Gee, Your Corpse Smells Terrific!
I've just witnessed a miracle! My guilty reading pleasure, the tell-all, anything-goes, don't-you-judge-me women's site XO Jane has published a remarkably unsnarky and informative piece on incorruptibles -- the saints whose bodies have not decomposed as expected, presumably as an outward sign of inward holiness.
The author gives a brief, accessible overview of some famous incorruptibles, and explains how recent investigations have thrown some doubt on the miraculous nature of the bodies' preservation. But her tone is more of fascination and even fondness than of derision, and she graciously concludes,
Preserved by the hand of God or by the hand of man, the incorruptibles are a glimpse at a life gone by. Separated only by a pane of glass, you can look at the face of a person who saw, felt, and experienced a life we will never understand; maybe even the kind of faith we are far too cynical to understand.
The only quibble I have is that the author makes a modest attempt to frame the story as religion vs. science, even though she reports that the pathologist who discovered that Margaret of Cortona had probably been enbalmed, was hired by the Vatican itself to examine the saint's body -- hardly the behavior of an entity who fears scientific evidence.
The follow-up miracle I saw today was even more astonishing: the comments box (at least last I read it) is respectful and sane, and several commenters make the point that there is no need to choose, as the author encourages us to, either "Team Science [or] Team Supernatural." The commenter says,
It's really not an either/or between science and faith. The Catholic Church acknowledges and respects modern science, so for a reasonable faithful saintly incorruptibility can be an extraordinary circumstance which is explained by natural laws but whose very rarity ... can be interpreted as divine favour through the use of natural laws.
and another commenter says,
Yeah, my mom is a biology professor and devout Catholic and people often asked me, HOW CAN YOU BE BOTH?? Um...because the Catholic church does science?
Yup. And not only does the Catholic Church "do science," but she allows us a heck of a lot of latitude in our personal devotions. Myself, I have steered clear of incorruptibles as any proof of anything besides the fact that the world is weird, history is messy, and lots of people are different from me. I have seen a few photos of bodies deemed "incorruptible" which inspire no thought more reverent than, "Ewwww." I fully believe that if God wanted to, He could miraculously circumvent the laws of nature and preserve the body of one of His servants. I also believe that He could work with the laws of nature and preserve the body of one of His servants. I also believe that God probably wouldn't intervene if someone wanted to mess with a body and then pass it off as a miracle. I believe that God could make some good come even out of that third situation. But I never found the idea of incorruptibles especially edifying. Why one saint, and not another? What's with semi-incorruptibles? And . . . I don't know, I just never liked it.
The great thing? This is fine with the Church. She says that if we would like to believe in incorruptibles (or Marian apparitions, or literal six-day creation, or any private revelation or devotion) because they help us deepen our relationship with God, then hooray! But if they skeeve us out, or if they baffle, worry, confuse, or annoy us, or just leave us cold, then that is also fine. There is plenty else to keep us intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually busy. For instance, this:
Who will rise? All the dead will rise, "those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment."552
But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel. . . . What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. . . . The dead will be raised imperishable. . . . For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.555
1000 This "how" exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration of our bodies:
Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God's blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection.
Yup, that's amazing enough for me.