“A curious anecdote is related of Captain Kellet’s ship, the Resolute. When the last expedition in search of Franklin was going out, Captain Kellet dined with a distinguished friend, and the lady of the house made him a present. The lady was no Papist, any more than the Captain, but the present was neither more nor less than a huge wax candle, six feet long, which had been duly blessed, and had been the gift of a Monsignore. The fair donor of course remarked that the candle would bring the vessel out of all her perils, and accordingly it was swung in the captain’s cabin. Alas for the Palladium! the Resolute was abandoned in the Arctic Seas. When anything went wrong, there is reason to believe that the sailors muttered, ‘Its all owing to that Papist candle;” and when the ship was abandoned, of course, it was quite easy to understand the cause. The Resolute, after all, is saved, and a grand reception is to be given to the American officers who are bringing her home. But what has saved the Resolute, if it is not the candle? Is it not as good a miracle as any emblazoned in the records of the Roman Church ?”—Cor. of London Spectator.
Catholics, whatever this ill-natured critic may say or think to the contrary, possess in their history too many and too well-authenticated miracles to require the aid of false or doubtful ones. And had it never pleased God to dispense, even in one solitary instance, with the laws of physical nature in favor of His Church, yet she might triumphantly point to a miracle—the like of which mankind never beheld—her own preservation in the midst of a hostile world—a miracle that, extending over eighteen centuries is solely Hers, Her brightest glory, Her firmest testimony. That hell’s gates have not prevailed against Her long, long ago, is proof more than sufficient of the Omnipotence which God has exerted in redeeming the promise once made to Her in the person of Her Visible Founder. But She does not lack many other, more or less palpable, signs of divine protection, tokens of His perpetual presence, workings of that All-powerful Hand which is ever stretched over Her, not only to shield Her from destruction, but to give effect to Her prayers, crown Her with blessings, lift up and cheer the drooping hearts of Her children, and exalt Her to the shame and dismay of Her enemies. Of these, some are public and manifest to the eyes of all; others are private, and have no witness but the recipient of such favor, or a few chosen souls. Some are of a character so positive and direct that no rational man can call in question the agency to which they are due; others, again, are of such tranquil, unostentatious nature, that the world passes them by without a thought, and the finger of God is recognized therein by pious souls, whose, eye of faith is purified, because they habitually live beyond this atmosphere of sense.
That a blessed candle should be the means of preserving the Resolute from total destruction, even after her being abandoned by captain and crew, is what no Catholic is called on to believe in virtue of his religion. Yet even those who recognize no efficacy in blessed candles, or other things held sacred by the Catholic Church, must feel surprised by the mere coincidence of these two facts—the presence of the blessed candle, and the saving of the abandoned ship under the most unfavorable circumstances. But that Divine Providence should manifest itself in this seeming trifle—though no matter of certainty, much less of faith—furnishes no ground of surprise or astonishment to the mind of any pious, intelligent Catholic. He knows that God has been pleased to work wonders, not only through the living voice of His beloved Son, and His Saints in every age, but even through mute, inanimate objects, that could boast of nothing more than an indirect quality of being mere memorials of their presence in this world. The mouldering bones of a dead prophet ; the shadow of an Apostle as he passed along the highway; the oil of a lamp that burned before a martyr’s shrine; the sight alone of sainted relics, as they were borne along in festive procession—all these, if we believe the Scriptures and the most venerable Fathers of the Church, have been made the means of miraculous interposition between God and His creatures. And what wonder then is it, that a simple candle, which has been blessed by the prayers of His earthly Spouse, which has been privileged so far as to do homage to Him, by the offering to Him of its life and substance, by burning (though it were even for a few minutes) in the presence of the Holy of Holies, should be thereby made a depository of His power, an instrument of His clemency, to shield His creatures from peril and harm?
The Catholic Church seems to be the only one to understand the mystery of God’s omnipotence, whenever it pleases Him to interfere with the established laws of nature. Be the action great or small, trifling or marvelous the circumstance under which His intervention takes place, She always looks up to Him with the same affectionate reverence, the same worshipful wonder, with which she uniformly regards the Author of good in all His works. She knows that His arm is all-powerful, and can wield in its service, with the same case, the aid of any creature, great or small. Hence it is that in the angry deluge or in the placid rainbow, She recognizes one and the same hand. In the quiet dove that bears tidings of peace to the Ark, or in the fiery rain that consumes godless cities; in the silent raven that bears daily food to a saintly hermit, or in the fierce lions that dig his grave; in the world-renowned miracles of the Pauls, Xaviers, and other illustrious Apostles, or in the silent wonders of her Philomenas and other saints, unknown to man—She sees only the working of one and the same Divine Power. No specious appearance, much less any supposed inherent virtue, of the instruments used by that Power can, attract Her attention or excite Her admiration. If She regard them at all, it is solely with a view to praise and exalt the Wisdom that deigns to use such “weak and scanty elements” to carry out Its great designs and lofty purposes.
The lady who gave the candle, seems to have had no belief in its efficacy. But even in the jocose, flippant strain in which it was offered in gift, not a few Catholic readers may recognize a taunt or challenge to that Divine Power which pervades, blesses and renders fruitful every prayer and action of the Church; and in the event they will not fail to recognize a vindication of the claims of that same Divine Power. They will say that her words were thoughtlessly uttered; but that God verified, if He did not inspire, them. And if they are at all versed in the history of God’s Church, they will recall to mind the days of Boniface and Aglae, and will remember how a few jesting words uttered between the dissolute Roman and his fair paramour, were changed, by God’s grace, into a prophecy, the fulfillment of which resulted in the conversion of the one and the martyrdom of the other. And all sacred history is rife with like instances.
Sectarian critics are indeed hard to please. Do what we will, or happen what may, we are sure to be condemned. Had the Resolute been lost, the failure of the blessed candle to save it would have been unsparingly ridiculed; the boat is saved evidently by a remarkable agency of Providence, and nevertheless, the blessed candle still furnishes a theme for anti-Catholic jesting. The same determination to put us always in the wrong is seen in a thousand other things. An American Bishop issues a regulation regarding funerals, in order to enforce Christian propriety amongst his Catholic flock on such occasions; and sectarian journals, after styling it “the most sensible edict ever issued by a Romish bishop,” and lamenting that Protestants have no means of preventing like excesses among themselves, passes on with most unreasonable and perverse spirit, to denounce the abject, degrading slavery in which Catholic prelates hold their spiritual subjects. An Austrian bishop, full of zeal for God’s law, denounces the censure of the church against all military officers, who shall here after desecrate the Sunday by hunting and other profane diversions; and our fanatical Sabbatarians, instead of applauding this zeal for strict observance of the Lord’s Day, only chuckle with ill-suppressed delight over the real or imagined disaffection toward the Church, which this measure is said to have caused in the Austrian army. And so on in a thousand other cases, which we need not detail. It is a settled conclusion with them, “no good can come out of Nazareth.” The church is evidently, after the example of her Divine Master, “signum contradictionis,” a mark set up for contradiction, not only in the sense that She, like Him, is to be gainsayed and combatted everywhere, but also in this other that She is to be assailed by contradictions, that is, by charges not only void of truth, but so far apart, so diametrically opposed to each other, that they mutually destroy one another by their very contradiction.