Thanks to my Irish Catholic mother and 12 years with the good sisters of six parochial schools and four more years at the University of Notre Dame, I am not among the 10% in this country who are atheists. Many non-believers who have made a serious effort to consider whether God exists would write me off as brainwashed. Not so fast, brothers and sisters.
Time and again in the course of my religious and secular education, the subjects of where we came from, where we are going, and who Jesus of Nazareth is (or was) have come up and I have had to take a hard look at them either formally or informally. With my background, escape was not possible. I finally came to realize that the veritable immersion in these subjects has been my great fortune. I have been repeatedly forced to deal with, arguably, the most important issues any thinking human can face in their life on earth. If God does not exist, our time on this planet is ours to use or waste. On the other hand, if there is a God with a grand design for His creatures, failure to consider how each of us might fit into that plan could spell our own doom.
My frequent exposure to these subjects and quiet thought about them has made me realize that God’s existence (or not) cannot be absolutely proven with facts. Sadly, without them, thoughtful atheists refuse to believe. These doubting Thomases want the supernatural being to make some kind of a dramatic appearance in their lives. What they don’t realize is, that if that occurred, their free will would be suddenly swept from them and they would be forced like robots to believe. It makes no sense that a loving God would desire the love of His creatures who have no choice in the matter.
Accordingly, the purpose of this essay is to strengthen the faith of those who believe (my own included), to challenge atheists who are simply interested in the subject or passionate in their unbelief, and to awaken the consciousness of lukewarm agnostics. If there is a God, can there be any more important topic?
I: God and the Cosmos
It seems reasonable to begin the strengthening, challenging, and awakening process with the purported existence of a Supreme Being. Scientists believe that the universe was formed some 13.7 billion years ago with the release of unmeasurable energy colloquially known as the Big Bang; but what or who set off the Big Bang? There are many theories. Take for example, the argument from motion. In the 13th Century, Thomas Aquinas reasoned that all things we observe have been placed in motion and that no thing has placed itself in motion. He assumed that if something is in motion, it has to be caused to be in motion by another thing. He concluded that there is not an infinite chain of events causing things to be in motion. If that were true, we would never observe something moving because the original cause would have taken an infinite time to set in motion the moving thing we observe. Since there is motion, the cause and effect chain must have a beginning. He deduced from this that there must be a First Cause. While St. Thomas believed in a Supreme Being as the First Cause, his reasoning certainly does not establish this as fact.
A counter theory is that it is the universe which has always existed as energy and will continue to exist going through a never ending cycle of expansion and contraction and then expansion (Big Bang) over and over. This provocative argument likewise has not been established as fact. Many atheists assume this proves that there is no Supreme Being. On the contrary, it is a violation of logic and a fallacy in thinking that if an argument cannot prove the existence of God, it means that there is no God. A more logical approach for an atheist-scientist would be to consider the existence of a Supreme Being as possible, but cannot be proven. If he were raised in the Catholic Church, he should have been taught that while there may be compelling evidence for a Creator, the faith which convinces and motivates is a gift and not something that can always be reasoned to (Eph. 2:8; Phil 1:29). That should lead to a safer fallback position for the doubting scientist such as, “If you are out there, God, help my unbelief.” Those of us who are believers would expect that our God could not refuse to grant the gift of faith to such an earnest request.
However, blind faith simply because of the possibility of an intelligent creator would not satisfy most of us either. What tangible evidence is supportive of the existence of God? Let’s begin with the order in the universe. Even an uneducated person would be astounded by taking the time to look closely at the world around us. The smallest animals who creep on the ground, inhabit the seas, lakes, and rivers are amazingly complex life forms which follow set patterns of existence. Indeed, one living cell is a universe of its own and functions in an incredibly ordered fashion within and near surrounding cells and their products. Those of us who have studied the physical sciences can’t help but recognize the laws obeyed by the countless stars and their galaxies and the planets which orbit around them. Atheists would make the argument that the order in nature is adequately explained by the laws of physics. They might point out two examples of this in the way that crystals form and the way the solar system formed. However, they might have overlooked the fact that the very laws of physics are part of the very order they try to explain away. Interestingly, it is now known that Newton’s laws of gravity and mechanics are not quite exact. Laws discovered by Einstein in the 20th Century reveal that Newton’s laws were reasonable approximations. Unexpectedly, Einstein’s theory of relativity and gravity reveal an order that is even more wonderful and profound.
The late Henry Morris, erstwhile chair of the Department of Civil Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, who earned a PhD in hydraulic engineering and was a noted creation scientist, took a mathematical look at the argument that chance explained the order we observe in our universe. This opinion is held by many non-believers. Demonstrating the superficial reasoning of such a position, Dr. Morris noted that entirely random processes generate disorder and confusion; simplicity rather than the complexity we see about us. He gave the example of a series of ten flash cards, numbered from one to ten, thoroughly and randomly mixed. If these cards are then laid out successively in a row along the table, it would be extremely unlikely that the numbers would fall out in order from one to ten. Multiplying together all the numbers from one to ten, he calculated that the probability of a progressively ordered arrangement of flash cards is only one in 3,628,800.
A conversation at a nearby tavern among graduates of Cal Tech might deteriorate into the almost universally debunked Monkey Theorem after a few pints. The most popular version poses the mathematical question of whether an infinite number of monkeys given an infinite number of typewriters and infinite time could type out all the works of Shakespeare without a misspelled word or a missing space. One statistician calculated the ridiculous chance of 1 in 2620 of even typing the first 20 letters of Hamlet correctly! An obvious question remains for skeptics: Could the order in our universe be explained instead by an incredibly intelligent being?
II: Christ Jesus is God
Assuming that readers have not found something more interesting or important to do and are at least still open to further discussion of things that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding, the events described in the writings of Moses and the prophets should be addressed. To date, no remnants of the ark built by Noah (Gn. 6:14) have been found on Mount Ararat in Turkey. Egyptian papyruses do indicate the presence of Semitic slaves, many of whom were expelled from that country, but definitive proof of expulsion related to their worship of YHWH, let alone the aftermath following the sprinkling of lamb’s blood on doorway lintels (Ex. 12:7) is lacking. In addition, no certified Egyptian chariot wheels, armor, or human bones have been recovered in or near the Red Sea. Notwithstanding the excitement in the classic action film with Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant containing Aaron’s staff, manna, and the tablets brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai no longer exists and cannot be proven to have ever existed. Nevertheless, the zeal of the estimated 28 generations of the Israelites from Abraham to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and the motivation of modern religious Jews since then must have been spawned by at least some astonishing events even if they cannot be proved.
That Jesus existed is an historical fact apart from Scripture. The evidence is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke written in different times and languages are remarkably synchronous.
C.S. Lewis popularized the argument that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic or the Lord:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be simply a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse […] Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (Mere Christianity, 55-56).
The impact of Jesus on the ancient world and the one we live in has been duplicated by no one else in history. Historian Philip Schaff described this overwhelming influence which Jesus had on the subsequent history and cultures of the world:
This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science […] he shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of schools, he spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, he set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.
How could a simple carpenter’s son accomplish all this without the press, the internet, money, connections to famous people, or coercion of anyone? People who interacted with Him must have seen some astounding things like turning water into wine, immediate cleansing of some chronic skin diseases at least resembling leprosy, healing a paralyzed man, restoring a deformed hand, bringing sight to a person born blind, and raising three people from the dead including Lazarus who had been in the tomb for four days. There were apparently countless others than those described in detail in Scripture. Rising from the dead after an unquestionably cruel torture and crucifixion would trump everything. There are too many feats like these to explain them away as slight-of-hand, exaggerations, false reports, or manufactured conspiracies by a few malevolent followers. Why would these “conspirators” travel throughout the known world afterward and willingly suffer persecution and death as martyrs to the cause of a dead “moral teacher”? Wouldn’t even one of them be expected to defect? Countless others, not from his time, suffered unthinkable tortures and death for the love of Jesus. Yet some of the most learned men and women of today dismiss this Jesus out of hand. Their lack of even a little curiosity is unfathomable.
III: The Shroud and the Resurrection
It is now appropriate to examine any evidence that Jesus actually did rise from the dead. For this we shall turn to the Shroud of Turino, Italy. Some believe this burial cloth is a witness to the resurrection and some think it is a medieval fraud. The cloth itself was subjected to scientific analysis in the 1980s. Evidence reveals that it is a high-quality, linen cloth with blood on it as well as an image of a naked, apparently crucified man with scourge marks front and back. The image shows neither the thumbs nor ears of the man. Unexpectedly, there is dried blood from nail marks apparently emanating from wrists and ankles. Although many paintings of the crucifixion of Jesus depict nails driven through the hands, his body weight on a cross could not have been supported by nails in those places. Spikes through the wrists and ankles could have supported him and the image is consistent with those findings. In addition, such major trauma to the median nerves would cause the thumbs to contract behind the hands which probably explains why they are not visible.
Since the Catholic Church is unafraid of and interested in the truth, scientists from the U.S. were the first group permitted by the Vatican to closely examine the shroud—32 in all (38 agnostics, 3 raised as Catholics, 34 Protestants, 3 raised Jewish). They were experts from the disciplines of nuclear physics, chemistry, radiology, botany, history, textiles, medicine, mathematics, archeology, forensic pathology, photography, and geology examining the shroud from all these aspects. All arrived in Turino to examine the shroud and all thought the shroud was a fake. All departed Turino concluding the shroud is not a fake, but unable to explain how the image got on that old linen cloth. Three types of pollen found only in Israel were present on this linen. The dried blood of the crucified victim was determined to be AB +, the universal receiver, and DNA was found containing both X and Y chromosomes. There was also evidence that the blood was from a tortured human, not only with indications of flogging, but because the blood had a high bilirubin content consistent with significant hemolysis. Inexplicably, the image shows areas of the body where there was no contact by the cloth. The expert panel concluded that the image is not a painting, not a drawing, not a rubbing, not a scorching from a hot statue, and not a photograph.
Carbon dating initially determined that the shroud originated between 1260 and 1390. This finding led to the conclusion that the shroud was an obvious fraud from the middle ages and not surprisingly, research stopped. However, it has been subsequently found that cotton cloth repairs to the shroud following fire damage from that era “contaminated” the linen in the carbon dating process leaving its age still open to further investigation. A current theory holds that the image was created by some type of radiation. Many Catholics and other Christians believe that a burst of energy might well have been given off to produce the image at the moment of the resurrection of this man perhaps explaining why it is present in areas not in contact with the shroud.
In the end, whether the burial cloth is that of Jesus of Nazareth and is authentic remains an open-ended question. Science is not currently able to prove it. However, based on the evidence, it seems highly improbable that the shroud is a painting or somehow artificially produced. The investigators left the question open so that those who wish to believe it is authentic are not hindered by scientific objection. On the other hand, without absolute proof, those who favor the opinion that the shroud is not authentic are also free to do so in light of presently available data (1). Could the shroud be our only physical evidence that Jesus’s resurrection actually occurred? At the very least, it might be “food for (atheist’s) thought”.
IV: The Real Presence and Eucharistic Miracles
It is common knowledge among Christians of many denominations that the Catholic Church teaches that a priest, employing the Passover words of Jesus at the Last Supper during Mass, invokes the Holy Spirit to bring about a “transubstantiation” in the unleavened bread and the wine. Without a change in appearance, these ordinary “works of human hands” and “fruit of the vine” according to Catholic belief actually and tangibly become the body and blood of Jesus Himself. Few non-Catholic Christians realize that this rite originated in the first century. Despite this, some Catholics have struggled with this teaching and a recent Pew survey indicated that less than 40% of Catholics actually believe in the Real Presence. On occasion, even priests themselves have struggled with doubts about transubstantiation. One rather fantastic example occurred in Lanciano, Italy in 750. In the little church of St. Legontian, a priest had been having these Real Presence doubts. Reportedly, after reciting the words of consecration at Mass, the host (the unleavened bread) inexplicably and suddenly became live flesh and the wine became blood which coagulated into several globules. The flesh and the coagulated blood were placed in a marble tabernacle above the altar. In the 1970s and again in 1981, Professors Odoardo Linoli and Ruggero Bertelli were permitted to conduct scientific analyses of the still incredibly well preserved flesh and blood taking photomicrographs. They concluded that the flesh is human flesh, astoundingly cardiac muscle, and the clotted blood is also human blood type AB +, as found in the Shroud of Turino. The preservation of these human substances exposed to the atmosphere for almost 1400 years remains unexplained.
A more contemporary example with some similarity to the purportedly miraculous occurrence in Lanciano took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the church of Santa Maria y Caballito Almagro in 1996. On August 18th after Mass, a parishioner informed the parish priest, Father Alejandro Pezet that a consecrated host had been desecrated by placing it on a candleholder in the back of the church. The priest, following the instructions of the Church in these circumstances, put the host in a container filled with water and kept it in the tabernacle waiting for the host to dissolve and planning on disposing of it after it no longer had the appearance of bread. To his astonishment, the priest found that the bread had not dissolved at all, but transformed into a piece of bloody tissue greater in size than the original wafer of bread. The parish priests hurriedly went to the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis), to tell him what had happened. It was decided that the host should be kept in the tabernacle without publicizing its origin. Three years later, the bloody tissue had still not decomposed, even though no special attempt was made to preserve it. The archbishop decided to have it scientifically examined in the presence of one of the Church’s representatives, scientist Dr. Ricardo C. Gomez. So as not to prejudice the investigation, Dr. Gomez took a sample of the bloody fragment and sent it to New York for analysis without revealing its source. A team of five scientists including a forensic pathologist, Dr. Frederic Zugibe of Columbia University. Dr. Zugibe testified that the material is a fragment of cardiac muscle from the left ventricle. Moreover, the heart muscle was found to be in an inflammatory condition because it contained a large number of white blood cells. Since white blood cells die outside a living organism, this indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. These white blood cells had penetrated the cardiac tissue, suggesting that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest. The doctor was then told that the source of the sample was a consecrated host which had first been kept in ordinary water for a month and then for another three years in a container of distilled water. Only then had the sample been taken for analysis. Dr. Zugibe was at a loss to account for this fact. There was no way of explaining it scientifically, he stated. The blood type of the sample once again came from the AB blood group. The sample was sent for genetic testing and it is human DNA from blood type AB, but in contrast to other samples of human DNA used for forensic analysis, no genetic profile of the person from whom the sample came could be demonstrated. Scientific study of the tissue DNA continues at the present time.
So, it appears that a sample of complex human life has emerged from what was made from unleavened bread and water (the host). This in direct contrast to Darwin’s theory of evolution which is believed by the greatest scientific minds of the last three centuries—that all life emerged from a single cell which was capable of self-replicating. These cells according to Darwin, subjected to climatic conditions on this planet over billions of years, were capable of explaining all life forms which exist. Darwin himself stated in Origin of Species the following:
If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case. (Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species).
For both believers and non-believers, this Eucharistic miracle if true, is such a case and there are other similar recent examples. Though reticent about his religious views, in 1879 Darwin responded that he had never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a god, and that generally “an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind.” (Darwin Correspondence Project, University of Cambridge). What would Darwin have to say 163 years since that earth-shattering publication?
V: Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Inexplicable Tilma
Notwithstanding the purported miraculous occurrences not only during the life of Jesus, but centuries since, it is reasonable to examine some unexplained events related to his followers. Logically Jesus’ mother, Mary, would be foremost among them. Of over 300 reported apparitions of her (appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary coming down from heaven to earth) only a handful have been sanctioned by the Vatican. For purposes of our rocky road to belief, I have chosen two. First in this lineup are the two apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These occurred on December 9th and 12th 1531 to a widower, Juan Diego, in Mexico. She met him on Mount Tepeyacac, instructing him to get the bishop to build a church upon that mountain. To do this, she instructed Juan Diego to go pick a batch of flowers growing unexpectedly in the cold nearby, carry them in his cactus-fiber cloak or tilma, and deliver them to the bishop. When Juan Diego got to the bishop and revealed the flowers, the bishop knew a miracle had taken place. Not only had Juan Diego delivered flowers that were out of season, but his cloak was imprinted with a miraculous image of a young pregnant woman in Aztec garb which is still on display in Basilica of Santa María de Guadalupe in Mexico City.
On the morning of November 14, 1921, an anti-clerical radical entered the basilica carrying a bouquet of roses. The young man placed the flowers several feet before the tilma, genuflected, then walked away. A few moments later, the bouquet containing 29 sticks of dynamite exploded. All around the image, everything was a scene of destruction. Windows burst, vases crumbled, and the marble altar railing of the church was completely destroyed. A brass crucifix was twisted and amazingly, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the tilma was unscathed. The glass casing in which the tilma hung was perfectly intact. No one in the church was harmed.
Numerous scientists and researchers have subjected the tilma to extensive study. In 1977, satellite imaging expert, Dr. Aste Tonsman used infrared photography, along with digital enhancement procedures, to examine the cloak. He and colleagues found that the image shows no sketching or outline drawing that would indicate that an artist had produced a painting there. The exact technique used to create the image remains unknown. In addition, on inspection of the corneas of the woman, a startling discovery of a group of people was made. The size of this scene is incredibly small– 1/100th of an inch– something that no artist on this earth could have ever painted. In each eye there is an image of a series of people and objects: an Indian unfurling a tilma before a priest, another young man, a half-naked Indian with his lips open and his hands together, pieces of furniture, a ceiling arch, and other details. This is apparently a recreation of the exact moment when Bishop Zumarraga beheld the image of Mary with the scene forever imprinted and recorded in the tilma. In 2009, prominent researcher and physicist Dr. Aldofo Orozco, told participants at an International Marian Congress, that there was simply no scientific explanation for the high-quality preservation of the tilma made from cactus fiber. A cloak woven from the agave or maguey plant should have deteriorated within about 30 years. He said that the remarkable preservation of the image and the cloak of Juan Diego from 478 years ago, “is completely beyond any scientific explanation.”
Many doctors and scientists studied the tilma in more detail questioning whether the tilma might miraculously be a living fabric. Indeed, one researcher discovered that its temperature maintains a constant 98.6F degrees. Another placed his stethoscope below the black band at Mary’s waist in the image, and heard rhythmic beats at 115 pulses per minute – the same as that of a baby in the maternal womb.
VII: Our Lady of Lourdes and Miraculous Healings
Somewhat later in history, our second Marian apparition occurred in 1858 in the town of Lourdes in southern France to Bernadette Soubirous and became the subject of a 1943 movie for which Jennifer Jones won the Academy Award for best actress. Bernadette was 14 years-old, the first child of an extremely poor miller, living in the basement of a dilapidated building. She was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age. On February 11th, the Virgin Mary purportedly appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River. There were 18 apparitions in all, the final one occurring on July 16th. Not surprisingly, Bernadette’s initial reports provoked skepticism and her daily visions of “the Lady” brought great crowds of the curious. According to Bernadette, the lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet and a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25th she reportedly said to Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” It was only when these words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the lady was.
The lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There, the people were to come to wash and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig.
Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Virgin were subject to. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation, Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862. The Grotto of Lourdes has since become a shrine that receives approximately four million pilgrims with hundreds of exceptional healings each year. As a result, the Lourdes Medical Bureau was instituted in 1905 to render a judgment that a particular cure was near-instantaneous with no relapses throughout the remainder of life, and, in all other ways, scientifically inexplicable. Currently, only seventy cases have been recognized as “miraculous” according to the standards of the Bureau.
An example which was witnessed by a Nobel-prize-winning physician is worth recounting. Alexis Carrel was born into in a small town in France in 1873. He attended Mass regularly and was educated in Catholic schools. Unfortunately, by the time he went to college he was an agnostic and completely rejected the Catholic faith. Carrel studied biology and medicine and became a world famous scientist, developing a way to allow organs to survive outside the body. For his invention of techniques for suturing large blood vessels, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1912.
Earlier, in 1902, a physician friend of Dr. Carrel asked his assistance to help take care of sick patients being transported on a train from Lyon to Lourdes. Carrel did not believe in miracles, but agreed to help his friend, but he was also intrigued about natural causes which might explain the quick healings supposedly taking place at Lourdes.
On the train, he encountered Marie Bailly, whose parents and brother had died of tuberculosis. Marie had developed advanced tuberculous peritonitis with a distended abdomen with large, hard masses. Because Bailly was half-conscious, Carrel expected her to pass away quickly, perhaps on the train before arriving at Lourdes. Physician-colleagues on the trip agreed with his assessment.
Upon arrival at Lourdes, Marie was taken to the Grotto, where three pitchers of the spring water were sponged over her distended abdomen. After the first pour, she developed a searing pain which lessened after the second pour, and experienced a pleasant sensation after the third. Her stomach began to flatten and her pulse returned to normal.
Standing behind Marie, Carrel and other physicians were taking notes as water was poured and he wrote the following: “The enormously distended and very hard abdomen began to flatten and within 30 minutes it had completely disappeared. No discharge whatsoever was observed from the body.” Marie then sat up in bed, had a meal without stomach upset, got out of bed on her own, and dressed herself the next day. She returned to Lyon on the train, sitting on the hard benches, and arrived refreshed. Amazed, Carrel remained interested in her psychological and physical condition, and arranged that she be monitored by a psychiatrist and a physician for four months. Marie soon afterward joined the Sisters of Charity dedicated to work with the sick and the poor. In what was described as a very strenuous life, she died in 1937 at the age of 58.
When Alex Carrel witnessed this exceedingly rapid and seemingly impossible event, he believed he had seen something like a miracle, but remained skeptical and agnostic. He also wanted to avoid being a medical witness to a miraculous event because he feared that it might ruin his career at the medical faculty at Lyon. Shortly thereafter, he made a public statement in writing suggesting that believers were concluding prematurely that the cure was miraculous and the medical community had not carefully examined the facts before dismissing the event.
As Carrel feared, the fact that he thought it possible that Bailly’s cure was miraculous spelled the end of his career at the medical faculty of Lyon. Ironically, this was fortunate for Carrel because he left for the United States to begin research at the University of Chicago and later at Rockefeller University and on to his Nobel Prize.
Carrel returned to Lourdes many times, and on one occasion, witnessed another miraculous cure – the instantaneous return of the sight of an 18-month-old blind boy. He remained doubtful, but was finally received again into the Catholic Church in 1942.
Arguably, Mary, the biological mother of Jesus would be the most important of His followers in this life and the next if there is one. Assuming, as He claimed, that He and the Father are one (Jn 10:30), she has to be in constant, intimate contact with the creator of the universe. Miracles associated with her apparitions would not be surprising and even expected. Indeed, no one other that Jesus himself is the focus of more intercessory prayers for the problems on this planet than she. Rosaries by the millions are said daily by Catholics asking her with each click of the beads to “pray for us sinners” the world over. To expect her intercession for a last-second, 50-yard “Hail Mary” touchdown reception is interesting in its irony, but seems pretty far-fetched when there are so many more important prayer needs in our world. Nevertheless, our unbeliever brothers and sisters might wonder whether she has any pull and with whom to explain many of the events surrounding her life.
It is impossible to prove the existence of an afterlife for the non-believer. If it could be done, all of us would robotically fall into line and our freedom to believe or not would be snatched away. Nevertheless, the truly astounding occurrences associated with the life of Jesus on earth and His followers over the millennia, the inscrutable Shroud of Turino, and the unexplained cardiac muscle connected to Masses including one celebrated fourteen hundred years apart speak loudly to those of us willing to listen. Moreover, the apparitions connected with Mary and miracles attributed to hundreds of martyrs and holy men and women over the centuries very compellingly argue for something beyond planet Earth.
There are so many of these unexplained occurrences that even hard-core atheists would have to be likened to the proverbial ostrich if they didn’t find them at least interesting.
VIII: Conclusion: Faith is Rational, and Rational is our Faith
The Catholic Church has taught that there is a rich connection between human reason and faith. Catholicism professes that what we believe in faith and what reason discovers are not only compatible, but benefit each other. Faith should not be fearful of reason, but trust it since, according to Pope Francis “the light of reason and the light of faith both come from God’ and cannot contradict each other,” so that “whenever the sciences – rigorously focused on their specific field of inquiry – arrive at a conclusion which reason cannot refute, faith does not contradict it.” The Church teaches that God is the source of both faith and reason, and there is no contradiction in God. Both faith and reason lead us to the one Truth who is God.
Scientific inquiry has based most research on a null hypothesis which assumes that there is no God as they seek the truth about the universe. The safer assumption set up for investigation should be that there is a God and atheist researchers are willing to keep an open mind in their studies and conclusions. The sheer wonders of the universe that they discover could lead them to ask along the way, “If you’re out there, God, help my unbelief.” Many of us believers are certain they will get the help they need.
- Jumper EJ, Adler AD, Jackson JP et al. A Comprehensive Examination of the Various Stains and Images on the Shroud of Turin,” Archaeological Chemistry III, ACS Advances in Chemistry No. 205, JB Lambert, Editor, Chapter 22, American Chemical Society, Washington D.C., 1984, pp. 447-476.