If God performs miracles, why does he select some to heal while ignoring others? If he communicates with some of his children, why does he choose one person and not another?
My mother always told me it's unwise to question God. If He wanted me to know, she said, he would tell me.
Mom's faith is unquestioning thanks, in part, to Rhoda Wise, a nice, middle-aged lady who lived in a nice middle-class home in Canton, Ohio.
Every week, when my mother was a child, she and her mother, Palma (named after Palm Sunday), would visit the Wise home to witness God's grace.
"There would be an aura of light around her house," Mother told me. "It was like the northern lights."
Rhoda Wise, in my mother's words, "had the stigmata." That is, on holy days, Wise would spontaneously bleed from wounds on her hands, feet and forehead -- just as Jesus bled from wounds he suffered on the cross.
"The blood didn't burst out," Mother said. "It bubbled out of the wounds where nails and a crown of thorns would be." Then she told me, "Rhoda Wise should be a saint."
There is plenty of precedent for stigmatics attaining sainthood: Catherine of Siena, Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio, whose corpse will be on display next year in St. Peter's Basilica at the request of Pope Francis. The Pope hopes
that those who view Pio's body on Ash Wednesday will spur his special appointees -- selected priests -- to hear confessions enthusiastically and offer hope to people around the world.
Macabre? Yes. But the Pope's request is also quite amazing if you believe in miracles. Pio, who died in 1968, painfully experienced stigmata for 50 years. Witnesses say his blood smelled like flowers or perfume. Pio tried to keep his stigmata secret, but soon word spread and he became a symbol of hope. It wasn't long before those around him spoke of his healing powers and even his ability to levitate.
I'd like to view Pio's body myself to see if there is some kind of proof, just as I'd like to see proof Rhoda Wise spontaneously bled.
Wouldn't you know it? Mom delivered on Wise. Or should I say my sister, Barbara, the keeper of family memories, did. Pictures of Rhoda Wise exist!
"Kinda creepy," Barbara said as we looked at the old black-and-white photos. Um, yes. But fascinating, too. There was Rhoda Wise, lying in bed, blood bubbling from wounds on her head, staining her white sheets. As the old Columbus Star newspaper described it: "While she is bleeding, Mrs. Wise reportedly lies in a trance and talks constantly to the Lord."
The year was 1943. My mom would have been 12 and -- dare I say it? -- impressionable. "She performed miracles," Mother scolded. Then she unloaded a stunner. "She cured my eye. The doctor said I could go blind. Mrs. Wise blessed me, prayed over it. She made the sign of the cross. I was cured."
My mother wasn't the only person who said Wise cured them. Hundreds of people lined up at Wise's front door every Sunday, waiting for hours to see the woman who performed miracles. The Columbus Star quoted a 21-year-old woman named Rita, who said she was cured of "dropped stomach." Another young woman told the Star that Wise touched her 3-year-old daughter, Margaret, who had curvature of the spine, and insisted it wasn't long before her girl was "a happy, healthy child."
Today, a shrine sits where Wise's house once stood. It is a holy place where people still go to pray for miracles. Karen Sigler maintains the site in Canton. She believes Wise should be a saint, too. But, it's not to be -- at least not yet. Wise forwarded a letter from the Youngstown Diocese, dated June 9. It says, in a nutshell, that Wise was a devout woman of good faith, but a preliminary investigation showed no evidence of supernatural acts.
So, was Wise for real? The Rev. Allan Deck, a Jesuit priest and a distinguished scholar in pastoral theology and Latino studies at Loyola Marymount University, cannot say, but he believes in stigmata. "The Catholic Church believes in miracles. If God is all powerful, God can do what God wants to do."
That's not to say the church simply accepts that miracles happen. There have been plenty of pretenders. And, after all, this is a church that includes scientific discovery in its teachings. Catholics embrace evolution and climate change. Pope Francis has a degree in food chemistry from a school in Argentina.
"We believe in the possibility of gaining deeper insight into things we do not understand by use of our reason," Deck told me, explaining that it's reason co-mingled with faith. "What we know about God is very limited. God is ultimately ineffable (incapable of being described in words). We speak about God mainly in narratives and stories that help us gain some understanding of the mystery."
That's why the church conducts lengthy investigations into such things. It took the Vatican decades to beatify Padre Pio. At one point, the church actually imposed sanctions on Pio because the local bishop suspected his order was using Pio's gifts to make money.
Still, I wonder. And my skepticism bothers me. If I believe in a virgin birth and a resurrection, then why can't I believe in other kinds of miracles?
I asked the Rev. Edward Beck, a Catholic priest and CNN Vatican analyst, if I was a bad Catholic for being skeptical. "It is OK to question," he told me. "Part of faith is doubt. You are seeking understanding. If you are not, there is no journey to it."
"Really?" I asked.
"Not every Catholic feels the same thing," Beck told me.
Still, a part of me wishes I believed wholeheartedly that Rhoda Wise did prevent my mother from becoming blind in one eye.
It would be wonderful to embrace the mysteries of faith fully.
Perhaps, one day, my journey will take me there.