Our Lady of Lourdes
Different Types of Miracles
Miracles! Supernatural signs and prophecy. Are miracles signs of the hidden hand of God? Every culture on earth has an age of miracles, often at the very dawn of history. Tales of miracles tell us about how the world we live in today was formed, how nations came to be or perhaps why the mountains and oceans are where we see them today. Some believe that miracles continue to this day, while others believe that miracles stopped, at some time in the past. Yet, even if the big miracles stopped long ago, there is a long lists of miracles and signs from recent times. Could they be real? Might we live in a new age of miracles?
First of all, we need to understand that not all miracles are equal. The big miracles of olden days were big and were impossible. These were miracle that simply weren't possible, like a human being floating off into the sky and turning into a cloud or a star or other heavenly body. Mega-miracles, we're told, exclusively reside in ancient history. Perhaps.
On the other end of the scale, there are mini-miracles. These could happen without supernatural aid, but seem just too convenient. If a supernatural agent was at work... it would just make more sense. Think about someone who is dying of thirst in the middle of a desert, who suddenly finds a spring or food and water left behind by previous travelers. If that person had just prayed, it would be all the more reason to assume a miracle occurred. Or consider A lottery winner who makes a deal with God to give a portion of the winnings to the church, and then has a dream with a winning lottery number. Or even recovering from a serious ailment.
Between these two levels of miracles, there are miracles that don't violate the laws of nature, but come close to requiring supernatural aid. For example, if someone was hit by lightning, died, and then recovered unassisted. As unlikely as this would be, it would be still more unlikely for someone to be blown apart and then have the parts all assemble themselves together into a health person, without any sign of the original injury. That would be a very big miracle, something of the highest order.
Miracles not only vary in size, they vary in quantity. Certain places tend to attract miracles, or to put it another way, miracles are not evenly distributed. This is a very divisive idea form many religions. Why should it be more likely that a miracle will happen in one place rather than another? Most religions agree that God is everywhere, yet, every religion has “scared” places. Places that are more sacred than others.
Grotto’s, lakes and rivers are especially known for being places for miracles. Statues and icons are known as sites for frequent miracles. Similarly, there are relics… items used by holy men, or even parts of their bodies, that are thought to have miraculous powers. Temples and churches have been built around these relics, and are thought to be the explanation for miracles at these sites.
Miracle Seekers At Lourdes
The best way to understand anything, is to look at a lot of examples of that thing, and then see how individual examples are similar or different. However, miracles are by definition events that occur under unusual circumstances. Collecting information about these rare events, from around the world, would involve sifting through far too many irrelevant details. Local conditions, such as the weather, unique plants and animals and the ways that shadows fall across rocks and trees can create conditions that make normal events appear miraculous, or would at least raise questions about the nature of a specific miracle. For simplicity’s sake, we would be better off looking at a single location. The ideal location for our study would be one of the most famous miracle sites in the modern world, Lourdes of France.
Lourdes is the quintessential miracle site. It all began on 11 February 1858, when a 14-year-old local girl, Bernadette Soubirous, was collecting firewood with her sister and a friend. In the woods, a few hundred feet from the river Gave de Pau, Bernadette had a vision of a woman, who was the Virgin Mary. After a number of reappearances of this vision, the Lady told Bernadette to drink the water, which had changed from muddy to clear. Bernadette was also instructed that , “a chapel should be built and a procession formed.” Since that day it has been estimated that Lourdes has had over 200 million visitors. That’s a huge number of people and over 150 years of time to examine the experiences of these people. And that makes Lourdes an excellent place to examine miracles!
Another thing that makes Lourdes a great place to examine miracles, is that Lourdes has a process in place to review miracles. Since the beginning of the Lourdes’ phenomena, the Catholic Church has been involved in researching and verifying reported miracles. While some other group would undoubtedly have different criteria, and might select entirely different events as miracles, Lourdes provides a unique case where millions of people have been reporting miracles for more than one hundred years, and these cases are examined. After all of this research, what has the Church got to tell us?
Remember, not all of the 200 million visitors could be called “pilgrims”, or people visiting Lourdes in search of a miracle. Some visit merely because Lourdes is famous, or they are curious. Many others, are not visiting for themselves, but are there to help the true pilgrims, who may be very sick, and too infirmed to travel without help. These pilgrims need caretakers, family or friends or even paid medical staff to help them make their pilgrimage. Some will be healthy enough to travel on their own, but it is reasonable to assume that every pilgrim has a caretaker. In fact, let’s be more conservative and assume 2 caretakers. That would yield about 65 to 70 million pilgrims. Out of that number, how many miracles are recognized by the Catholic Church? The last “approved” miracle was on June 20th, 2013, bringing the total number to 69.
One In A Million Miracle
One in a million? Have you ever used that term “one in a million”, when you mean “miracle”? Miracles are supposed to be rare. But we also believe that there are sites that are special, that have concentrated spiritual power or are blessed by saints or somehow more miraculous than anywhere else. Then, if Lourdes is the world’s most famous places for miracles, why don’t we see more miracles? Lourdes is more than a place of miracles. It is also a place where some of the most pious people on earth come together. Think about it. These pilgrims have traveled around the world to be at Lourdes rather than spending the time and money on more medical care. They believe in the power of this site, and they believe in their religion (usually Catholic). The most religious place, and the most religious people, and still no more than a “one in a million” chance to be cured.
These long odds don’t prove that miracles don’t exist, but those odds do ask a very different question. If supernatural miracles do exist, and if the 69 miracles at Lourdes are true miracles, what was wrong with the tens of millions of pious pleads for a miracle… that failed? The standards for a miracle should be high. But under the circumstances in Lourdes, with an exceptionally pious population and an exceptional history of miracles, shouldn’t we see more miracles? Or are the 69 miracles of such a remarkable quality, that it explains the low number?
That doesn’t appear to be the case. We know that the number is low, but the types of miracles that have been verified tend to be of the lowest type of miracle. things like a heart conditions, arthritis, partial paralysis or chronic infections. However, most of these miracles occurred more than 100 years ago, when medical science lacked virtually all of the tools we have today. If you had any of these disabilities, you would expect to see advanced blood test, MRI and computer analysis of your condition. A century ago, the X-Ray machine was the latest technology and available only in a few of the most advanced hospitals in the world. Most other medical tests were very unreliable and required subjective interpretation. For CSI fans, the most basic test to show that a blood stain was actually blood, wasn't available until the mid-1930’s.
The lack of reliable medical evidence may not directly refute that 69 pilgrims had a miraculous recovery, but it does question if they were as sick as assumed, if they were incorrectly diagnosed, or if the healing process was a result of their many periods of medical care prior to their pilgrimage to Lourdes. Looking at the history of these pilgrims, you can see cures at Lourdes happen almost exclusively to those who have had extensive medical care. Are these miracles because God intervened after all other treatments failed, or are they rare instances where the medical care they received worked, but worked slowly?
The Vision of Bernadette
Where Are The Big Miracles?
It could be miraculous for someone with terminal cancer to recover while on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. But when the pilgrim has received years of chemotherapy or radiation treatment, it becomes a minor miracles. It doesn’t require a big miracle for Lourdes to be truly miraculous. Even the cure of a minor conditions, such as psoriasis (a condition that causes dry, itchy skin), would be a genuine miracle if all pilgrims with the disease were cured. Using Lourdes own documentation, there are no cases of an arm or leg being cut off and re-growing, or even of someone near the shrine having a finger cut off and visiting the shrine to have it restored. This doesn’t happen at Lourdes, or at any other well- known sacred location. But it does happen. And these miracles are not at all rare. They occur with amazing frequency. Where do they happen? In places called… hospitals.
Our image of a miracle is irrevocably set in Biblical times. Miracles bring to mind Jesus healing lepers, making the lame walk or even giving sight to the blind. These were incredible, impossible events. High level miracles. The fact that Jesus would even associate with lepers, was a minor miracles since they were untouchables to Jews… and to most religions. Yet, around the world today, doctors treat and cure leprosy. Jesus performed miracles by curing a few lepers, but in the 21st century, modern medicine has eliminated leprosy. Of course, if we stop practicing modern medicine, leprosy will return. And it has in some of the poorest areas of the world. Ironically, because of the stories about Jesus curing lepers, leprosy has become so associated terrifying disfigurement that the fear of stigma, causes victim to hide their condition until they have very advanced symptoms.
Just one hundred years ago, a typical American city had many residents who were crippled by birth defects, polio, vitamin deficiencies, calcium deficiencies, scoliosis, accidental injury and thousands of other diseases and conditions. Today, a lame child is a very rare occurrence. Modern medicine cured Polio. Another scourge eliminated in the 21st century. Needless to say returning sight to a cataracts victim is so common, it isn’t even a major operation anymore. Hospitals can re-attach missing limbs. Many forms of cancer are treatable, and the majority of patients are cured. Generally, if you survive 5 years or more after a cancer diagnosis, you are cured. Leukemia used to be nearly 100% fatal, now it is 57% survive. Bladder cancer has a 77% survival rate, breast cancer is at 89%, and prostate cancer is at 99%. Considerably better than a million to one odds at Lourdes.
Every year thousands of people die (heart stops, breathing stops) on the operating table, or on the way to a hospital, and are brought back to life. A couple of thousand times every year, damaged hearts are cut out of patients and replaced with healthy hearts, and then the patient back to the land of the living. No matter what your belief system, that’s about as miraculous as it gets. The bar for miracles in the 21st century is very high, and that’s not just medical miracles. Even a child with a smart phone is able to make a call to anyone in the world. Or they might have a conversation with Siri, an artificial intelligence that can act and speak like a human being. One or two hundred years ago, these would be seen as very high level miracles. As would television, airplanes, DVD’s, computers, air conditioning, plastic, synthetic cloth and a multitude of other innovations that surround you today. We live with so many miracles that we no longer even notice them.
The Miracle of Limb Replacements
A New Age of Miracles!
A long time ago we may have seen a Supernatural Miracle in something as simple as seasonal rains falling, and the growth of the new year’s crops. At that time, the natural and supernatural worlds lived together, in our one world. Very slowly, over thousands of years, supernatural events became part of the natural world. Crops flourish when farmers follow an annual calendar, and understand which crops grow best in which soil and at what time of year. Astronomers learned that celestial signs such as comets or eclipses, occur at regular times of the year. Skilled doctors slowly learned that effective medicine and quality care did more to improve a patient’s health than prayers.
In the past few decades science has advanced more than in the thousands of years before. Miraculous events don’t require a special shrine, or relicts from holy men. Instead, our days are filled with miracles. New miracles are sometimes a bit uncomfortable. At some point computers will be smarter than people, surely a miracle, but will it be a good miracle? We are mapping our genes. Soon we will be able to turn off genes with errors and turn on beneficial genes. We’ll be smarter and live longer. But not everyone will want to be “fixed” by new technology. What will you do? As the pace of miracles speeds up, you’ll need to have a miracle a day just to keep up.. at least that’s my Niccolls worth for today!
Living Human Heart Transplant
What do you think?
Modern miracles are everywhere, but they're not the same as old miracles. Yesterday's miracles were supernatural events, and mostly in the dim past. Today's miracles come from science. They are more reliable, more frequent and... unlike the supernatural kind... you can pretty much guarantee that you experience one of these miracles. But is that enough? Does it matter more that the miracle is supernatural, or does it matter more that it works?
Tell us what you think!
Joe falzone on March 30, 2016:
All a bunch of theoretical bullshit. Theologians always use nonsensical logic to justify their true lack of understsnding. Just remember that anything can be explained and justified with conveluded reasoning. Bad enough to fool yourselves, even worse to confuse people seeking an answer.