First Reading: Genesis 18:1-15
And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, "My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on -- since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes." And Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. They said to him, "Where is Sarah your wife?" And he said, "She is in the tent." The LORD said, "I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, `Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son." But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. He said, "No, but you did laugh."
Responsorial Psalm: Luke 1:46-50, 53-55
And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever."
Gospel: Matthew 8:5-17
As he entered Caper'na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." And he said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,' and he goes, and to another, `Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed at that very moment. And when Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and served him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases."
Today's readings strike to the core of faith: me believing God can work miracles in my life. Me believing in God's hand in events I cannot see or quantify or explain. Sarah conceiving in her age. The Blessed Mother conceiving without having marital relations. The centurion's servant being healed without Christ even seeing him. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe things just happen. Maybe God doesn't intervene in our world and is this benign creator playing yatzee up there. But I don't think so.
When I talk to my friends who are fallen away Catholics, or friends who have a loose affiliation with Christianity in general, or friends who are dye-in-the-wool agnostics, a common stumbling block is "miracles." They do not believe in a God who would play favorites. A God who would allow one woman to conceive but not another. A God who would heal one man but not another.
Why so selective, God? Did those people have better prayers, more aptly assembled? Did they race through an arbitrary obstacle course of rote acts and prayers that somehow vaulted their concerns and grievances ahead of others? How mean. What favoritism.
I wish I had a quick answer for these people in my life. I wish I could quickly assuage their fears of a hokey mysterious magic belief set on my part. I wish I could articulate my faith better and be suavely persuasive.
But I cannot. All I can say is, look, we live in a world of unknowns. We live in a world of flukes and unlikely events. Sometimes wonderful things happen and sometimes they don't. And all we can do is make the best of what we have, ask for what we think we need, and wait for what unfolds. Grace abounds. Sometimes not where we'd like it to, but how can we find our blessing even in the darkest place? I believe in a God who loves us and who intervenes for His own reasons that I'm never going to understand but struggle to accept.
To the family and friends in your life struggling with their disbelief in miracles, offer a simple empathy and then share how miracles have touched your life, be it the story of a saint or something that you experienced personally.
Nell O'Leary is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom to three lovelies. She and her husband live in the great city of Saint Paul. You can find out more about her here.