Before the final blessing at noon Mass on Oct. 4, the Rev. Jerry Spencer, senior associate pastor at Cure of Ars Catholic Church in Leawood, told his congregation about the “Blessings of Animals” he had officiated the day before in honor of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
As many as 40 dogs and their owners had assembled on the church grounds for the service. Most of the dogs listened quietly, in spite of the fact that they were strangers to one another, except a few young ones that were restless and yelping!
The congregation laughed.
Then he said he read Genesis 2:18-19: “Then the Lord God said, ‘I will make him (Adam) a helper suitable for him.’ Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man … and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name” and all dogs were silent, even the noisy ones. Among them was a sick dog, Spencer said, a mid-sized black one, that was suffering from cancer. “It lay the whole time, obviously in great agony, its eyes closed. … Later, after the service ended, the owner of the sick dog phoned to tell me that her dog was examined by its vet minutes ago and that there was no trace of cancer in it.”
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No one laughed this time.
Spencer concluded that St. Francis himself might have interceded for the cure as a gift to Pope Francis, who chose his name and follows his example as a humble servant of God and who particularly cared for the poor and meek. And 50 years ago on Oct. 4, Spencer pointed out, Pope Paul VI visited the United States as the first pope to set foot on American soil and addressed the United Nations.
“History repeated itself recently,” Spencer said. “Pope Francis spoke at the United Nations as well as Congress in September during his visit to Washington!”
Coming home, I couldn’t shake the image of a congregation of about 40 dogs listening to Genesis, during which one of them suffering from cancer was cured.
And I also remembered reading about a 12-year-old girl named Julia who had been confined in a wheelchair but showed some signs of healing after Pope Fransis blessed her during his visit to Brooklyn.
Earlier this year Julia experienced a sudden paralysis on her legs but her doctors could not find any clue as to its cause. By June, she was wheelchair bound. Learning that Pope Francis was coming to Brooklyn, her parents brought Julia to JFK airport, hoping that Francis would bless and heal her. After a long wait with others, the girl was blessed by Francis, and the report said that the mother felt a strange assurance that her daughter would walk again. Julia’s condition improved, and five days later, her doctors were able to find the evidence of Lyme disease in her blood, giving them the clues to treat her.
The same article revealed another story. A couple from Arizona who claims that their 3-month-old daughter’s serious heart condition was healed after Pope Francis blessed and kissed her in St. Peter’s Square on April 20, 2014, the day Francis canonized two new saints — Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.
I, too, have experienced miracles, believe it or not. In the summer of 1953, the year the Korean War ended, I narrowly escaped from drowning at the beach near our hometown of Pusan, thanks to my mother’s prayer. I was 12. A tall wave suddenly swallowed me and as it receded, it sucked me into the deeper end, and I found myself sinking and struggling to breathe. The helplessness I felt was tremendous. My 17-year old brother came to my rescue, while my mother began praying on her knees, which I later learned. Eventually, I was pulled into safety.
Two decades later, as a young immigrant mom, a similar incident happened to me during our family vacation at Virginia Beach. I was wading in shallow water, with my 2-year-old daughter in my arms, and sudden a strong undertow knocked me down. In horror, I felt my child slipping away! “God, help us!” I cried. For a moment or two, the water calmed down, and I was able to scramble to my feet, holding my daughter by the foot!
Though many people I know are skeptical about miracles, and some even believe that “praying” is showing one’s weaknesses, I say that believing benefits us all. A human life itself is a miracle that begins from a mere fertilized egg in his/her mother’s womb.
We live on borrowed time on earth, without any guarantee against dangers. I welcome miracles at any time.
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.