know there is no turning back.
There is the Eucharist, which is the final sacrament that I have received thus far. The mystery that terrified me prior to the journey was at the forefront. Knowing that this was the real blood and real body of Jesus was a scary thought. The Passion and the suffering He went through for us was even scarier. Accepting that suffering as atonement for the sins committed in this world and allowing God to love me enough to come to His table had my heart pounding in my chest. Deep down, I felt that I was still a dirty person, even though I believed I had indeed been absolved of my sins. It is difficult to approach perfection in the Lord knowing just how short you fall of that example. The chasm between who He wanted you to be and who you are gapes like the maw of a hungry dragon. God reaches through and gives His body and blood to you, and in that moment, when you finally take it, you get a glimpse of what pure love is and what a caring and forgiving God we have. This miracle is the one I am singly most grateful for.
Advancing the Cause of Christ to Protestants and Others
In my experience, a good number of Protestants are in those communities because they are looking for an answer. Loads of people are raised in these denominations, but the declining rate of attendance speaks to how well that is going for them. One of the reasons for this is that many of these churches offer feel-good sentiments only and embrace the pseudo-science people are indoctrinated with growing up. This, coupled with the “rock concert” scene they try to promulgate, is just offensive. The way I saw this sort of thing was, “if I want to go to a concert, I’ll go to one with music I actually enjoy.” The sermons feel enlightened at the time and can and do get people interested in the Bible. That is a good thing, but the approach is all wrong, and the conclusions are all wrong.
The fruit we too often see from this sort of tree is rotten. These are the “Christian, buts”: “I’m a Christian, but I don’t believe it’s my right to tell anyone not to have an abortion.” “I’m a Christian, but I believe in evolution. I’m not one of those crazies.” “I’m a Christian, but I use contraception and believe that premarital sex is okay if you’re in love.” So many other examples come to mind.
Catholics can make headway in apologetics by learning first and foremost to embrace their history. If some Protestant claims that bad popes in the past have invalidated the Church, say, “Prove it.” The burden is on them, not the Catholic. If they do try to prove it, illustrate what a horrible human being Martin Luther was and ask them to apply the same logic. Make them make your arguments for you. If they say the Church denies science, ask them for specifics. In what way has the Church ever “denied science”?
Don’t be nice. Defend your faith, and advance it with zeal. That is what miracles are made of and how to show people the truth.
Catholics ought to be praying daily for the Church and for us all to be the Church Militant we are called to be. We will get our hands dirty, and we will make people feel bad. That is what loving someone is, though. You cannot say you love someone and then stand by while he destroys his life with abomination and sin. St. Michael will guard us, and the Holy Eucharist will nourish us.
Every day can be a miracle, as so many people say, but we have to live up to the challenge of accepting and living that miracle. The Protestant life, I have argued, is devoid of miracles. That is not to say that there are not miracles God allows for Protestants – just that the miracles in the lives of the people there are in spite of the Protestant gatherings and a sign of God’s love and forgiveness and understanding.
The miracles of the Catholic Church reflect the other side of that coin, where miracles are manifest, often tangible, nourishing, enlightening, lasting, and a blessing for the Church. As the home of Christ, the Church should use the miracles it is given relentlessly and fearlessly. They are present at each Mass, daily, all over the world.
The Devil’s Delusion – David Berlinski (2008)