Some months back, a curious cemetery visitor was wandering the cemetery in Bowdle. I was checking out some of the monuments there (and praying for all those who have died). When she saw me, she sought me out to ask if any of the strange and “paranormal” events that she heard about were true. Maybe it was because my pastoral instincts led me to discern this particular person’s lack of regular church attendance (or maybe it was just my desire to fight fire with fire, so…) I could not help but reply to her with deep interest. I asked her if she was referring to the fact that the infinite God of the universe is reported to take on bodily form and appear to many in the simple form of bread of wine. Or, perhaps she heard about small children brought to this church who had once been mere human creatures born of ordinary human parents; but, were miraculously changed in an instant by an ancient ritual that includes the pouring of water and the breaking of an ancient curse…by the proclamation of an ancient incantation to become a human being with eternal divine powers! Or, perhaps she has heard rumors of dead souls who have come back to life again after the robed priests (who prowl about here in the small rooms of the churches) and tell them they are free from the same ancient curse that the water ritual attacked. Or again, perhaps she had heard of the most amazing paranormal activity that pits a stubborn selfish male individual against an egotistical self absorbed female individual but miraculously produces a single living breathing partnership that actually brings new human creatures into existence. (OK…I wasn’t that mysterious with her…but…you get the point.)
I was actually proud of myself, giving this curious cemetery visitor a quick synopsis of what I have encountered here in our parish churches that really does touch on the supernatural. After all, what’s a church worth if it doesn’t have something supernatural about it. When I finished, I stared at her and she stared back at me. I anxiously awaited her response. I could hope that she would be moved to hear of the glories and wonders found in every Catholic Church. You know, the awesome wonders that should bowl over every Catholic (if they stopped to ponder the supernatural realities of our faith). Instead, she broke the silence and said, “No, I mean have you ever seen something like the ground rising and falling as if the earth was breathing.” (I resisted the temptation to say: “Honey, it’s possible I heard of such things in the crazy 80’s of my college life…but boy…am I glad those days are over.”) But then she added: “Or, have you seen figures that appear and mysteriously disappear through the trees?” Now my mind and my patience was truly tested. When she asked this question, I was back at Holy Apostles in Connecticut. When I was a seminarian, I did know quite a few classmates that were studying for various religious orders (preparing to be monks) and because there were a lot of trees around our seminary (and because they would often take a shortcut through the trees around the place…I smiled at her saying: “I do believe there maybe some truth to that tale.”
At this point, I think my cover was broken and she laughed some and put aside some of the anxiety she brought with her. She seemed genuinely glad to meet a nice priest person (with an Irish sense of humor…and loves to tell tall tales too), but even more… a real sense of the supernatural. So many people want to see amazing things. Unfortunately for the simply curious who avoid Catholicism, they settle for tales of nature’s rules being bent a little bit. But what I love about Catholicism is that God can create unimaginably good things out of pea brains like you and me.