Seeing the miracles in Advent - Catholic Courier

Seeing the miracles in Advent

Wilda Caccamise’s family faced a critical decision.

Caccamise had been critically injured in a car accident that took the life of her twin sister and her brother-in-law. She needed medicine to raise her blood pressure, but the nature of her injuries made it risky to give it to her.

Caccamise’s family turned to Father Ed Palumbos, a family friend who was at the time pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Greece. He suggested the family ask Caccamise what she wanted.

Though she was barely conscious and could not talk because of a tube in her trachea, Caccamise wrote on a dry-erase board, “No medicine — pray.” Her family tearfully gathered around her bedside to pray during what they thought would be Caccamise’s last moments.

Instead, Caccamise’s blood pressure climbed, amazing her doctors and her family. Nine years later, Caccamise’s daughter, Margaret Gray, faith-formation coordinator at St. Charles Borromeo, calls her mother’s rapid recovery a miracle.

As parishes around the diocese prepare to celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ birth this Advent and Christmas — and to read the Gospel of Mark during the second phase of the diocese’s Spirit Alive! spiritual renewal — Catholic Courier readers have shared stories of miracles that have occurred in their lives.

Modern-day audiences regard miracles differently as compared to Jesus’ contemporaries, according to Father George Heyman, director of continuing education and assistant professor of biblical studies at Pittsford’s St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. Today, a miracle is regarded as the cessation of natural laws or causes, Father Heyman said.

“In the Bible that doesn’t hold true, because in the ancient world there was no sense of physical laws,” he said.

To the ancients, miracle workers were common, and miracles were signs of the extraordinary that directed people’s attention to God, Father Heyman said.

In Mark’s Gospel, the author distinguishes Jesus from an ordinary miracle worker so that people could understand that Jesus was both the son of God and the Messiah — the anointed king from the line of David.

In that Gospel, what set Christ apart from other miracle workers of his day was the authority with which he performed miracles, from commanding demons to healing the sick, raising the dead or controlling the weather, Father Heyman said. Ancient miracle workers called on a greater power as they worked their miracles, but, as the son of God, Jesus did not.

“Jesus appeals to none but himself,” he said.

Jesus told those who witnessed his miracles not to spread the word of what they saw. Father Heyman said this was so people would not be distracted from Jesus’ mission of salvation. If word spread that Jesus was an ordinary miracle worker, he added, people would miss his greater message.

“You can get hung up in miracles — the spectacle, the theater,” Father Heyman said. “Jesus wants folks to understand they (miracles) are a means to a greater end.”

Everyday miracles do occur, and can be a sign for us of God’s kingdom in the world, Father Heyman said. There are many documented occurrences of miracles, such as the cessation of cancer without explanation, he said.

“Getting a baby to smile — that’s a little miracle to see the face of God alive in our world,” he said.

Gaynelle Wethers, a parishioner of Rochester’s Immaculate Conception Church, said she believes she experienced a miracle several months before Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans.

For years Wethers had sought to obtain a sentimental childhood photo of herself from her grandmother’s home in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. The photo showed Wethers as a young girl dressed in the full habit of her teachers, the Sisters of the Holy Family.

Her aunt had taken possession of her grandmother’s home and, after several years of urging, Wethers received the photo from her aunt in December 2004. In August of the following year, just eight months after receiving the photo, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Ninth Ward and her grandmother’s home.

“When Katrina happened, I looked at the picture, and I just said, ‘Thank you,'” Wethers said.

Wethers said she considers the recovery of the photo a miracle because of the timing, especially since it happened more than 30 years after the photo was taken.

“Miracles aren’t always huge,” Wethers said. “Miracles are sometimes very small, but they are important to the person that they happen to. God works in many ways.”

Gray said she believes God also was acting in the world when Father Palumbos gave advice to her torn family.

“God put him there at that spot because he really had a clarity we didn’t have,” Gray said.

Father Palumbos pointed out that Caccamise’s faith in God and the power of prayer made the miracle.

“Before the day was out, I was expecting a call to arrange her funeral,” the priest said. “Instead, Margaret called to say that Wilda had stabilized.”

He noted that Caccamise’s reaction upon learning of her twin sister’s death in the accident also reflected her deep faith.

“She said, ‘God’s called her home, but I’m still here to do his work,'” Father Palumbos recalled.

The occurrence of modern miracles might not at first be obvious, noted Father Thomas Mull, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua and St. Bridget/St. Joseph Parish in East Bloomfield. He told of the miracle of faith he witnessed in several people one Christmas Eve when he was called upon to baptize a critically ill newborn (see story on page B4).

“I think generally after the fact you realize something special has taken place,” Father Mull remarked.

The faith of those participating is the key to recognizing the miracle in a particular moment, he noted.

“The fundamental point for everyone in the story is faith,” he said. “That of course is the foundation of every miracle as well.”

In Advent readings, for instance, Mary is praised for having faith as her role in Jesus’ miraculous birth is revealed, Father Mull said.

“It’s all based on that quality of faith, of saying yes to the Lord,” he said.

Miracles help to illustrate the simultaneous forward- and backward-looking nature of Advent, Father Mull said. The season is a time to look back both at Jesus’ birth and life and to look ahead to the realization of God’s plan, the priest said.

“The world in which we live and the life we have now is one part of God’s plan,” Father Mull said.

The first two weeks of Advent readings ask the faithful to look toward the day of the Lord, while the second two detail the history of Jesus’ birth, Father Mull said. Just as Jesus prepared his disciples for the coming kingdom, parishioners are asked to prepare themselves for the kingdom which has yet to be realized.

“The day will come when we see God face to face,” Father Mull said.

A day also may come when Janet Harris will walk unassisted.

Harris, of Candor, Tioga County, has been preparing for her miracle with months of hard work and physical therapy. In February, the 24-year-old was in a major car accident on her way to work. She suffered a brain injury, was in a coma for two months and stayed at several hospitals for a total of seven months.

“My accident really tested my faith,” Harris said. “But it passed the test.”

Harris explained that she already has experienced miracles in the wake of her accident.

She said she considers it a miracle that she was injured in the accident and not someone else, as her family’s home is already wheelchair-accessible. Harris said she also experienced the miracle of prayer when Father William Moorby, pastor of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County, came to her home and prayed over her arm.

That night, she was able to move her arm for the first time.

“I really think that was a gift from God,” Harris said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To keep up to date on Janet Harris’ recovery, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/janetharris.

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