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B.C. Catholic Staff

Letter: Skeptical about ‘miracles’

Voices Feb. 7, 2019

A writer questions the reporting of miracles at a Vancouver charismatic conference last fall. (BCC file photo)

The Oct. 22, 2018, headline “Healings abound in record charismatic crowd” evoked painful memories for me.

I recall good friends recommending I take my cancer-ridden wife to Lourdes, Fatima, or Medjugorje. I even considered taking her to Oberammergau in 1990.

I puzzled over these enthusiastic recommendations for several days and consulted her physician. Her condition, he warned, was so delicate that such travel was out of the question. After many prayerful nights I used that puzzling strategy called logic to solve my dilemma. I asked God if he favoured my locale over another when it came to miraculous healing. The answer I received was: if he chose to answer my wish list, he could do so anywhere, even at home.

After her death in 1989, and frightfully vulnerable, I became involved briefly with a local healing group. Three close friends were avid members and urged me to join and reap the benefits of being a Charismatic: gifts of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, discernment, knowledge, and prophecy.

My friends each told me their sad tales of life-threatening diseases. One had stomach cancer, another had high blood pressure, a third suffered from lung cancer, and a fourth had recently been diagnosed with severe heart disease. Even though I gave the healing services the cold shoulder, my friends stuck to them like glue. One special evening, all four were healed and trumpeted their good news to me within hours. Apparently, a priest and a laywoman had laid hands on each of them, prayed in tongues, and pronounced them healed.

There were though certain conditions – stipulations I found totally inconsistent with normal circumstances. Their healing depended on faith, and any contact with their physician or the resumption of medication were tantamount to a loss of faith. They were obliged to pray every day to ensure the healing took root.

One by one, over the course of about six months, three of my friends died, two from cancer, the other from a massive stroke. Luckily for the heart patient, despite his wife’s enthusiastic claim that he was healed and her outrage over his wanting a second opinion, he got one. Two weeks later he underwent quadruple bypass surgery and his heart condition disappeared. That was 20 years ago. He still lives a healthy life.

The Church requires two miracles before a person is eligible for canonization, authenticated by reputable physicians and vetted by the specific congregation. As a result we have many members of the heavenly choir to pray, not for, but to.

Were the individuals in your article – the deaf, blind, crippled – and their alleged afflictions verified before they were healed? Were they healed? I ask these questions, not as an unbeliever but as a practising Catholic who has witnessed the questionable exercises of so-called gurus relying on the power of suggestion and the hysteria and emotion of the moment.

It is asking an awful lot of Catholics and indeed, any reader or listener, to accept the “Healings Abound” headline as anything other than heavily biased reporting legitimized and sanctioned in part by the participation of the archbishop. Reporting such an event needs to focus on being objective, not subjective; otherwise, the alleged healing becomes little more than an unverifiable opinion.

Call me a skeptic if you like, but until I know that health professionals have been involved in the process and testified that an illness was present at one point and has gone after that person has been healed, I choose to accept the model prescribed by the Vatican.

Finally, I suggest that future reporting of such events be couched in less absolute language. These assertions merely bring a false sense of hope to many, and in the case of my friends, deadly consequences.

Robert C. Scott
The writer is a retired professor of rhetoric and communication at the University of Calgary.