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Miracles are a call to faith

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 16 December 1987 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The "miracles and signs" which Jesus did to confirm his messianic mission and the coming of the kingdom of God, were directed and closely linked to the call of faith. In relation to the miracle, this call has two forms. Faith precedes the miracle and indeed is a condition for its accomplishment. Faith is also an effect of the miracle, because it engenders faith in the souls of those who are its recipients or witnesses.

It is known that faith is a human response to the word of divine revelation. The miracle is organically linked with this word of God the revealer. It is a "sign" of his presence and action—a particularly striking sign. All this is a sufficient explanation of the particular link which exists between Christ's "miracles-signs" and faith, a link so clearly outlined in the Gospels.

2. The Gospels contain a long series of texts in which the call to faith appears as an indispensable and systematic factor of Christ's miracles.

At the beginning of this series must be appointed the pages concerning the Mother of Christ in her comportment at Cana of Galilee, and earlier still - and above all - at the moment of the annunciation. Precisely here we find the culminating point of her adherence to the faith, which will find its confirmation in Elizabeth's words during the visitation: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Lk 1:45). Yes, Mary believed as none other, being convinced that "nothing is impossible for God" (cf. Lk 1:37).

At Cana of Galilee her faith anticipated, in a certain sense, the hour of Christ's self-revelation. Through her intercession he performed that first miracle-sign, thanks to which Jesus' disciples "believed in him" (Jn 2:11). The Second Vatican Council teaches that Mary constantly precedes the People of God on the pathways of the faith (cf. LG 58 and 63; Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, 5-6). We can say that the first foundation of this assertion is already found in the Gospel which gives an account of the "miracles-signs" in Mary and through Mary in regard to the call to faith.

3. This call is repeated many times. When Jairus, one of the officials of the synagogue, came to ask for his daughter's restoration to life, Jesus said to him, "Do not be afraid; just have faith" (and he said "do not be afraid" because some had advised Jairus not to bother Jesus) (Mk 5:36).

When the father of the epileptic asked for his son's cure, he said, "But if you can do us." Jesus replied, "'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith." Then comes the fine act of faith in Christ by this sorely tried man, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" (cf. Mk 9:22-24).

Finally we recall the well-known conversation of Jesus with Mary before the raising of Lazarus, "I am the resurrection and the life.... Do you believe this.... Yes, Lord, I believe..." (cf. Jn 11:25-27).

4. The same link between the "miracle-sign" and faith is confirmed in the opposite sense by other facts of a negative kind. Let us recall some of them. In Mark's Gospel we read that Jesus of Nazareth "could not perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed by their lack of faith" (Mk 6:5-6).

We know the gentle rebuke that Jesus once addressed to Peter, "Man of little faith, why did you doubt?" This occurred when Peter began by setting out courageously on the waves to go to Jesus. Then, because of the strong wind, he became afraid and began to sink (cf. Mk 14:29-31).

5. Jesus underlined more than once that the miracle he worked is linked to faith. "Your faith has saved you," he said to the woman who had been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years and who came up behind him, touched the hem of his garment and was healed (cf. Mt 9:20-22; and also Lk 8:48; Mk 5:34).

Jesus spoke similar words when he healed the blind Bartimaeus who was seated by the roadside leading from Jericho. On hearing that Jesus was passing by, Bartimaeus cried out insistently, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me" (cf. Mk 10:46-52). According to Mark, Jesus replied, "Go your way; your faith has saved you." Luke is more precise: "Have sight; your faith has saved you" (Lk 18:42).

Jesus made a similar statement to the Samaritan cured of leprosy (cf. Lk 17:19). Two other blind men besought Jesus for the restoration of their sight. Jesus asked them, "'Do you believe that I can do this?' 'Yes, Lord,' they said. Then Jesus touched their eyes and said to them, 'Let it be done for you according to your faith'" (Mt 9:28-29).

6. Particularly touching is the case of the Canaanite woman who kept on asking Jesus to help her daughter who was "cruelly tormented by a demon." When she prostrated herself before Jesus to beg his assistance, he replied, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." (This was a reference to the ethnic diversity between the Israelites and the people of Canaan, which Jesus, Son of David, could not ignore in his ordinary behavior. But he referred to it from a methodological viewpoint in order to arouse faith.) Then the woman intuitively made an unusual act of faith and humility. She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Because of these words, so humble, courteous, and trusting, Jesus replied, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish" (cf. Mt 15:21-28).

It is an event difficult to forget, especially if one thinks of the numerous "Canaanites" of every time, country, color and social condition, who stretch out their hands to ask for understanding and help in their needs!

7. We should note that the gospel narrative continually stresses the fact that when Jesus "sees their faith," he works the miracle. This is clearly stated in the case of the paralytic who was lowered at his feet through an opening in the roof (cf. Mk 2:5; Mt 9:2; Lk 5:20). However, the same may be said in so many other cases recounted by the evangelists. The element of faith is indispensable. But once that is verified, Jesus' heart is prompt to hear the requests of those in need who turn to him for assistance through his divine power.

8. Once again we observe, as we said at the beginning, that the miracle is a sign of God's power and love which save all men and women in Christ. For this very reason, however, it is at the same time a call to faith. It should lead to belief, both the one for whom the miracle is worked and the witnesses of the miracle.

This holds good for the apostles themselves, from the very first sign Jesus performed at Cana of Galilee; it was then that they "believed in him" (Jn 2:11). Later when he miraculously multiplied the loaves in the vicinity of Capernaum, an event linked with the preannouncement of the Eucharist, the evangelist notes that "from that moment many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him," since they were unable to accept what appeared to them "a hard saying." Jesus then asked the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Peter answered, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God" (cf. Jn 6:66-69). The principle of faith is therefore fundamental in the relationship with Christ, both as a condition for obtaining the miracle and as the purpose for which it is performed. This is set out clearly at the end of John's Gospel, where we read, "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name" (Jn 20:30-31).


After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Chers pèlerins de langue française, je vous salue cordialement et je souhaite que votre visite à Rome vous encourage à participer activement à la vie de l’Eglise. Je vous invite à accueillir avec un cœur nouveau le Fils de Dieu fait homme, et je demande au Seigneur de vous combler de ses bénédictions.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

 I offer a very cordial welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially those coming from the United States. As we wait in hope for the coming of our Saviour, may the Lord deepen your faith and 611 your hearts with joy. God bless you all.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Von Herzen grüße ich die Besucher deutscher Sprache: Ich verspreche euch mein Gebet vor allem an den kommenden Festtagen, daß sich euer Glaube an das Wunder der Menschwerdung Gottes neu belebe und kräftige, damit auch euer Leben dadurch einmal seine ewige Vollendung finde.

Ai numerosi fedeli e visitatori provenienti dalla Spagna e dall’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

me es grato ahora presentar mi más cordial saludo de bienvenida a todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, a los representantes del movimiento “Acción Social Empresarial” a quienes aliento, en su condición de profesionales y laicos cristianos, a ser testimonios vivos de los valores del Evangelio en el mundo económico-social, difundiendo y aplicando con coherencia las enseñanzas sociales de la Iglesia, en comunión con los Pastores.

Saludo igualmente al grupo de jóvenes estudiantes de Colombia.

A todos imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Witam bardzo serdecznie przybyłych do Rzymu biskupów z Polski w czasie ich wizytacji “ad limina Apostolorum”; równocześnie witam także pielgrzymów, stosunkowo tym razem mniej licznych, z dekanatu zakopiańskiego oraz z innych ośrodków w Polsce i z emigracji, jako też przedstawicjeli grup turystycznych . . . Starajmy się, zwłaszcza w Roku Maryjnym, odnaleźć naszą własną wiarei na tych drogach, które wskazuje na wielu miejscach ewangelia, na tych drogach, na których Maryja, Matka Chrystusa przoduje całemu Ludowi Bożemu, i to są żarazem życzenia na Boże Narodzenie dla wszystkich tu obecnych i dla wszystkich Rodaków.

Ai numerosi pellegrinaggi e gruppi di lingua italiana

E’ presente a questa Udienza un numeroso gruppo di pellegrini della parrocchia di “Santa Maria del Principio” in Torre del Greco, dell’Arcidiocesi di Napoli. Saluto cordialmente il parroco, Monsignor Salvatore Maglione, che è anche Vicario Episcopale dell’Arcidiocesi, e tutti voi, cari fratelli e sorelle, giunti presso la fede di Pietro per festeggiare il 50° anniversario di fondazione della vostra parrocchia. Il mio saluto va in particolare agli alunni della Scuola Elementare parrocchiale accompagnati dai loro insegnanti.

Il titolo “Santa Maria del Principio” è assai significativo, come ben sapete: Maria è la Madre di Colui che, come dice san Giovanni, “era al principio” e, come proclama san Paolo, “è prima di tutte le cose”. “Maria del Principio” vuol dire che Maria, più di tutte le altre creature, appartiene a Dio, è vicina al Principio di tutte le cose. Dalla Vergine Santa, peraltro, non si può separare sant’Anna, verso la quale la vostra parrocchia nutre una grande devozione. L’una e l’altra vi conducano all’Eterno Principio, che è al contempo il nostro Fine: Dio. Con questo augurio, carissimi, di cuore vi benedico.

* * *

Il mio cordiale saluto si rivolge inoltre, alla squadra ciclistica “Carrera”, che annovera tra i suoi componenti atleti quali il campione del mondo Stephan Roche, ai dirigenti, ai tecnici ed ai titolari della Società che sponsorizza il gruppo sportivo.

Vi ringrazio, cari Signori, perla vostra visita, e mi congratulo per la vostra attività, che allieta le giornate di tanta gente, offrendo momenti di sana distensione secondo gli ideali dell’agonismo sportivo. Nella consapevolezza della vostra responsabilità, possiate voi sempre dare un esempio di linearità e di correttezza nell’adesione a quegli ideali che non giovano solo alla salute fisica, ma preparano anche alle elevazioni dello spirito. Mentre invoco su di voi l’assistenza divina, vi benedico.

Ai giovani

Carissimi giovani!

Rivolgo ora a voi in modo particolare il mio saluto con la letizia propria delle feste natalizie, alle quali ci prepariamo nella Novena, che inizia oggi. Il Natale vi faccia sentire la gioia vera e profonda proveniente dalle supreme certezze, che Dio stesso ci ha manifestato facendosi uomo e nascendo a Betlemme. Un aiuto a meglio commemorare con animo grato e commosso il sublime evento potrà venirvi dalla costruzione del presepio nell’intimità delle vostre case. Se vi è possibile, partecipate con devozione nelle vostre Parrocchie agli incontri liturgici vespertini della Novena. Già fin d’ora auguro a tutti voi un Santo Natale e vi benedico di cuore!

Agli ammalati

Cari ammalati!

Il mio pensiero e la mia parola si rivolgono adesso a voi, con grandissimo affetto. A voi, che soffrite, il Natale porti sollievo e conforto. Infatti specialmente voi, di fronte all’umile presepio, in cui è nato il Divin Salvatore, sperimentate il vero significato del natale, solennità tutta mistica e interiore. Dio si è incarnato affinché l’uomo potesse diventare partecipe della sua stessa vita divina e della sua eterna felicità. La Novena in preparazione al Natale vi aiuti a meditare e a contemplare il gaudioso Mistero dell’Incarnazione del Verbo, per essere sempre colmi di serena e coraggiosa fiducia. Anche a voi, ed ai vostri familiari ed accompagnatori, porgo gli auguri più cordiali ed imparto la mia speciale Benedizione.

Agli sposi novelli

Cari sposi novelli!

Le mie felicitazioni e i miei auguri per la nuova vita, che avete iniziato col Sacramento del Matrimonio e che avete voluto solennizzare col viaggio a Roma e la partecipazione all’Udienza! Accogliete il mio saluto e la mia Benedizione: vi accompagnino nel cammino intrapreso, per ricordarvi sempre la “grazia” sacramentale che avete ricevuto e i doveri cristiani ai quali vi siete impegnati. La Novena di Natale, che oggi iniziamo, stimoli anche voi a mantenere nei vostri animi e nelle vostre case l’atmosfera spirituale di quell’evento centrale della storia, compiutosi in Betlemme; e cioè le virtù dell’umiltà, della semplicità, dell’affetto reciproco, della coraggiosa pazienza, della serena fedeltà. Auguri di Buon Natale, cari sposi novelli, e l’assicurazione del mio ricordo nella preghiera.

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