September 26, 2007

Daily Jesus: Miami

Forgive me, readers. It has been more than three weeks since my last Daily Jesus.

That's understandable, though, because Jesus and company had been on a pretty major US tour and apparently needed some vacation time. Like a lot of tourists, that entailed a trip to Miami, where Mary, Joseph and Sweet Baby J have shown up at St. Brendan's Catholic Church, this time in the form of shadows on an altar cloth.

Hundreds flock to see image of Virgin Mary on Miami altar

Hundreds of faithful people lined up at a South Florida church on Thursday and Friday nights, claiming to see visions of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in a cloth tapestry.

The apparition is said to be appearing on the altar of St. Brendan's Catholic Church in Miami.

Some people stood in line for more than an hour to see the image.

"I heard it on the news this morning that there was a silhouette of the holy family," Maria Anduiza said. "So we're here to see."

Inside the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament where the Holy Eucharist is exposed, church officials said shadows appeared along the bottom of the altar cloth...

"I felt like the presence of Jesus was in front of me," Michael Valerias of Palmetto Middle School said. "My grandfather just passed away, so I felt his presence also."

"I believe that this has a meaning that we have to have more faith in God," teacher Maggie Falla said...

"I see the face of Jesus Christ in between Mary and Joseph, an adult version," she said. "It's not what I see inside..."

Is this an actual apparition?

St. Brendan's pastor father Fernando Heria said faith is in the eyes of the beholder.

"I have seen the shadows," he said. "What the shadows mean I think is very subjective. Each person experiences religion in a very personal way because God talks to us individually. God comes to our level of spirituality."
Michael Valerias is onto something; he has attributed "feeling his presence" to a personal turmoil in his life. At some level, I think people who experience these religious pareidolia episodes know that it's wishful thinking on their parts. I'm not at all sure what Maggie Falla is saying when she says that the image she sees on the cloth isn't what she sees inside. That could be an artifact of the way the story has been written, or it could be that she's describing a phenomenon in which her eyes roll back into her head and she sees visions. Heria, being a priest, throws out a bit of a red herring, switching the whole discussion from the objective existence of shadows to the subjective argument that religion is something personal. I guess it's part of the job description for priests, since every time Daily Jesus shows up one of them attempts to redefine for us the nature of the clearly independent occurrence as somehow variable in terms of who sees it. The question wasn't whether people interpret the shadows differently, but whether the shadows themselves are a "real apparition." Do priests do this with other objective phenomena? Do they have to spend all day trying to work out the meanings of every object they see? Hmmm, you know, they sort of do. After all, religion is largely about trying to frame everything as some sort of interaction between a divinity and concrete reality. Everything has meaning, which is a bit of a paranoiac way of looking at the world.

Ah, but I digress terribly. For, you see, the vacation ended pretty quickly this time around. As of yesterday, the Christ Family had moved on...
Virgin Mary's image disappears, but believers remain

The faithful continued coming Tuesday to this sprawling church in the Westchester neighborhood. They arrived as steadily as the rain fell from the sky, praying to catch the brief miracle from above.

But by the afternoon, the divine shadows cast in St. Brendan Catholic Church had disappeared.

For nearly a week, worshipers came to the church's small adoration room looking for the apparition: Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary, holding the baby Jesus.

Parishioners said the Holy Family was visible as recently as late Monday.

But miracles are fleeting.

''I didn't see her, but it doesn't matter,'' said Miami resident Aldofina Basunto, who came to the church Tuesday evening.

Basunto, who struggles with bad knees, said the spirit overpowered her when she walked into the room. Suddenly, she could kneel.

``Just the idea that she was there, in this place, it's enough. It's a big thing, it gives me goosebumps. I felt her spirit.'.."

Church officials wouldn't say whether they believed the Virgin Mary actually had appeared. Father Fernando Heria, the priest, told The Miami Herald Friday that what truly mattered was the impact the image had on its believers.

For Dave Lopez, a 20-year-old student from Florida International University, the sight of the Virgin Mary was profound.

''I saw her on Saturday,'' said Lopez, who returned Tuesday evening. `For me, it was a confirmation of my faith. . . . I saw her.'.."

Some grazed their fingers on the screen, noting what they thought was Mary's halo. Some wiggled the base for a better look. Others wondered if what they saw could be just an illusion, a distortion of light coming from the candle at the alter.

Verdeja pointed that the candle was too short to produce such a defined shadow -- at least three feet tall.

''This wasn't some trick,'' Verdeja said. "It was real.''
Again, we have someone in an emotional turmoil experiencing something even when the thing experienced is purely imaginary. Basunto didn't even see the image; just the story about it was enough to provoke the same ideation. For Lopez, it merely confirms his faith (which sort of contradicts the earlier statement by Maggie Falla that the purpose of the apparition was to provoke more faith). Well, of course it does. Someone who didn't already hold beliefs quite similar to his wouldn't have seen the Jesus family on the cloth in the first place and very likely wouldn't have seen anything at all. What Verdeja is basing his statement on about the candle being too short, I have no idea. We aren't furnished with enough information here to do a simple bit of trigonometry and work out for ourselves whether or not his assertion is true. Somehow, I doubt that he did so, either.

And that's just the thing; these apparitions are almost never analyzed objectively. In not one instance of a Daily Jesus to date have I noted any effort to do such a thing. Indeed, the inevitable assertion that the appearance of these images is somehow an intentional act intended to increase faith precludes those who put stock in them allowing for disinterested inquiry, because the same faith also maintains that such inquiry would be an insult to the deity producing the shadow puppets for the benefit of his supporters.

But doesn't that also give a lie to this assertion of increased faith by divine apparition? If one had great faith, after all, shouldn't one encourage the investigation of these alleged appearances by curmudgeonly skeptics like me? If a believer was certain that a given "holy image" couldn't be easily explained by purely natural agency, I would think they would love to have an investigator show up and confirm their belief. Imagine what would happen if I were to go and investigate some divine manifestation here in lovely Worcester and return to write in this very blog, "I can find nothing in nature to explain why the stigmatized hand of Jesus reached up from that ice cream cone and tweaked my nose this afternoon." Would that not have far more impact than yet another priest or other true-believer saying that the latest Daily Jesus confirms the faith he or she already holds?

I would think so, but I'm sure those same true-believers can come up with a hundred reasons why this isn't the case. Nonetheless, if I ever do get wind of a Daily Jesus turning up within 50 miles of here, I do plan on going and investigating for myself. I wonder if some divinely inspired crowd would drag me from the premises were I to show up on the scene with a protractor, calculator, and swab kit for taking samples...

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