Signs and Wonders

Gospel Reflection for Monday, January 25th, 2021 -- Mk 16:15-18


There has been a great debate as to whether or not the miracles described at the end of Mark’s gospel are still active in the Church.


Those who created the daily lectionary that most Catholics use had a particular agenda. Much of their goals revolved around presenting cohesive teaching focusing on the Church calendar. However, in their particular focus, they oftentimes gloss over or leave out a few details. Such is the case today. Though today’s reading from the end of Mark’s Gospel in the lectionary actually begins in verse 14, the lectionary focus begins on the next verse, concluding with a listing of “Signs” that would accompany those who believe.


In Verse 14, we find Jesus actually criticizing the Apostles for their lack of faith. Is a lack of personal faith the reason why there is such a dearth of signs and wonders in today's Church? This is what we hear from the "Word of Faith Movement."


We must understand that the ascension of our Lord occurred prior to the Holy Spirit coming into the Church and empowering them for ministry service. There continues to be great division among Christians these days as to whether or not the Holy Spirit is still active in the Church, or whether the signs described in this reading were limited to the Apostolic Age.


Such questions are quite common, and have not abated, partially due to false teachings from the “Word of Faith Movement (WOF).” Listening to WOF movement preachers talk, an uninformed Christian might think they have been missing out on some great secret all their life.


In fact, many WOF beliefs bear more resemblance to the New Age bestseller The Secret than to the Bible. It's no stretch to substitute WOF's "positive confession" with The Secret's affirmations, or the Word of Faith idea that humans are "little gods" with the New Age notion that humans are divine.


The WOF movement is commonly referred to as "name it and claim it," "the prosperity gospel," or the "health and wealth gospel" is preached by several television evangelists. In a nutshell, the prosperity gospel says God wants his people to be healthy, wealthy, and happy all the time.


Word of Faith Movement Founders

Evangelist E.W. Kenyon (1867-1948) is considered by many to be the founder of Word of Faith teaching. He began his career as a Methodist minister but later moved into Pentecostalism. Many believe that Kenyon was influenced by Gnosticism and New Thought, a belief system that holds God will grant health and success. Most agree that Kenyon was an influence on Kenneth Hagin Sr., who is sometimes considered the father or "granddaddy" of the Word of Faith movement. Hagin (1917-2003) believed that it is God's will that believers would always be in good health, financially successful, and happy.


Hagin, in turn, was an influence on Kenneth Copeland, who worked briefly as a co-pilot for TV evangelist Oral Roberts. Roberts' healing ministry promoted "seed-faith": "Have a need? Plant a seed." The seeds were cash donations to Roberts' organization. Copeland and his wife Gloria founded Kenneth Copeland Ministries in 1967, based in Fort Worth, Texas.

To discredit the countless miracles that had been given in confirmation of the Catholic faith, the original Protestant Reformers utterly rejected the idea that miracles had continued beyond the apostolic age. But the idea that miracles stopped with the death of the last apostle would have been foreign to the early Church Fathers.


We at St. Nicholas OCC believe that the Holy Spirit is still moving in today’s Church. We believe, like the Early Fathers, that God’s miracles, though not as prominent, are still active. God Chooses to perform miracles based upon his divine providence, for His unique purposes. Why do some prayerful pleadings go without seeming answer and others astound even the most ardent skeptic, we may never know. However, what we can be certain about is that God cannot be commanded to perform like some showman, or by sharing chain letters, or social media posts.


Examples from the Early Church:


The Martyrdom of Polycarp

“When he [Polycarp] had . . . finished his prayer, those who were appointed for the purpose kindled the fire [to burn him to death]. And as the flame blazed forth in great fury, we to whom it was given to witness it beheld a great miracle and have been preserved that we might report to others what then took place. For the fire, shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, encompassed as by a circle the body of the martyr. And he appeared within, not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odor, as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been smoking there. At length, when those wicked men perceived that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to go near and pierce him through with a dagger. And on his doing this, there came forth a dove and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished, and all the people wondered that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 15–16 [A.D. 155]).


Irenaeus

“[Heretics are] so far . . . from being able to raise the dead, as the Lord raised them and the apostles did by means of prayer, and as has been frequently done in the [Catholic] brotherhood on account of some necessity. The entire church in that particular locality entreating with much fasting and prayer, the spirit of the dead man has returned, and he has been bestowed in answer to the prayers of the saints” (Against Heresies 2:31:2–4 [A.D. 189]).


Tertullian

“[When a scorpion stings someone’s heel] we have faith for a defense, if we are not smitten with distrust itself also, in immediately making the sign [of the cross] and adjuring and besmearing the heel with the beast. Finally, we often aid in this way even the heathen, seeing we have been endowed by God with that power which the apostle [Paul] first used when he despised the viper’s bite [Acts 28:3-5]” (Antidote Against the Scorpion 1 [A.D. 211]).


Eusebius of Caesarea

“The citizens of that parish [in Alexandria] mention many other miracles of Narcissus . . . among which they relate the following wonder as performed by him. . . . [T]he oil once failed while the deacons were watching through the night at the great Paschal Vigil. Thereupon, the whole multitude being dismayed, Narcissus directed those who attended to the lights to draw water and bring it to him. This being immediately done he prayed over the water and with firm faith in the Lord commanded them to pour it into the lamps. And when they had done so, contrary to all expectation, by a wonderful and divine power the nature of the water was changed into that of oil. A small portion of it has been preserved even to our day by many of the brethren there as a memento of the wonder” (Church History 6:9:1–3 [A.D. 312]).

Ambrose of Milan

“As I do not wish anything which takes place here in your absence to escape the knowledge of your holiness [my sister], you must know that we have found some bodies of holy martyrs. . . . All the bones were perfect. . . . Briefly we arranged the whole in order, and as evening was now coming on, transferred them to the basilica of Fausta. . . . On the following morning we translated the relics to the basilica called Ambrosian. During the translation a blind man was healed. . . . [Arians] deny that the blind man received sight, but he denies not that he is healed. He says: ‘I, who could not see, now see,’ and proves it by the fact. . . . He declares that when he touched the hem of the robe of the martyrs, wherewith the sacred relics were covered, his sight was restored” (Letters 22:1–2, 17 [A.D. 388]).

Basil the Great

“But where shall I rank the great Gregory [the Wonderworker] and the words uttered by him? Shall we not place among the apostles and prophets a man who walked by the same Spirit as they? . . . For by the fellow-working of the Spirit, the power which he had over demons was tremendous. . . . He too by Christ’s mighty name commanded even rivers to change their course and caused a lake . . . to dry up. Moreover his predictions of things to come were such as in no way to fall short of the great prophets” (The Holy Spirit 74 [A.D. 375]).


Jerome

“[A woman with three sick children came to Hilarion and] on reaching the saint she said: ‘I pray you by Jesus our most merciful God . . . to restore to me my three sons, so that the name of our Lord and Savior may be glorified in the city of the Gentiles. Then shall his servants enter Gaza and the idol Marnas shall fall to the ground.’ At first he refused and said that he never left his cell . . . [but] the woman did not leave him till he promised he would enter Gaza after sunset. On coming thither he made the sign of the cross over the bed and fevered limbs of each [child] and called upon the name of Jesus. Marvelous efficacy of the name! . . . In that very hour they took food, recognized the mourning mother, and with thanks to God warmly kissed the saint’s hands” (Life of St. Hilarion 14 [A.D. 390]).


John Chrysostom

“[I]n our generation, in the case of him who surpassed all in ungodliness, I mean [the Emperor] Julian, many strange things happened. Thus, when the Jews were attempting to raise up again the temple at Jerusalem, fire burst out from the foundations and utterly hindered them all; and when both his treasurer and his uncle and namesake made the sacred vessels the subject of their open insolence, one was eaten with worms and gave up the ghost, the other burst apart in the middle. Moreover, the fountains failing when sacrifices were made there and the entrance of famine into the cities together with the emperor himself was a very great sign. For it is usual with God to do such things when evils are multiplied” (Homilies on Matthew 4:2 [A.D. 391]).

Augustine

“In the same city of Carthage lived Innocentia, a very devout woman of the highest rank in the state. She had cancer in one of her breasts, a disease which, as physicians say, is incurable. . . . This lady we speak of had been advised by a skillful physician, who was intimate with her family, and she betook herself to God alone in prayer. On the approach of Easter, she was instructed in a dream to wait for the first woman that came out of the baptistery after being baptized and to have her make the sign of Christ upon the sore. She did so, and was immediately cured” (The City of God 22:8 [A.D. 419]).

“For even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ, whether by his sacraments or by the prayers or relics of his saints. . . . But who but a very small number are aware of the cure which was wrought upon Innocentius . . . a cure wrought at Carthage, in my presence, and under my own eyes? . . . For he and all his household were devotedly pious. He was being treated by medical men for fistulae, of which he had a large number. . . . He had already undergone an operation but clearly needed another. . . . [H]e cast himself down . . . and began to pray; but in what a manner, with what earnestness and emotion, with what a flood of tears, with what groans and sobs, that shook his whole body and almost prevented him speaking. . . . [And when the] surgeons arrived, all that the circumstances required was ready; the frightful instruments were produced; all look on in wonder and suspense. . . . [But the surgeon] finds a perfectly firm scar! No words of mine can describe the joy, and praise, and thanksgiving to the merciful and almighty God, which was poured from the lips of all with tears of gladness” (ibid.).


“A gouty doctor of the same city, when he had given his name for baptism and had been forbidden the day before his baptism from being baptized that year by black woolly-haired boys who appeared to him in his dreams (and whom he understood to be devils), and when . . . he refused to obey them but overcame them and would not defer being washed in the laver of regeneration, was relieved in the very act of baptism, not only of the extraordinary pain he was tortured with, but also of the disease itself” (ibid.).


“What am I to do? I am so pressed by the promise of finishing this work that I cannot record all the miracles I know, and doubtless several of our adherents, when they read what I have narrated, will regret that I have omitted many which they, as well as I, certainly know. Even now I beg these persons to excuse me and to consider how long it would take me to relate all those miracles, which the necessity of finishing the work I have undertaken forces me to omit. . . . Even now, therefore, many miracles are wrought, the same God who wrought those we read of [in the Bible is] still performing them, by whom he will and as he will” (ibid.).


Pope Gregory I

“I determined, through the aid of your prayers for me, to send . . . a monk of my monastery for the purpose of preaching [to the heathen in Anglia]. And he, having with my leave been made bishop by the bishops of Germany, proceeded with their aid also to the end of the world to the aforesaid nation, and already letters have reached us telling us of his safety and his work, to the effect that he and those that have been sent with him are resplendent with such great miracles in the said nation that they seem to imitate the powers of the apostles in the signs they display” (Letters 30 [A.D. 597]).

“I have given some instructions to Boniface, the guardian who is the bearer of these presents, for him to communicate to your holiness in private. Moreover, I have sent you keys of the blessed apostle Peter, who loves you, which are wont to shine forth with many miracles when placed on the bodies of sick persons” (ibid., 26).

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Gospel — Mark 16:14-18

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. [Then He says to them] “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name, they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

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