Often in pictures, we see images of the disciples all sitting around with their hands folded, their eyes toward Heaven, and they all have little candle flames on top of their heads. Recently when I was presenting a lesson on Pentecost in my Religious Education class, one of the third graders wondered, when the tongues of fire came down on their heads, did their hair really catch on fire like in the picture? I explained that no one really knows what the tongues of fire looked like, and that they probably didn't catch on fire. Father R. echoed my own sentiments yesterday in his homily when he said that instead of a room full of pious-looking people with little birthday candles on their heads (I wonder if that's where the tradition of birthday candles comes from? Pentecost being the birthday of the church and all, and people with little flames on their heads...Hmmm...) he imagines the sound of a tornado tearing through the house; something much louder and more awesome than three or four big fans running full blast, which is what we were all hearing--and why Father probably had to turn the microphones up to maximum power. And the tongues of fire? We cannot fathom how awesome that must have been. Not to mention how it must have felt to the Apostles when sudddenly they were able to speak to the people in everyone's native language. Father R. reminded us that Pentecost is not just something that happened once two thousand years ago; it's happening in the here and now. Most of us are too dense or lazy or self-absorbed to notice. (Father didn't say that last part, but I'm sure he'd agree with me.)
Which brings me to Father Stefan.
Once there was a little boy who went with his parents to his baby brother's baptism. On the way home, the boy couldn't stop crying. After his mother asked him several times what was wrong, he finally said, "Father Stefan said we should be brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys!"
Cute little quips like that. We haven't seen Father in several years, and our kids still remember his jokes. During his time here, Father also began celebrating monthly Healing Masses. I figured that since I was as healthy as a horse, I had no need to attend these. Besides, I'd heard that the healing Masses were charismatic, and that people--and Father--were known to speak in tongues and get "slain in the spirit" during them. Wasn't this what "holy rollers" did? People who belonged to the Pentecostal Holiness churches? I'd never heard of these kinds of things happening at a Catholic Mass. Even so, I thought it might be interesting to go to one sometime and see what they were all about--after all, Father Stefan was our friend; people who had been to Father's Healing Masses said that they were profoundly moving and even life-changing. Sadly, I never got around to it, and even though his current parish is only an hour or so away, I still haven't. As Oprah would say, I guess I'm a little bit skard.
Recently I reconnected with Father on Facebook and Twitter, and soon I learned that he had written a book that was coming out soon. Miracles: Healing for a Broken World was released in March (I mentioned the book in this post.) When my copy arrived from Amazon, I didn't open it up right away because I was finishing another book. Once I finally started reading, it was very hard to put down. In Miracles, Father Stefan starts out by sharing the story of how he was called to the Priesthood, and of feeling drawn to the Charismatic Renewal movement. He recalls how on the day of his ordination, he performed the Anointing of the Sick on a gravely ill little baby, and miraculously the baby was healed. This was the first of many signs and healings that would take place through the prayers of Father Stefan. In the book, he tells story after story of the many miracles he has witnessed, both great and small. The second half of the book is a series of accounts by people that the Holy Spirit has touched through Father Stefan. Some of the miracles recalled in the book happened to people I know. Whether it's after a healing Mass, or a chance encounter with Father in an airport, when Father prays for someone, miracles happen.
One miracle that Father is especially thankful for actually was not a physical healing; it was the founding of the Paul Stefan Homes for Unwed Mothers. A couple in Father's parish (not ours) were expecting, and their baby's lungs weren't developing properly. They asked Father to pray for their unborn child; when the baby boy was born, he lived for only a few minutes. They named him Paul Stefan, after Father Stefan and another priest they admired. The couple felt called to honor their child's memory by providing a safe haven for young unmarried mothers who chose to carry their unborn babies to term. Through a series of happy coincidences--miracles--and with Father Stefan's help and prayers, they were able to procure houses and land to make this happen. Today this miracle continues to grow, and Father is donating all of the proceeds from the sale of Miracles: Healing for a Broken World to the Paul Stefan Homes.
If you've met Father Stefan, you know that he is the most humble of priests. With his easygoing and seemingly laid-back personality, paired with his fun-loving nature and keen sense of humor, you probably wouldn't realize at first that he's also a charismatic miracle worker. (Father's co-writer, Chris Grzasko, tells the story of how Father helped her overcome her fear of flying by persuading her to come with him and some of his parishoners on a trip to Alaska. Each time he saw or spoke to Chris he would not-so-subtly ask, "So, are you coming to Alaska or not?" He nagged her so much that she finally relented. She had a great time, of course, and it's a trip she'll always remember.) Father is quick to point out that the person performing the miracles is the Holy Spirit. He is merely the vessel through which God relays His healing.