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Of course they do, at least as far as I’m concerned. But that’s just one man’s opinion and also a function of my definition of miracle, which is a positive outcome or turn of events that can not be explained in any other way and to which we ascribe special importance in our lives. The great theologian, Paul Tillich, called them signal events in our lives. Like Tillich though, I am more circumspect, about claiming to understand how God or Her/His agents make miracles happen, what they mean or the specific reason why they occur. But lots of people are not so hesitant, and that’s what makes this story from Hawaii so interesting.
When Audrey Toguchi’s doctor told her she had six months to live, she made a pilgrimage to pray at the grave site of Father Damien, a Catholic priest who died in 1889. Months later her cancer was gone — putting the missionary on a path to sainthood….The Vatican conducted an extensive review and concluded Toguchi’s recovery defied medical explanation. Pope Benedict XVI agreed and approved the case as Damien’s second miracle, opening the way for the Belgian priest to be declared a saint.
Everyone seems to agree that this was a miracle by my definition, but how does one make the leap from “wow, what an amazingly wonderful occurrence that I personally attribute to divine intervention”, to “a rigorous inquiry has determined that since science can not offer an explanation for this event, not only do we believe that God is responsible, but that the dead missionary before whom this woman prayed is also responsible for her miraculous recovery”?
How does the Church do this? This is not just some individual shouting “it’s a miracle” in a moment of particular joy. It’s not even a case of feeling touched by divine intervention. It’s the Catholic Church making a claim about the factuality of something that is by definition, beyond such explanation. How does this work? How is this not precisely the kind of flimsy thinking that provides those who mock belief with the ammunition they seek?
And no, I have no issues with the Catholic Church, at least not about this. Like any 2,000 year old institution, it has done some horrific things and some magnificent things. Like any great tradition, including my own, it has moments of which to be proud and those of which to be ashamed. I just don’t understand how the absence of one kind of explanation is the same as proof for the presence of another. In fact, that leap is often the divide which needlessly separates believers from non-believers.
Ms. Toguchi’s Doctor made an interesting observation:
“For the true believer or faithful, this is a miracle. For the true skeptic, this is a random or very unusual coincidence. For the doctor and scientist, we call it complete spontaneous regression of cancer.”
This doctor separates the theological or anti-theological claims of either side and focuses instead on the phenomenon of the cancer’s disappearance instead. It’s as if he can appreciate the miracle more because he is not locked into an interpretive battle about how it occurred. I wonder of that isn’t good advice for all of us, whatever side we are on theologically. I wonder how many miracles we all miss because we are more interested in how they confirm or deny that which we already believe, instead of simply appreciating how wonderful they are.
There is a Midrash (ancient rabbinic tale) that describes the burning bush which Moses sees when tending his father-in-law’s flocks. The Rabbis teach that the miracle was not that the bush was burning without being consumed, because it had been burning since the beginning of time. The miracle was that Moses noticed.
Miracles are around us always if we allow ourselves to see them – to see them not as proof for some larger ideology which needs shoring up, but as the possibility of so many wonderful things that are beyond current explanation, but not beyond current celebration.