At a recent event in Sacramento, California, there were the little wonders we so often encounter with a gathering of faithful -- testimonies that bolster that faith.
Faith is like a perpetual motion engine: a little belief causes a happening that leads to increased faith and to a larger wonder and if we keep at it -- if we maintain that faith, even when there is a dry season -- the miracles become all the larger and seem endless and self-propelled. We can ride that "motor" right into Heaven.
One wonder was in the way of the priests: At lunch with four of them, I asked how many had received their "calling" -- found their vocation -- at Medjugorje, which they had been discussing. Three of the four raised their hands. Not bad "fruit." You hear this around the country as well as the world.
One of them, Father Michael Lightner, currently of Saint Margaret Mary Church in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, is a hulk of a man who at about 6'4" and 330 pounds had played center on full football scholarship for Eastern Michigan University and was invited to join training camp for the Cleveland Browns -- given a shot at being a pro. That's what he planned to do until, during a visit to Medjugorje (his mother, who organized pilgrimages, brought him on one of her trips), Lightner, a tough guy who at times looks like he has a Harley parked out front, watched while a priest prayed over a disabled woman, trying to get her out of a wheelchair.
As he watched, Lightner heard a voice that intoned (this was an interior locution),"Michael, if I get her out of this wheelchair, will you enter the seminary?" That naturally took the young man aback. He'd never had any intention of becoming a priest! And he resisted the notion, at first mightily. But after wrangling back and forth with what he took to be the Lord -- and looking over to the poor wheelchair-bound woman -- he finally relented and answered that he would. "Within five minutes she was up out of the wheelchair and walking," recalls Lightner, who naturally was shocked at the sight, finding his vocation in this powerful, momentous fashion.
Remarkably, it was at Medjugorje, in the mid-1990s, that Father Lightner ran into another fellow from Wisconsin who likewise had no plans be a priest and found his calling there. This was Richard Wendell of Milwaukee, who back then sported long hair and a beard. They hit it off right away. Wendell, who is now at Holy Angels Parish in West Bend, was a home-builder and professional ski instructor who was engaged to be married and "never, ever, ever, ever" had considered a vocation. His fiance had even purchased her wedding gown; they had discussed names for their future offspring! But one night, at the apparition site (he too went there with his mother), Wendell had a dream that was not really a dream -- more a vision. As in near-death episodes, the sky seemed to open and on a lush, verdant landscape there was Jesus, Who said simply,"I want you to be a priest."
Like Lightner, Wendell was shocked. He told the Lord about his impending marriage. He argued that he was not fit to be a priest -- the "worst of sinners," a man who had been involved in drinking, drugs, sex, materialism, and in general the high life, a lifestyle that -- during hours in a confessional the day before (Medjugorje is famous for Confession), and a mystical "life review" -- he saw how he had hurt many people without realizing it (a "ripple effect" of wrong behavior) that even had led to some deaths. He saw how sin can move from one person to another, affecting an entire family. He was shown, to his shock, how violating a woman's virginity, as another example, "was worse than beating her."
Yet Jesus was calling him, and when Wendell persisted in arguing against becoming a priest, he said Jesus simply replied, "I know what I'm doing" and turned and walked away. When Wendell next ran into Michael Lightner, they both found themselves in tears. "You too?" he asked. They ended up best of friends, entering training for the priesthood together. They have been priests now for more than a decade. Father Lightner told me he hears about nine hours of Confession every week, for Confession also figured heavily into his experience. Only at Medjugorje.
There was also a woman, at the conference (organized by a dear old friend, Lynn Hoffman), named Arceli Liceralde of Gold River, California. She showed me a photo of a window in her house and explained:
"On February 14, 2013, my daughter received a dozen red roses. After a week, I did not want to throw the dead roses but I put them in my room. I can't remember the exact date, but one day the whole room was filled with overwhelming scent of roses. I felt peace and joy come upon me that I did not want the scent to go away. It was heavenly. I have experienced smelling this scent like coming from Heaven a few times, one when Vicka (one of the Medjugorje visionaries) was in Florida and the other during a procession in our church on one of the feast days of Our Lady. So I know in my heart that it was our Blessed Mother's presence. I started praising and thanking God."
"On March 3, 2013, I went to check the backyard and I saw an image on our kitchen window which looked like the Blessed Mother. I took a snapshot and made it as a screensaver on my office computer. Some of my co-workers who saw it told me that they see Mary carrying baby Jesus. My co-workers kept asking me if the image was still there because I thought it was dust and somebody drew the image. I called Mike, who is a photographer and member of our prayer group, to take pictures. After doing so, I asked him why it was still there. We were both surprised because Mike said it is notoutside but it is between the dual-pane window.
"When I first saw it, there were no colors. Now, you can see colors like pinks, blues, greens and gold that look like glitters when the sun is shining brightly between 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Through the powerful intercession of Our Lady, I cannot mention all the answered prayers ever since she appeared like immigration problems, a couple blessed with children who had lost hope, people with cancer, aneurysm, and brain tumors who got healed or on their way to recovery. On March 5, we are celebrating her third anniversary. We will honor her by doing the 2,000 Hail Marys. This is done by praying 100 Hail Marys for every prayer intention which usually takes ten to twelve hours." (I'll pray too, since this happens to be my birthday.)
Finally, a gentle, humble, and devout Catholic named Anslim Soares, originally from India, now in Sacramento, who picked me up at the airport and gave me a picture card of Mary and a Host explaining that on Monday, November 11, 2013, the following happened:
"I arrived at the church early that morning to set up for Holy Mass. When I opened the sacristy door, I noticed a broken Host lying on the floor. I thought it might be consecrated, so I carefully picked up the Host and placed it in a purificator. As soon as the priest arrived, I asked him what to do. He instructed me to take the Host home and place it in a glass of water, and when it dissolved. to pour it under a rose bush."
"I did as I was told and placed the water-filled glass with the Host behind the large statue of Our Lady that I keep on our fireplace mantle. Six days later, on Sunday morning, November 17, 2013, after returning home from the Holy Mass, I checked the Host behind the statue of the Blessed Virgin. On the surface of the water were two pieces of the Host, each about 1/4 to 1/2-inch in diameter, which had very distinctly turned blood red. It was very plain to see. I asked my daughter to take a picture." Just fungus? Such was found to be the case in a similar, recent event in Minnesota. Bacteria?
"I took the picture and the glass with its contents to the priest. He told me very matter-of-factly that it was a Eucharistic miracle. He said that whether or not of of nature's laws were broken, it was still a miraculous sign of the Real Presence of the Most Precious Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. He said that the miracle was a loving mother's gift from the Virgin Mary when the Host was placed behind her statue. He quoted St. Thomas Aquinas: 'For those with faith, no evidence is necessary; for those without it, no evidence will suffice.'
"May God be praised!" wrote Anslim about it, on the card. "After twenty-three days, on December 3, 2013, the Host was finally dissolved. What remained of the water was poured into the earth."
-- Michael H. Brown