I love miracles. I mean real ones, such as those approved by ecclesiastical authority. But there is something that impresses me even more. You see, God is almighty. “God can do all that he wills to do: he is the all-powerful one” (“Catechism of Pope Saint Pius X”) and He watches over all things, great and small: “God takes care of created things and exercises providence over them; he preserves them in existence and directs all of them toward their own proper purposes with infinite wisdom, goodness and justice” (same Catechism).

Miracles are exercises of divine power which can over rule the ordinary workings of the natural world any time He wants. (Sorry certain prissy philosophers and theologians, but the Lawmaker is above His laws of the created order. I am not talking about moral goodness. God, for example, can neither deceive nor be deceived.)

But when God makes something happen providentially, using free human choices, and other factors, so that it comes about just so, this is very impressive. When he has arranged the whole universe so that certain things freely happen, we don’t have a miracle, but a “sign for the Faithful”.

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About twenty years ago I was preaching a public novena to prepare for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, at the Carmelite nuns’ monastery in Buffalo, NY. One night, I decided, was “miracles of the Scapular night”. But there was one miracle which, though I had read about it in a reliable book, it just seemed to be too much, too over the top. But finally I decided to recount it:


At the beginning of the twentieth century, in Ashtabula, Ohio, a man was run over by a train, and cut in half. This would normally be fatal, you must admit. But he stayed alive, and conscious for 45 minutes, until a priest arrived to give him the Last Sacraments. Then he died. He was wearing the Brown Scapular.

He benefitted from the promise of Our Lady, “whoever dies in this clothed in this, will not suffer eternal fire”, that is, they will be saved.

When the Mass was over I heard confessions, and finally it was time to drive back to Canada. I started my car, and backed out of the driveway of the monastery. There was no traffic. I came to a stop sign and turned left. Another stop sign at Hertel Avenue. I turned right and stopped at a red light. Here I encountered by first car. I looked at it without much interest. Then my eyes fell on its licence plate, from the State of Ohio. And then I gasped. The license plate frame said “Ashtabula, Ohio”.

“Well, its all just chance”. Really? I would at any moment have noticed such a thing, and yet it never came to pass. I mean, “Ashtabula” is a name that has stuck with me because of this story. But for it to happen on the day and at the first possible moment… I think I am right in seeing it as a confirming sign of the truth of the story of the man in Ashtabula.

Now, if I only knew more. What was his name? When, exactly, did this happen…

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