How To Tell If A Modern Miracle Is Genuine

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein

In A Nutshell

Earning the title of “saint” is no walk in the park. If you want to be canonized, you need to perform two miracles from beyond the grave . . . and then things get really complicated. To prove these “miracles” are actually miraculous, the Catholic Church employs 100 doctors who investigate claims of supernatural healing.

The Whole Bushel

In this day and age of modern technology and rising skepticism, a surprising number of people still believe in the supernatural. Take miracles, for example. While some might scoff at the notion, a 2010 poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion revealed that nearly 80 percent of Americans still believe God heals the sick and gives sight to the blind. And Americans aren’t the only ones who believe the divine plays an important role in daily life. Over in Vatican City, there are quite a few folks who take the business of miracles quite seriously.

In Catholicism, miracles play an important role in determining sainthood. According to Catholic theology, a saint is a person who’s made it into heaven . . . only it’s a bit tricky figuring out who’s made it past the pearly gates. A long, holy life is a pretty good indicator the deceased is singing with the angels, but you need plenty of eyewitness reports and stacks of documents proving the person lived a virtuous Christian life. However, the real deal breaker is miracles. If you pray to the dearly departed, and she grants your request, that’s a sure sign she’s up in heaven asking favors from God.

But what’s the definition of a miracle? According to the Vatican, it’s a spontaneous, complete, and permanent healing without any scientific explanation. So say there’s a guy with cancer, and doctors are 90 percent sure he’s going to die—but he suddenly gets better. Well, according to theology professor Rev. Stephan Bevans, that doesn’t count. Only if doctors gave the patient a zero chance of survival would his healing be considered a miracle. Brain-dead patients have to come back to life, and people afflicted with Parkinson’s have to make an instantaneous recovery, all without medical assistance.

So who gets to decide if an event meets the Catholic criteria? Well, it’s a complicated process that starts with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. These are the guys in charge of the sainthood process, and they hand over all their cases to the Consulta Medica. Made up of 100 Catholic Italian physicians, this board analyzes everything from a patient’s CT scans to X-rays to determine if the supernatural was involved in the patient’s recovery. Each potential miracle is assigned a team of five doctors, and if at least three decide there’s no scientific explanation, the case is passed onto a group of cardinals and priests. This last group determines if healing came about by prayer to one solitary soul, and if the answer is yes, then the Vatican has a genuine miracle on its hands.

Still, you need two miracles before you can achieve sainthood (unless you’re a martyr and then you only need one). Mother Teresa would be a good example. In 2003, Pope John Paul II beatified the charitable nun for posthumously healing a woman dying of ovarian cancer in 1998. However, she still needs one last miracle before she can be declared a saint. And that’s after years of research, 100 witnesses filling out giant surveys, her supporters compiling a 35,000-page report in her defense, and famous atheist Christopher Hitchens doing his absolute best to make sure she didn’t pass muster. In other words, the road to sainthood is a lengthy and expensive process.

Show Me The Proof

LiveScience: The Science Of Miracles: How The Vatican Decides Is Mother Teresa’s Miracle for Real?
LA Times: Confirming Miracles Is Art and Science
NPR: Do You Believe In Miracles? Most Americans Do

  • Nolan Moore

    Here’s an additional bit of info I learned while researching for this article…

    Between 1587 and 1983, the Catholic Church employed a special person to argue against a candidate’s beatification or
    canonization. He would point out all the candidate’s flaws and challenge the reality of the miracle in question. They called this guy the “advocatus diaboli.” Translate that into English and bang, you’ve got “devil’s advocate,” and that’s where the expression comes from.

    However, John Paul II abolished the role in ’83 to speed up the process, but every so often, the Vatican brings somebody in (like Christopher Hitchens) to oppose a nominee (like Mother Teresa). It’s just not an official position anymore.

    Anyway, I thought that was a cool tidbit.

    • Lisa 39

      That is cool info, thank you for adding it 🙂

    • Hillyard

      How does one apply for this job? It sounds like fun. Oh, and is the Advocatus Diaboli allowed to yell out ‘Bullshit!’at irregular intervals to keep things interesting?

      • Lisa 39

        I think its ‘I call bullshit’, we have to try to keep up with the times Hillyard!

        • Hillyard

          You are of course correct. Where would I be without you?

          • Lisa 39

            Well you’d either be swearing incorrectly in front of the catholics or stranded on an island somewhere, I’ll always have your back hillyard ;D

  • Dustin Koski
  • Ste Chez

    1. Examine the miracle.
    2. It’s not real. Miracles don’t exist.

  • Lisa 39

    I believe in miracles, maybe not the blind can suddenly see kind, I’d need to see proof that the person was blind before to believe that. I think some of our modern technology and the good it can do is a miracle, lives are saved daily by modern medicine, eradicating diseases with vaccines, we’ve gone to the moon and mars and have deep space probes, and a regular person like me can talk to people from all over the world everyday, younger people here may not agree that that’s a miracle but I come from a time of black and white TV with 3 channels!

    • Clyde Barrow

      Off is my favorite TV channel!

      • Lisa 39

        That is a good one, I do enjoy some stuff on TV especially movies but I don’t watch it to much during the summer, in the winter that things on all the time but that’s because its to cold to do anything outside 🙁

        • Clyde Barrow

          I can imagine, being how Cleveland only has about 18 sunny days a year? :p

          All kidding aside, I get most of my TV viewing time in the Winter months as well. Not a fan of the ‘reality show’ format, but I do enjoy classic movies on TCM.

          • Lisa 39

            I think we get 20 lol seriously tho, its warm here from June through August, May, September and October are nice but cooler, November through April is cold and wet 🙁

            For reality TV I used to watch ‘ghost hunters’ that’s it. I figure my own reality sucks enough sometimes I don’t need to see other peoples crap. I do like shows like ‘criminal minds’ but mostly I like cheesy syfy movies, stupid and entertaining!

    • Hillyard

      I remember those days. Dialing a phone, winding a watch and having to get up off the couch to change channels.

      • Lisa 39

        I was explaining rotary phones to my kids a couple weeks ago, they were shocked, especially when I told them that if you messed up you had to hang up and start again, wait til I tell them about party lines! I will admit to loving my TV remote tho, especially in the winter when I’m snuggled under 6 blankets and something stupid comes on the TV, point and click and its gone!
        My first watch was a wind watch, I was 6, I took really good care of it and was careful not to overwind it, ouch, nostalgia just hit me hard 😉

  • oouchan

    Miracles are nothing more than fancy coincidences. Things falling into place. Very common. Praying for rain runs the same rate as not praying for rain….it will happen when it happens with or without praying for it. The 50-50 chance….that’s all it is. It’s funny how no miracle can stand up to investigation. They all fall apart. However…if it helps you get through the day, go for it.


  • Hillyard

    What science can’t explain as far as spontaneous healing is concerned doesn’t constitute a miracle. It just means that science can’t, as of yet, explain it. Mother Teresa and JP2 will both be sainted because the Catholic Church knows how to appease the masses.