The word miracle is used to describe many things. From mayo to medication, we can tack the term “miracle” onto a lot of items. But the Catholic Church doesn’t take that word so lightly. While Catholics believe that God can and does intervene in our lives, the Church goes through a thorough investigative process before it deems something a true miracle.
In his discussion with A Closer Look host Sheila Liaugminas, O’Neill defined a miracle saying, “When we talk about miracles we talk about those things that are rare, typically unexplained, and they are things that are worked for the good. Something that is just unexplained or unknown, that’s a mystery or a marvel. So something that implies God’s intervention in our lives, that’s a miracle.”
In order for a saint to be canonized by the Church, at least one miracle must be attributed to their intercession. And if you look at the miracles attributed to various saints, you’ll notice that most of them are medical miracles. There is a practical reason for this, O’Neill pointed out.
“When it comes to miracles, especially those used for the canonization of the saints, they’re almost all medical miracles, 99% are, because there’s documentation both before and after the miracle,” he explained. “And so we have a case of a person with cancer, perhaps, or somebody who is blind and vision is restored afterward. They have a medical record that established the condition before. And then the analysis of the same or similar doctors would say that the condition has been resolved.”
And even if there is documentation, the Church is particular about what events it investigates as miraculous. O’Neill said, “They only look at serious cases. You can’t have a bad cold, and it goes away quicker than you expected. It has to be a complete cure. So you can’t be blind in two eyes and have one eye work but not the other one. It has to be instantaneous, not over the course of several years. And it’s got to be lasting.”
Even for cures that are miraculous, it may take several years for the Church to affirm them as such, because those investigating the miracle are diligent about ruling out any natural explanation.
“They look at cases of cancer, for example, being cured and they usually wait 10 years to make sure that the cancer doesn’t come back,” O’Neill explained. “But the hardest criteria of all, in my opinion, is that there can be no medical treatment that relates to the cure. The Catholic Church encourages us to see our doctors, but when there have been cases where medical treatment has been applied and that seems to have worked or where that’s an expected result from that treatment, the Catholic Church might say, ‘Praise be to God. God bless you on your miracle. But that’s not something we’re going to validate.’ So only cases that happened before medical treatment is taking place, or those things where the treatment just had no effect. Those are the cases that the Church looks at and declares miraculous.”
For more on miracles, check out The Miracle Hunter Sundays at 10:00 a.m. Central and listen to the full conversation with Michael O’Neill below: