NPR ran a delightfully clear and positive story yesterday about the upcoming canonization of Mother Teresa, and they included a short overview of the Church’s miracle requirement when a cause for sainthood is advanced. The secular media notoriously seeks out liberal, dissenting, or flat-out ignorant sources when it wants to explain something about Catholicism (and if they describe someone as a “devout Catholic,” it’s always either a pro-abortion politician or a porn star, or both).
Well, not this time! Fr. Robert Barron was their primary source, and he did his usual snappy, articulate job. I was also pleasantly surprised to see this little tidbit about the canonization process:
A group advocating sainthood for Marguerite d’Youville, a nun who lived in 18th century Canada, for example, sought an alternative explanation for the sudden recovery of a woman with incurable leukemia who had prayed to the nun 200 years after the nun’s death. The assignment went to Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, a hematologist at Queen’s University in Ontario.
Duffin agreed to do the investigation, but only after warning the group that she was not herself a believer.
“I revealed my atheism to them,” Duffin says. “I told them my husband was a Jew, and I wasn’t sure if they’d still want me. And they were delighted!”
The group reasoned that if Duffin, as an atheist, found there was no scientific reason the woman should have recovered, who could doubt it was a miracle? In fact, after her investigation of the woman’s recovery, Duffin agreed that the woman’s healing was — for lack of a better word — miraculous.
Intrigued by the experience, Duffin investigated hundreds of other miracle stories chronicled in the Vatican archives in Rome. She came away convinced that “miracles” do indeed happen.
Christopher Hitchens and other critics of Mother Teresa have somehow come away with the impression that the Church is busily throwing sand in people’s eyes and brushing inconvenient facts under the carpet, so as to bulk-canonize as many awful people as possible (motivation unclear).
The opposite is actually true. When researching the topic for Catholic Digest a few years ago, I discovered that, although the canonization process is less cumbersome than it used to be, it’s still really, really cumbersome, long, and complicated — by design.
The Church works hard to find a reason why someone should not be canonized, and it tries to remove every obstacle to discovering the truth about a candidate. Hundreds and hundreds of people are interviewed, and investigators are sworn to secrecy, so that anyone with unpleasant information will feel secure in coming forward. Investigators spend countless hours questioning everyone who could possibly be considered to be involved with the candidate; and when a devout person claims a miracle has occurred, there are countless reviews of every possible angle, including numerous physicians and theologians. There is even an investigation of the spiritual life and habits of the person who claims to have received miraculous intercession from the proposed saint. Tens of thousands of documents are prepared and reviewed at every level of the investigation. Strange behavior indeed from a church who wishes to deceive.
Speaking of strange behavior, the late Christopher Hitchens unstintingly devoted years of his life in service of trashing Mother Teresa, essentially for being a Catholic nun, rather than a billionaire doctor; for rescuing dying people from a miserable death in the streets, and for making sense of suffering rather than just crabbing about it. Hitchens seemed especially incensed that, in what Mother Teresa called her “Houses for the Dying,” people died. Died!
Now that her canonization is imminent, we’re told that, through her intercession, some people went ahead and didn’t die. You’d think her critics would be thrilled at the news (Horrible Nun Reverses Position, Now Opposes Death), but they are still complaining, for some reason. I supposed some mysteries are unplumbable.
(For a thorough response to the numerous, often self-contradictory criticisms against Mother Teresa, see this essay in First Things.)
Anyway, the Church truly is fussy when it investigates these matters, which is a great thing. If they left it up to me, I’d see miracles everywhere — including the one I came across just yesterday, when NPR made a positive and accurate report about the Catholic Church.
More reading: Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble’s 5 Responses to the Ridiculous Rancor of Some Toward Mother Teresa
Image: India7 Network via Flickr (licensed)