Psalm 96:1-3, 7-10
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
A struggle for us Christians is the lack of signs. Today we read about the first sign of our Lord, when we turned water into wine. When the people saw it, they knew that there was something there. Once they had tasted the wine, they were sure that Jesus was not ordinary. So why is it that the signs are so few and far between? Sure, there are miracles in the world today, but they happen so rarely that we would be lucky to be present for just one sign like that.
It was not always this way. From the writings of the early Church we know that signs used to accompany the Holy Spirit everywhere the Gospel was spread. Miracles happened left and right. St. Paul is cautioning the Christians to look beyond the signs, because they were so common that the danger was that they would be focused on the signs and forget the Spirit who causes the signs. Nevertheless, St. Paul assures these early Christians that each individual receives a manifestation of the Spirit. We know from other early Church writings that this period of common signs and miracles did not last. Shortly after the very early years of the Church, people were already wondering where all the signs had gone. So we wonder today. Why is it that so many people receive the Holy Spirit but so few have gifts of healing or tongues or prophecy? Why cannot every Christian heal people the way Jesus did, the way Peter and John and Paul did?
It seems there are two possibilities: either God wants it that way or we are failing in some way. The first option says that the early times were different. God needed to do something marvelous in the early times in order to get the Church started. Therefore, once the Church was well-established there was no longer a need for visible miracles happening constantly. God prefers that we come to believe in him without the magic. The second option says that there is something wrong with us. Somehow, we have not received the Holy Spirit, or if we did we are failing to make use of the power and manifestations promised in Scripture. People go out looking for new ways to receive the Holy Spirit: a laying on of hands in addition to Confirmation and Baptism. They call it the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, which leaves regular Baptism seeming boring and less important.
This is a very important question. If the reason why we do not turn water into wine is because God does not want it done right now, then we are doing fine. When God wants to do something amazing, he is free to do it, but in the meantime we will not demand signs like children at a magic show. But if the reason why we are not healing the sick and raising the dead is simply because we are failing to use the power which Jesus has given to his Church, then what a waste! I go to the hospital to visit the sick. I pray with them, but I do not lay hands on them and demand healing in the name of Jesus. Is that a failure? Would they be healed if I did that with more confidence?
The atheists laugh at Christians. We claim that we have a connection to the power who created the universe, the all-powerful God who can do anything and loves us and promised us that anything we ask would be ours, and then we are too timid to ask for anything very impressive. They say that it is because we are afraid that nothing will happen and then our claims will seem silly. Certainly I can point to this healing and that healing. To the boy who recently was born without knees and then grew knees in response to prayers, something that every doctor had said would never happen. To the innumerable cases of cancer that inexplicably disappear in response to prayer. If only it were more consistent, they would be unable to deny the power of God. So if it is because God chooses to be quiet and just out of scientific examination, then I wonder why but accept that he may do whatever he decides is best, but if Christianity is despised because we are failing to make use of the power that Jesus gave us, then we need to change that immediately.
When I look back at the 2000 years of Church history, one answer to the dilemma appears. There seems to be one sure way to bring miracles into existence. And it is not any laying on of hands or other invented sacrament. It is not any special prayer that suddenly was able to cause miracles to happen because the right words were finally being said. It is simply this: love. Love is the greatest gift of the Spirit. Love is the most power manifestation of God in the world. Without doubt, whenever someone chose to become an instrument of God’s love, miracles followed.
God does not wish to deny the world the healing that he can give, but the effects are rarely good when someone seeks to become the instrument of God’s extraordinary healing. We should not pursue the various charisms and powers of the Holy Spirit that are listed here: prophecy or tongues or mighty deeds or miraculous healing, but this does not give us a license to sit back and wait for God to do something if he wishes. We should pursue the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit: to love others, especially the poor and suffering and anyone else who is considered unlovable in this world. All of our efforts should be trained on that manifestation of the Holy Spirit, because when we begin loving others with more love than is humanly possible, that will be a greater proof of the Gospel than any other extraordinary sign. And then, as has been the case so many times before, when we forget those other gifts in the pursuit of love, we will find them. We do not need to try to become a Church full of people speaking in different tongues and prophesying, but if we become a Church full of people who love others, we will find that tongues and prophesy will appear when needed. When we visit the sick with the love of God, we will find that healings happen. God has a lot of things that he wants to do. He has specific way of manifesting his power through each person. There are miracles that he wants you to do. But unless we can learn to love first, nothing else is going to happen.