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‘Why would God transform my life when I am such a sinner?’

The Conversion of St Augustine by Fra Angelico

Miracles R Us: Supernatural Miracles in the Catholic Church, edited and compiled by Fr Frankie Mulgrew and published by St Pauls, has a host of contributors, including Cardinal Nichols, Jean Vanier, John Pridmore and Sister Briege McKenna. It is one of those straightforwardly uplifting spiritual books in which many ordinary people give accounts of their conversion experiences, alongside some amazing stories of miraculous physical healings. Why should these amaze us, knowing the power and love of God? Because it is hard in daily life to be truly open to the supernatural and to believe that God actually does answer prayer – occasionally very fast.

Yet these testimonies, such as that by John Pridmore, an ex-gangster and thug who once nearly killed a man, and who writes that “Confession changed my life”, should remind us that, as we approach the great feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is constantly at work in the world. You do not have to be a “Charismatic Catholic”, though some of the contributors here would describe themselves as such, to believe in His power.

What strikes the reader is the honesty and humility behind these accounts, the sense of “Why on earth would God transform my life when I am such a sinner?” Meg Hunter-Kilmer, like Pridmore, was changed after Confession, writing “Someone who isn’t sorry shouldn’t be able to read a list of sins and be transformed. It’s not magic, after all. But it is miraculous.” Despite two theology degrees from Notre Dame she now describes herself as a “hobo missionary”, having left her job as a school religious teacher in 2012 “to live out of her car and preach the Gospel to anyone who would listen”.

The stories also remind us that our faith is a sacramental one; many of the contributors were changed by Confession, the Eucharist and by Confirmation. One young woman, a week from death by cancer, was healed by the Anointing of the Sick. Fr Frankie Mulgrew, the Editor, reminds us that “There is one prayer that God cannot say “No” to, and that’s when we ask him for spiritual miracles” – conversion of the heart.

There are two good reasons for reading this book. I have indicated the first, reminding us of the supernatural dimension of our faith; the second is that for every book sold, a donation is made to the charity Mary’s Meals, a down-to-earth organisation inspired by Our Lady (who else?) that provides over a million children in Africa with a nutritious meal every day in school.

Actually, I can think of a third reason: the simplicity and new-found joy behind these accounts is also an antidote and a reproach to the more flagrant examples of mockery and contempt for faith evident in the world. I refer specifically to the Met Gala last Monday, organised by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which has for its theme this year “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”.

This is not TS Eliot referring to aesthetic pretentiousness in the lines, “In the room the women come and go/talking of Michelangelo”; it is, as Ross Douthat observed in an article for the New York Times, actually blasphemous: artefacts designed to resemble monstrances, mitres, crowns of thorns, crucifixes and priestly vestments are utilised by famous fashionistas to strut and preen their hour upon the stage in a grotesque inversion of their sacred symbolic meaning and purpose.

British Vogue gushingly described the Met Gala as “a complicated dance between creativity and crucifixion”. Rubbish. It’s not complicated, it’s not a dance and it’s not creative. To me, the parade resembled a mixture of voodoo ritual and a Black Mass. It raises some urgent questions: how could the Vatican have agreed to lend items for the Metropolitan exhibition from the Sistine Chapel sacristy? How could the Sistine Choir have agreed to sing for this event? How could Cardinal Dolan of New York have agreed to open the exhibition?