I watched two remarkable stories unfold on Sunday. First, Lionel Messi, widely regarded as the greatest soccer (football everywhere else in the world) player ever, finally led Argentina to a World Cup title. He had tried many times, come agonizingly close against Germany in 2014, and at last was successful in an epic contest that more knowledgeable fans than I are calling the greatest match ever. Then, that evening, I watched a story on CBS 60 minutes about the pilgrimage to Lourdes and how one woman recovered from a disease that had left her wheelchair-bound. After years of analysis, her case has been classified as a miracle that cannot be explained by medical experts.
Both of these stories reflect something that transcends our normal human experience. To watch Messi, a rather small man who doesn’t look particularly athletic, is to marvel at his physical ability, but more at his ability to see the game in ways that others don’t, and to make things happen that seem impossible. In my lifetime, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretsky were similarly transcendent athletes who played a team sport, which meant that they needed a strong supporting cast to win the big one. Until this year, Messi had not had such a cast, but this year he did, and it seemed like justice for him to claim the big prize.
The miracle at Lourdes, to those of strong religious faith, undoubtedly seems more important and more miraculous. While I am not religious, I believe in miracles, in things beyond our human understanding that cannot be explained or proven. I take great comfort in knowing that something greater is at work in the world, and that it can be manifest through the elimination of disease or incredible athletic skill. There are 70 documented miracles at Lourdes. There have been a number of transcendent athletes, performers, and artists. Each is unique, though. I’m grateful that I saw Messi play. We won’t see his like again.