Homily From English Mass, St. James Church, Medjugorje
Main Celebrant: Fr. Michael Smyth from Dublin, Ireland
Friday, October 13, 2006
Yesterday, most of us here heard a most inspiring talk from Fr. Jozo, a holy man who spoke to us in a very simple, but utterly convincing, way of the miracles that have taken place through Our Lady’s intercession here at Medjugorje. And of the miracle which is Medjugorje itself. And it’s only our faith that enables us to recognize these extraordinary events as miracles, interventions from God. To the unbelievers, they are at best, strange happenings for which there is no explanation. In the face of miracles, it has been said that with the gift of faith no explanation is necessary and without the gift of faith no explanation is possible. And yet there are many, even many good Christians, who find it hard to believe that miracles still happen in our day.
Sr. Briege McKenna has written a beautiful book called Miracles Can Happen. She tells of an occasion when she was giving a retreat to some priests in the Philippines. And as she spoke about the miracles of healing that she had witnessed in her ministry to priests, there was one fairly elderly priest, an Irishman, who kept shaking his head in disbelief. She spoke to him afterwards. “I noticed Fr. Paddy,” she said, “that you kept shaking your head when I was speaking about miraculous healings.” And he said, “Yes, sister, it’s fierce hard to believe. Maybe if I saw one with my own eyes I might believe, but right now, it’s fierce hard to believe.” There was another priest on that retreat who had been in a wheelchair many years, totally unable to walk. The very next morning, after the prayer for healing, this man got up out of his wheelchair, without any help and walked across the room as if there had never been anything wrong with him. The others who were present praised and thanked God for the miracle that had been worked in their midst. Sr. Briege turned to the priest who had been shaking his head and asked him, “What do you say now Fr. Paddy?” And Fr. Paddy shook his head and said, “It’s fierce hard to believe.”
Many people find it hard to believe that Our Lady appeared to six young people here in Medjugorje 25 years ago, and continues to appear to some of them everyday since. In a way, this is not too surprising, especially if you think about it in the light of what it says in today’s Gospel reading. Many people in the time of Jesus could not believe in or would not believe that He was from God or that His power came from God. “It’s through Beelzebub, the prince of devils, that he casts out devils.” Certainly that is the ultimate refusal of faith, to attribute the work of Jesus to the power of the devil. I do not want to pre-empt the official judgement of the Church. But if we applied the Gospel text, “by the fruits you shall know them,” it would seem, indeed, that what happens here is truly of God and His Blessed Mother. For the fruits of Medjugorje are indeed marvelous. And they are good fruits beyond any doubt; the healing of body and mind and spirit. And especially powerful conversions. Whole lives that are radically changed for the better. Conversion is part of the message of Medjugorje. Prayer, conversion, fasting. The message we received from Fr. Jozo yesterday was precisely that. Our Lady says to all of us here, “Dear children, I invite you for your individual conversion. This time is for you.” In bringing us here to Medjugorje, Our Lady invites us to be converted, to change our lives radically for the better.
Going back to today’s Gospel reading, there could well be an important lesson for us, maybe even a warning in the strange saying of Jesus about the man with the unclean spirit. The spirit left him, but then seven others came, so that the man ended up worse than he was before. That could happen to us if we do not heed Our Lady’s call to conversion. If we don’t leave here better than we came, then maybe we leave worse. And why do I say that? I say maybe worse because we have refused the call to conversion and the gift of conversion that is offered to us in Medjugorje. The real test of our conversion is when we go back home. It’s easy to be strong in faith here in the very favorable atmosphere of this holy place. Medjugorje is like the hothouse of the faith, where even weak plants can flourish and grow. The test is when we meet the harsh winds of cynicism and indifference, maybe even opposition and derision. It’s then that our faith is put to the test. But we need not be afraid. Because it’s only through testing that our faith grows really strong. I pray that all of us will experience a real deepening of our faith when we are here. And that the fruit of our conversion will endure for the rest of our lives.
On Wednesday, as I climbed Apparition Hill, my mind went back to the last time I had climbed it. Almost 16 years ago. When I had gotten to the top I saw a young man there, standing alone. I went over to him, and as I got near, I saw that he was blind. He was a big strong lad of 18. He told me that his name was Robert and that he came from the outskirts of Dublin. He told me how a few months previously he was coming down from the Dublin mountains by car with some of his friends. The car in front of him threw out a stone which shattered the windscreen of their car. And in literally one second, Robert lost the sight of both eyes. He was totally blind. I asked him how he climbed the mountain. He told me that the previous day his mother had gone up on her own to see if it would be possible for him. And then she led him up the mountain. He told me that she often had to lift his leg and put his foot on a safe place, and then lift him up. I said to him, “Isn’t she great.” And he said, “My mother is wonderful.” She must have been wonderful, indeed, and she must have been a powerful woman to lift that heavy 18-year-old son of hers. But obviously, it was an act of love for her son.
And I thought to myself, Robert’s mother is wonderful. She is powerful and has great love. But she’s not half as wonderful, powerful and loving as our Heavenly Mother, and I don’t think Robert would mind my saying that. I met Robert again seven months later. He told me he had come to Medjugorje in the hope of having his sight restored. That didn’t happen, but Robert said an extraordinary thing to me that second time I met him. He said, “When I had my sight, I was never happy. I was always looking for something else. Now I am happy and if I had to choose between sight and happiness, I would choose happiness every time.” An extraordinary thing for an 18-year-old to say. Robert could no longer see with the eyes of the body, but with the eyes of faith, he could see even deeper to the things that really matter. And there he found happiness. That was five months after his visit to Medjugorje and that was 16 years ago. I hope and pray that Robert’s faith is still strong and that Robert is happy. And I hope and pray that all of us has an essential part of our conversion, we’ll have the eyes of faith opened to the things that really matter and that we too will find real and lasting happiness.