Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
People clamor all the time, wanting God to step in and give them a bona fide miracle. Jesus tells us, “If we ask with faith,” our Father in Heaven will give us good things and thus we ask. Sometimes the answer is “yes.” Sometimes the answer is “no.” Catholics do not profess belief in a genie God awaiting our command. That would be childish, not child-like. Understanding who God is, and why God wants our petitions, is part of becoming mature in the faith and like a child in our trust. We can ask. It is a sign of trust. We also learn to discern how God speaks to our hearts, in Scripture, the liturgy, in moments of silence, in the beauty of the world, and in the encounters we have with each other. In all of these ways, God speaks to us, trying to help us grow deeper in love with Him, and not merely His gifts. God is our loving Father, who wants us to share in His abundant joy, and take joy in His presence.
I can't say God won't do the ridiculous, because I've known God in my own life to do the ridiculous. As a child, along with friends at a father/daughter YMCA meeting, we prayed for snow. My parents, sensible about things like weather in Southeast Texas, even in winter, worried what discovering the answer could be “no” might do to my faith life as young girl. The next day it snowed. (You can google the snow in Beaumont in 1974.) As delighted as I and my friends were with the snow, I know my parents, and every other parent who fretted the night before about the efficacy of prayer, were even more so. Why, because as children, we did not treat the miraculous as impossible, whereas our parents felt the awe of all things being possible if you asked with faith. We’d asked. God said “yes.” We had the white stuff on the ground and the day off from school and work to prove it.
Fast-forward to the prayer of my adolescence. Over and over and over again, I begged God to surround me with people that loved me. No fan club appeared. Still, I kept asking. The answer came over time. As an adult, God has surrounded me with people to love. If I want to know why I have so many, it is in part, because God seeks to fill our hearts, as much as we’ll allow. He can also tell me, “You asked for it.”
Now I know the stories in the New Testament, where people followed Jesus, demanding, expecting miracles. He felt amazed at their lack of faith, and wasn’t able to do much beyond laying hands on some and curing the sick. This story in Mark’s Gospel about “a prophet being without honor in his own home,” is indicative of how we have a role in prayers being answered, in miracles. We have to ask with faith. Miracles are not God’s “I’ll show them” to the skeptic. Miracles are God’s “I love you” to the recipient, and to those who love the recipient. We may rejoice when we hear a child is going home from the hospital and we’ve been praying, but our happiness at that good news is nothing compared to the joy and relief of the parents of that child. Having been one of those parents on occasion, I know when you get the news you can go home, it’s such a thrill, such a release, all you can say is “Thank God! Thank God! Thank God!” and in that moment, you mean it with everything in your heart.
And God does love us, as the best of Fathers, wanting the best for his children, so they will be saints. So I have learned to be unreasonable with God, and to expect that he will be so with me. It doesn’t mean the answer is always “yes,” but I know the answer is always designed brings us and others closer. Sometimes the miracle is a mere crack in the stone of our heart, allowing grace to flood in where we’d allowed none. Ask. Sometimes the witness of our asking is for someone else. Ask. Sometimes the miracle is springtime in a relationship we thought forever locked in winter, and sometimes the answer is exactly what we asked, but not when, and sometimes, the answer is a lavish outrageous “yes,” like snow in Southeast Texas.
So when a friend of a friend said, “It would take a miracle for me to return to God,” I had the thought, sometimes, the miracle is our asking for a miracle, daring God to break into our lives. It's not that we need to put God to the test, it's that we need to ask to be tested. We also need to expect, that ours is a whimsical outrageous Lover of a God, and He's not above being a ridiculous fool for love to win us back, and if perchance we hear His voice, harden not our hearts. Sometimes the miracle is the enduring of a sliver, and sometimes, bearing with the nails—and always, the possibility of the resurrection, both of our faith lives and eventually, our whole selves.