Miracles happen daily. They do. Sometimes we see them, sometimes we don’t. Often, we do, but we downplay them — because they happen so often. Like Jesus, whose townspeople even dismissed him: “Oh, this is just Jesus. We know him because we know his parents.”

We, too, often miss the catechetical opportunity, so to speak, to see how God’s grace reaches us and instructs us through the simple miracles that surround us. I am talking about the catechetical moments of natural signs and daily experience as we are approaching “Catechetical Sunday.”

Catechesis is how we learn more about the faith and, coupled with intentional formation, how the Word of God changes us. More than memorizing and repetition — though these are good learning tools — we need to grapple with and unwrap the mysteries of our faith by detecting patterns of God’s action in our lives.

Catechesis considers and takes delight in these unfolding mysteries of faith by making them more present to our personal experience, in our time, place and culture — at the age and state and space we are living in, here and now.

Did you every think there is a catechism lesson in an oyster? “What an ugly example to pick,” you might say. The first person even to touch an oyster (“Will it bite?”), let alone dare to pry it open, must have been very brave — or goaded by a really enticing dare. It almost sounds like a teen prank: “Double-dare you to open it up and eat it.”

Not to focus, though, on the culinary qualities of a crustacean that has found its way as happily into “po’ boys” as onto tables of the rich and famous, the oyster has certain personal issues that oddly parallel our own. Oysters, you see, may put on a defensive front of, “Don’t come near me or I will gross you out.” Not at all attractive, to say the least, they are good at playing “hard to get,” punishing many an inexperienced intruder who, after digging them out, tries to pry them open without the right tool or skill set.

Yet, every oyster has to open itself up from time to time, when no one is looking, just to admit oxygen from the saline waters and to absorb nourishment.

The oyster is rather tenderhearted, perhaps the softest of all sea creatures. Every so often, while letting down its guard, a grain of sand gets in, lodging itself in a sensitive place. Unable to expel the intrusive speck, the oyster miraculously begins to spin a protective coating around it.

Cutting to the chase, you know what happens: A pearl is formed, often one of great price. From the heart of such ugliness emerges a precious miracle of great beauty.

Only natural, you might say, but is it any less miraculous for being that? Grace builds on nature, and time and again God comes around to take the most painful and difficult of situations in our lives — even the experience of evil itself — to surround it with his loving grace.

Where sin abounds, Scripture says, grace abounds all the more (cf Rom 5:20).

Among those who have actually lived this transformative mystery are the survivors of various forms of violence and abuse. Initially isolated, sometimes traumatized, in their pain and suffering, they may begin to find a blessing in the presence of a patient companion who actually listens to their experience; or an inspired story shared by another survivor who has taken the next brave step into the light; or, after a persistent period of lamentation and prayer in which, like the ancient psalmist, a cry is raised to heaven that to which God cannot resist responding.

I must confess that, quite undeservedly, I have been blessed in recent weeks by encounters with survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me to console and counsel me in the midst of the recent revelations besetting our Church community. I am overawed by the faith, love and beauty of their gentle presence and powerful testimony.

Contrary to perceptions conveyed by those who see justice as a primarily legal or vindictive pursuit, victims and survivors I have encountered in my ministry and in some wonderful friendships continue to amaze me with the gift of their zeal for the healing power of forgiveness and restorative justice.
Rather than focusing on retribution, they want to see the healing and uplifting of all as they work to care for and protect children and vulnerable adults.

No survivor should be expected to deny or suppress anger, which is often an absolutely necessary stage in identifying the evil and grieving for its ugly consequences. What I am learning, however, is the unique power — even the gift — of the stories of survivors and how, trusting in God, often with hope beyond hope, they are allowing their painful and ugly experience to be transformed into a pearl of great price, commissioned now by God as agents of his healing power in the world.

They rightfully seek means and resources to carry out their mission, which requires not only their own sacrifice of time and presence, but also that of our entire Church community. The goal and fervent hope is to be united fully with us all, laity and clergy alike, in our common mission to bring hope to the hopeless, sight to the blind and reconciliation to sinners.

They are among our most precious gifts as we find our way together through this crisis.

Many among us also suffer from the brokenness of divorce, spousal abuse, various addictions and depression following the loss of a life taken late from us, or that may never have been permitted to reach birth or maturity. No suffering or violation of our person is beyond the mercy and healing powers of God’s grace.

The primary mission of Jesus was to seek out the lost, rejected and abandoned. So also is it ours as his Church. A lesson may be learned from the simple oyster: What God does freely in nature can certainly happen in the human heart, the Holy Spirit’s favorite home away from home.

It is that Spirit that unites us with God, our eternal home, where all will be well.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)