By Cliff Garvey
In my favorite modern novel, Father Elijah by Michael D. O’Brien, the title character asks an old friar if he believes in a miracle. The friar responds: “I have seen more wondrous things than this with my own eyes.” What about you? Do you believe in miracles? Do we, as a community of disciples, believe in miracles?
Father Mark Leasure is the pastor of Saint George’s Orthodox Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania. In 2011, he cleaned off an icon of the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus that was collecting dust on a bookshelf. The image is called the Kardiotissa Theotokos which translates loosely from Greek into Our Mother of the Tender Heart. It depicts Mary and the Christ Child in an embrace that speaks volumes about joy and hope, love and contentment, and perhaps even the suffering that will inevitably come to them.
In a message to his parish, Father Leasure writes: “Icons proclaim the Gospel, not in black letters on a white page, but in color on a canvas (or wood). They teach us about the life of Jesus Christ, his Holy Mother, and the saints who have been sanctified through a live lived in cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Icons inspire us and call us to holiness. They inspire us and call us to repentance. They stir hope in times of despair and comfort us in times of sorrow. Icons bring joy, tranquility, and peace. They assist us in prayer and shower us with grace. They open before us a window into heaven and they are a conduit through which God creates miracles.”
Indeed, the icon of Our Mother of the Tender Heart has been an instrument for many miracles at Saint George’s Church. Shortly after it was placed on display in the church, it began to release a sweet fragrance and droplets of a thick liquid. This substance has been identified as myrrh: the fragrant gum resin that is obtained from a family of trees and shrubs that is native to Southeast Europe, the Middle East, and the Holy Land. Myrrh has analgesic properties. It is still used in mouthwash and toothpaste; and also in ointments to relieve pain and swelling. In the New Testament, myrrh is one of the three gifts presented to the Christ Child by the Magi (Matthew 2:11). At the crucifixion, Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23). And later, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea use myrrh and aloe to cleanse the Lord’s body (John 19:39).
Back in Pennsylvania, the Tender Heart icon is soon streaming with myrrh. It accumulates at the bottom of a wood frame around the icon; and it is sometimes collected and distributed with cotton swabs. People from across the country and around the world travel to Saint George’s Church in order to see the Kardiotissa Theotokos. In just five years, from 2011 until 2016, nearly 500,000 believers of all ages and backgrounds have come to venerate the icon. They come from every part of the United States; from Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, England, Germany, Israel, Romania, Slovakia, every country in South America, and even Ukraine. According to Father Leasure: “The Kardiotissa icon goes beyond human understanding. She is truly miraculous, not simply because she gives myrrh in abundance, but because of the multitude of healings and other miraculous occurrences attributed to her.”
So, do you believe? Do you believe in miracles? Do we still believe in miracles? If you’re not sure, then consider the testimony of those who do believe! A five year old boy receives an organ transplant from his mother but develops severe stomach pain that is diagnosed as cancer that has spread to the lungs. The boy is anointed with myrrh from the icon and is offered up in prayer before the icon itself. Two weeks later, his cancer is cured.
A woman is told first that she has metastatic breast cancer, then lymphoma. She asks to be anointed with myrrh from the icon of Our Mother of the Tender Heart. And when the biopsy report returns from the lab, there is no cancer. Another biopsy is taken and again, there is no cancer. Finally, a third biopsy is taken and sent to a prestigious cancer lab in California — and again, there is no cancer. The woman is cured.
A four year old girl is rushed to the hospital with a high fever, extreme headache, and a potentially fatal infection. All day and all night, the child’s grandmother prays. While looking for something in her purse, the grandmother finds the little bag containing a cotton ball soaked in myrrh from the Kardiotissa icon that was given to her many months ago. She shreds the cotton ball, anoints the girl with myrrh, and continues to pray. She begs Jesus to take away the child’s sickness. Overnight, the girls sleeps peacefully. And the next morning, she is returned to good health. The child is cured. And then, when the grandmother returns home, she opens her purse and takes out the bag containing the shredded cotton ball. She discovers that the pieces have reassembled into the shape of a heart and it is once again soaked in myrrh.
Now do you believe? Now do you believe in miracles? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a miracle is a sign or wonder, such as a healing of the control of nature that can only be attributed to divine power. The Catechism says: “Jesus accompanies his words with many ‘might works and wonders and signs’ which manifest that the kingdom is present in him and attest that he is the promised Messiah. Miracles strengthen faith in the One who does the Father’s works; they bear witness that Jesus is the Son of God.” Our faith in miracles, then, is longstanding. It finds is source and inspiration in the life and ministry of Jesus. In the Gospels, Jesus is a teacher. He is also a miracle maker and a wonder worker. He heals the sick. He walks on water. He feeds the multitudes. And he raises Lazarus from death.
Miracles are works of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are brought about directly by divine grace, by the prayers of a saint, or by the petitions of the Blessed Mother. Just think about all the saints we venerate who are considered miracle makers and wonder workers: Saint Ann. Saint Anthony of Padua. Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Nicholas. Saint Patrick. Saint Peter. Saint Pio. And on and on and on. In fact, every single saint, through their prayers, works miracles for God’s children. Making miracles is the labor of the saints. And making miracles is also the labor of little ones like us. Pope Francis says: “Miracles do happen. But prayer is needed. Prayer that is courageous, struggling, and persevering, not prayer that is a mere formality (Spirit of Saint Francis, 72).” In this spirit, we turn in faith and with confidence to Our Mother of the Tender Heart, and we pray:
Rejoice Mary, Mother of God, Virgin, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have borne the Savior of souls. Fitting it is in truth, to glorify you, O Birth-giver of God, ever blessed and most pure, O Holy Mother of God. More honorable than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, you are without blemish and you bore the Word of God. True Birth-giver of God, we praise you! Amen! Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Our Mother of the Tender Heart, pray for us!
About the Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to Mother of the Tender Heart. The Assisi Project Podcast is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our programs and ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2022. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (see links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!
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