EVIDENCE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD FROM EXPERIENCE: MIRACLES, PART 3
The Evidence for Miracles Today
In the 1986 documentary about Mother Teresa, produced by Ann and Jeanette Petrie, the camera records a fascinating encounter between Mother Teresa and the authorities in Beirut, Lebonon. Mother has been informed of some orphans trapped in West Beirut, caught in the crossfire of the warring groups. She tells the authorities, including the American ambassador, that she wants to go in with a group of her sisters and get the orphans out. The ambassador and the others tell her that this is impossible. The fighting had been continuous for months, and there’s no way to ensure their safety. Even as the camera films their conversation, you can hear the guns and shells in the background. Mother informs the ambassador that she has asked the Blessed Mother for a ceasefire for the next day so she can evacuate the orphans. The ambassador, quite naturally, is incredulous. The warring sides have been at it, day after day, every day, for months on end. Mother Teresa is telling them that she has arranged a ceasefire, through the intercession of St. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, for tomorrow! Though still incredulous, the ambassador promises Mother Teresa that, if there is a ceasefire, he will personally arrange for her to go into Beirut to evacuate the orphans. The film then cuts to the skyline of Beirut the next morning, and it is quiet. The effort to evacuate the orphans is filmed, with Mother Teresa herself directing the effort. Is this a miracle? I think so. No flashes of lightening. No roars of thunder. No wind or finger of God moving men along according to His plan. But, it is the action of God, through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, impacting the lives of men in such a way that God’s will is done.
The great majority of miracles reported today are miracles of healing. The Catholic Church’s criteria for confirming a miraculous healing is that the healing must be instantaneous, complete, and unexplainable as a result of the healing arts. A French nun who suffers all of the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s (she can’t walk, she can’t write, she’s nearly blind, etc…) goes to bed after having prayed for the intercession of Pope John Paul II, who also suffered Parkinson’s and who died a few weeks earlier, in April of 2005. She wakes up the next morning, and the first thing she realizes is that she can see clearly. She then discovers that she can walk without assistance. Finally, her hands now strong enough to legibly write her own name. She is later invited to process around St. Peter’s Square under her own power, holding high a vial containing the relic of John Paul’s blood at his beatification Mass.
A mother places a relic of Mother Katherine Drexel, founder of Xavier University in New Orleans, to her deaf daughter’s ear and offers a prayer in January, 2000. The child can suddenly hear.
A little girl whose liver has been destroyed by an overdose of Tylenol sleeps in the ICU. She awakens and suddenly feels better. There appears to be nothing wrong with her at all. Her Jewish doctor examines her, the same one who had earlier confirmed that her liver was necrosed and she would likely die without a transplant. He now confirms that she is perfectly well. The girl goes home and grows into a beautiful young lady, no medication, liver transplant or any further treatment required. Her name is Teresa Benedicta McCarthy. She was named for Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a martyr executed by the Nazis. Sr. Teresa Benedicta had formerly been a philosopher, a student of Edmund Husserl and co-worker with Martin Heidegger. She had grown up in a devout Jewish family, but was an atheist as an adult. Then she converted to Catholicism and entered the convent. Her name was Edith Stein. Her family had prayed for the intercession of Sr. Teresa Benedicta for the child’s healing.
Luke Bergie suffered a serious gastrointestinal illness starting in September of 1998, causing severe diarrhea that kept him home from school and stopped his growth. Doctors were unable to diagnose or cure Luke’s condition. After six months, tests were scheduled to look into the possibility of a tumor. Those tests were cancelled because Luke’s condition suddenly disappeared the same day two sisters from Mother Theresia Bonzel’s order of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration finished praying a novena asking their foundress to intercede for Luke. Jan Bergie, Luke’s mother, reported that, on February 22, 1999, Luke “just got up from the couch and began playing like a normal happy kid.” When asked, Luke said, “Jesus healed me.” Mother Theresia (pictured above) was beatified by Pope Francis in March, 2013.
Despite their great number, healing miracles are rarely confirmed. There are more than seven thousand healing miracles claimed by those who have visited Lourdes in France since the 1850’s, when Bernadette Soubirous experienced visions of her lady, and miraculous healings began to be reported by those who bathed in the waters of the small spring there. Indeed, the walls of the grotto are filled with the crutches and wheelchairs of their former owners, who no longer need them. Still, only 67 have been confirmed by the Church and officially declared miracles. A 68th miraculous healing is currently under investigation. There is an official process for declaring an event a miracle, and the Church is careful in doing so and rigorous in her investigations. It’s a long process. Luke Bergie was four when he was healed. When the Vatican announced the healing a miracle, Bergie was eighteen. Teresa McCarthy was two when she was healed. She attended her patron’s canonization in 1998, at age 14. Bill Briggs is a journalist and author of The Third Miracle, a book about the Catholic Church’s process for investigating the miraculous. Briggs, who remains a skeptic, has said, “I think what would surprise people outside the church is how very dubious investigators are. To examine these claims, they look at hundreds, if not thousands, of medical records and other pieces of evidence. It’s the furthest thing from a rubber stamp.”
Dr. Craig Keener is author of the two volume Miracles: The Credibility of New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011). In his books, Dr. Keener, a former atheist, documents modern day miracles, including miracles of healing, nature miracles, and even people being raised from the dead. One of Keener’s points is to demonstrate that modern people do, indeed, claim to encounter the supernatural by way of miracles. Recall that one of Vincent Bugliosi’s arguments against miracles is that modern, rational people don’t believe in them. Keener’s investigation demonstrates the opposite – in spades! Not only do people claim to have experienced or witnessed miracles, but lots and lots of people do! Furthermore, these aren’t people from primitive or uneducated backgrounds, but people who are intelligent, well-educated and generally thought of by their peers as reliable and level-headed, including anthropologists, sociologists, and medical doctors. Furthermore, Keener makes it clear that miracles are neither rare nor lacking in documentation. Indeed, his books include literally hundreds of documented miracles, some better documented than others, to be sure, but no one can peruse Keener’s book and keep the claim that miracles are rare and undocumented.
We can’t have surety in all things. In very few things, in fact. What we can be sure of is that God exists. Much else of what we know of God comes to us by way of revelation, including the faith that God loves us, cares for us and heals us. We do have confidence in God’s powers, and that He occasionally displays those powers in miraculous ways to heal, comfort and protect His people, as well as to reveal His glory. Given the evidence, our confidence is reasonable.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.