I went to the Church of St Thomas More for Sunday service this week with a good friend who is a Catholic. I had heard that the church building was a beautiful piece of modern architecture maximising a small space and I thought I should see it while spending some catch-up time with my friend, Mabel, last Sunday.
The Church of St Thomas More is, indeed, a beautiful church with an open inner sanctum with a high ceiling and a balcony-style second floor. The altar is simply but tastefully adorned with the tabernacle where the Eucharist (consecrated bread) is placed in the centre. Two small but distinct cherubic angels are on either side of it. Very undistracting and aesthetically pleasing.
The church is filled with natural light coming through long slats of glass windows from ceiling to floor. It creates a naturally bright and warm atmosphere for worship. The church can easily accommodate about 3,000 people and I am told it costs about RM 3 to RM 4 million and is fully utilized. A very good use of resources unlike some churches I know which spent hundreds of millions of ringgit to build huge structures which are mostly empty.
The service was typically Catholic, following a script with a lot of Scripture references and, since I come from a Catholic background, that wasn’t a problem for me. I went along with it, until the announcements came at the end. The priest shared about the statue of the Virgin Mary that had grown by 3 inches and he invited a church member to share what he had experienced at a meeting before the Virgin Mary grotto.
This man shared that the statue smiled and looked at the parishioners gathered before her. And that others who were there also witnessed it. After his account, the parish priest, Father Raymond Pereira, said something about praying to the Virgin Mary and that there would be more miracles.
I looked at Mabel in disbelief! Mary drawing attention to herself?! I am not dismissing here the spiritual experiences of other people. If they saw what they saw who am I to say they didn’t?
What bothered me was that the priest made no mention of the fact that Mary always drew attention from her to Jesus. Who is God? Mary or Jesus Christ? And who would know the answer with certainty, Mary or us? And, if Mary knows that Jesus is the Saviour, why would she draw attention to herself and not to Jesus?
Some Catholics say Mary, being the mother of God, is easier to relate with. Fine, but Jesus is the Son of God who became a human being so that we can relate with Him. Why not relate with Him direct, instead of going through Mary? The one time that people went directly to Mary for a miracle as recorded in the Bible was at the wedding feast in Cana when the hosts ran out of wine (John 2: 1-5). She told Jesus the problem but he replied, “My hour has not yet come.” She then directed them to “do whatever he tells you”. I am inclined to believe that if ever Mary makes an appearance, it would be to direct people to Jesus.
Mabel, who is a practising Catholic, later said that the previous parish priest, Father Simon Labrooy (who is now at the Church of Divine Mercy in Shah Alam), kept the church focussed on Jesus. The Mary influence seems to have come with the current parish priest.
I visited the Virgin Mary grotto after the service. About 10-15 people were there, some praying. To me the statue was just another statue. But, then again, I am a — very healthy — spiritual skeptic! It takes more than a growing statue and some looks to make me a believer!
About a year ago, there was this sighting of the image of the Virgin Mary on the window pane of the Subang Jaya Medical Centre. I went to see it and looked and looked, this way and that, and could see no image of anyone on the window pane! Catholics were on their knees in prayer before candles but I saw no image.
I thought it was like looking at clouds. If we look long enough, some cloud shapes can look like any one or any thing we want them to be. Also, in a heightened state of any emotion or spirituality, we tend to sense things we normally don’t. For example, when I am terrified, I hear sounds that I normally don’t hear. Likewise, in a heightened state of spirituality, we may see or feel things we want to see, feel and believe. But, is that a miracle? I don’t know. Father Raymond has since said that the Vatican has to prove it’s a miracle before it can be called one.
Make no mistake, I believe in miracles. When the modern charismatic movement began at the turn of the 20th Century, nearly every charismatic service had evidences of miracles and this continues to this day. The blind could see, the lame walked, the sick were healed. People got up from wheelchairs and walked. Tumours on the body fell off. The poor were uplifted from poverty. We hear such testimonies all the time. I am one such testimony; I survived depression by His power.
All these miracles drew people closer to Jesus Christ. As we grew in our faith in Christ, such dramatic miracles became fewer but the equally powerful redeeming grace of Christ took over, and day by day we are enabled to live and overcome. That is the ongoing miracle of life in Christ.
So, if the statue of the Virgin Mary came alive at the Church of St Thomas More and it leads Catholics to a closer walk with Jesus, then it serves a purpose. If it doesn’t draw people closer to Christ, then, something is wrong. Church leaders, I am sure, are monitoring the situation to give Catholics the correct perspective and teaching on this supernatural “sightings”.