Church Matters October 2016

Science and technology are wondrous things. Sometimes you just have to stand back in awe at some of the things that science uncovers and technology achieves. A case in point is the recent success of the space probe Juno, launched by NASA back in August 2011 and now orbiting around the planet Jupiter. Over the past five years Juno has travelled over 300 million miles and undertaken some pretty intricate manoeuvres in order to reach its goal – all the more mind-boggling when you consider that the manoeuvres are effectively controlled from earth.

Having arrived at Jupiter, Juno will orbit the planet thirty-seven times over a period of twenty months, sending back pictures and other information. The pictures already received are quite stunning, and if you know about Jupiter you will recognise it as having a giant red spot. I can remember thinking from childhood that the red spot was probably a desert or something, but no, it turns out that it is a colossal storm, twice the width of the earth, that has raged for hundreds of years. One scientist, speaking on a news feed, describes some of the photographs and discoveries as “Jaw-dropping”. When you pay attention to such news stories you begin to realise that there is so much out there that we don’t understand. It’s a situation where science and technology combine to explore the boundaries of our current knowledge, often with surprising results.

Around the same time as Juno started sending back photographs, so another news item caught my eye. This one was much more churchy with the news that Mother Teresa was about to be formerly declared a Saint of the Catholic Church. Mother Teresa herself died back in 1997, and in order to become a Saint a miracle needs to be attributed to prayers made to her after her death. Two such occurrences have happened, and so Sainthood awaited its confirmation by Pope Francis.

In her lifetime on earth Mother Teresa did some wonderful things for the poor of India and beyond, setting up hospices, soup kitchens, schools, leper colonies and homes for abandoned children. She could also cause controversy, with public figures criticising her methods and approach. I once read that part of her motivation was to care for the destitute who could not be supported by the state – she held to a mandate that no one should die alone but be afforded dignity and friendship in their final days. To my mind while there might have been controversy, this shows you her heart. I suspect she wasn’t someone to sit behind political correctness when people were in need. Jesus did similar and caused controversy too.

But what about the miracles now attributed to her? One of them involved a woman with a stomach tumour who, on entering a church, encountered a picture of Mother Teresa and saw an intense light coming from it. She returned home and fell into a deep sleep and later found that the tumour had disappeared. The Vatican has verified the healing, but it still courts some controversy in that the woman was on medication at the time. The woman herself doesn’t deny being on medication, but knows that something happened when she saw the light from the picture, and no one will shake her from that belief.

In my own experience of healing, or reading about healing, a person often knows when something out of the ordinary has happened to them. They feel it somehow, and the results can be jaw-dropping, and healing can come though the prayers of the more minor saints, people like you and me. It’s a situation where faith and prayer combine to explore the boundaries of our current knowledge, often with surprising results.

Rev Tony Stephens