A wayward person unexpectedly finding success, a team pulling off an improbable victory, a financial windfall coming through in a most dire time, each are often described as miracles, but they’re not exactly examples on which one could build their faith.
Most of the world’s major religions — including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism — believe in miracles, and Catholics believe they happen worldwide every hour, every day at Mass.
Father Jerome Kodell, OSB, former abbot of Subiaco Abbey, referenced the Catechism of the Catholic Church to define a miracle as “a sign or wonder, such as a healing or the control of nature, which can only be attributed to divine power."
“Miracles have a purpose. (They are) signs of God's presence that are a reminder and an encouragement to stay on the path (of faith),” he said.
From the creation of the universe to the Jews’ exodus from Egypt and Jesus’ virgin birth and resurrection from the dead, the Catholic faith is built on God’s revelation through miracles.
“Miracles are important in Scripture because they are signs of God's wisdom and power,” said Father Joseph de Orbegozo, rector of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock and an instructor at the Diocese of Little Rock’s House of Formation. “A lot of times people will say they are signs specifically of God’s power. They are. They’re also signs of the way in which God is Lord of the world, the one who knows the world best. It’s creator. So, they are also a sign of God's wisdom.”
Father Andrew Hart, JCL, adjutant judicial vicar for the Diocese of Little Rock Tribunal and theological consultant to Arkansas Catholic, said Scripture includes several types of miracles, including control over nature, faith healings, exorcisms and resurrections. Non-biblical miracles include faith healings, the appearance of apparitions, the stigmata and the incorruptibility of the body after death.
Father Hart said miracles are possible because “God is the author of nature and can make exceptions to the laws of nature
While large and seemingly impossible miracles are often remembered and highlighted, not all miracles are large, showy examples of faith. Jeff Hines, director of the Diocese of Little Rock’s Faith Formation Office, said, miracles can be small, normal events of the day that reveal God's presence and action in our lives.
“God, through the Holy Spirit, works miracles today in response to our faith and to increase our faith at the same time,” Hines said. “It can be as small as the presence of a special person at a time that you really needed them, or a resolution to a problem that you could not have planned yourself or a specific response to a prayer offered at a time of need. All of them are opportunities to recognize God's presence, and so they are miracles that both respond to faith and increase our faith.
“Our awareness of God's presence in everyday events increases our faith, especially when there is no other explanation than God's active presence,” he said. “This is how miracles are important to faith formation, especially the small everyday miracles that are visible when we see with the eyes of faith.”
Catholics believe they experience miracles at every Mass celebrated around the world. The miracle of transubstantiation asserts that the total substance of bread and wine are changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ at the moment of the priest’s consecration.
While the appearances of the original elements remain, the faithful believe the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the Real Presence of Christ. This is “the source and summit of Christian life,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“The celebration of the Eucharist is miraculous in so many different ways,” Father de Orbegozo said. “Jesus becomes really and truly present — body, blood, soul and divinity. But flowing from that miracle are other miracles, like the communion of saints. The reality of the communion of saints is that we are mystically gathered together with those who came before us and with those who will come after us. The reality of the forgiveness of sins that occurs at every Mass is miraculous. No one has the ability to do that but God. The way that the Holy Spirit speaks in a living way to the whole of the people of God through Scripture, the homily and the words of the Mass is also miraculous, but the eucharist is the centerpiece of what is miraculous.”
While the Church promotes miracles as God’s revelation, it has a strenuous process for declaring their validity. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, previously the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, oversees the process to review and approve or deny claims of miracles.
In order for someone to earn the title “blessed” they need to be a martyr or have one miracle attributed to their intercession. To become a saint, they need another qualifying miracle. If approval is granted, the pope decides whether or not to proceed with beatification or canonization.
“So much depends on the conjecture of the people examining them, and that’s what leads to doubt,” Father de Orbegozo said. “The reason that Catholics should take miracles seriously, and I mean both examining them for themselves and with the help of others, on authority, is that it allows us to both really engage in reason, a gift that God has given us, and faith and trust, other gifts that God has given us.
“I would say that’s one thing that is really fascinating about miracles in the Church. I really encourage people to look at the Vatican website where you can find the regulations and the medical council that serves the Congregation of Causes,” he said. “You can get a sense that they use a lot of different experts, including doctors. They have regulations for those experts. They can’t be in contact — in any way, shape or form — with any of the people who are working for the cause of the saint. That’s significant because it lends credence to an objective outlook.”
Read more about miracles in this accompanying article, Jesus’ miracles affirm his divinity, teach and show his love, Apparitions: Spirits in a material world and Three saints who have received gift of stigmata; these articles on Eucharistic miracles, Learning about Eucharistic miracles can enrich faith life and Lord’s presence: Like feeling the warmth of the sun and this 2019 article, Is it a miracle? Diocese gathers facts in alleged healing, about Christine McGee, a then 19-year-old college student from Little Rock, who was allegedly healed through the intercession of Venerable Henriette Delille.
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