This past Monday, the Church around the world celebrated the feast day of St. Januarius. He is not a household name, and he is spoken about more today for a phenomenon relating to a very odd but consistent miracle. Little is known about the life of St. Januarius, but tradition tells us that he was a bishop in Italy during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. Januarius was killed during one of the persecutions of the Church, and a local woman named Eusebia collected some of his blood to keep as a relic. Now, here is the odd thing: three times a year, Januarius’ blood liquifies inside of the transparent glass holders where it is venerated and displayed. This phenomenon was first recorded in 1389, and it just happened again this past Monday on his feast day. The other days that it traditionally happens is on the first Saturday of May and December 16, the anniversary of the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Now, to a skeptic, I know that this is a very bizarre and somewhat pointless miracle – not near as useful as Jesus healing a cripple! However, the evidence is pretty clear to me that this miracle does in fact occur. I have never seen it in person, but I have seen videos and images that pretty clearly depict liquid blood inside the display case. It may be surprising to some that the Church is actually the biggest skeptic when it comes to miracles. Some occurrences that may seem to be obvious miracles to many people would be written off by Church investigators because there may be a possible natural explanation. This is the case with any miraculous healing in a canonization investigation or with Eucharistic miracles. The Church has never actually officially approved the miracle of the liquification of blood as being authentic, but this does not mean that it isn’t a truly supernatural phenomenon; the Church simply has not made an official judgment.
This past Monday, Archbishop Battaglia of Naples celebrated Mass in the presence of the blood of St. Januarius, and it liquified during the Mass. But he offered a reflection on the role of this miracle in our faith. He said, “Today the sign of Bishop Januarius’ blood, shed for the sake of Christ and his brethren, tells us that goodness, beauty, and righteousness are and always will be victorious. Here is the meaning of this blood, which, united with the blood shed by Christ and that of all martyrs of every place and time, is a living testimony that love always wins. It matters little, my brothers and sisters, whether the blood liquefies or not. Let us never reduce this celebration to an oracle to be consulted. Believe me, what really matters to the Lord, what our bishop and martyr Januarius strongly asks of us, is the daily commitment to stake on love.”
God gives us miracles as reminders that he is still present in our midst. In the gospels, Jesus used miracles as signs of credibility of his message. He raised the dead, forgave sins, and calmed the sea as proofs of his divine nature, and to invite his disciples to believe in him. Of course, Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Many of us have never seen a miracle in person, although we may have read about them online or heard about them. For me personally, accounts of Eucharistic miracles have helped me to believe more strongly in the reality of the Eucharist. But we should not allow accounts of miracles to be the only support for our faith. God has revealed all that we need to know for salvation through Scripture and Tradition, and any supposed revelation from God today needs to be in line with what we already know to be true. This is also true for miracles. God may choose to give us miracles to strengthen our faith, and he will do this as he sees fit. But, if this is the last time that Januarius’ blood ever liquifies, that would be ok too. The important part is that it impels us to greater love of God and each other!