By Fr Dennis Touw
In just a few weeks’ time over 600 people from our diocese will travel to the south of France with Cardinal Vincent to Lourdes, that truly wonderful and inspiring place where the things of heaven touch the things of earth.
They will be going on pilgrimage for many reasons. Some will come hoping for a burden to be lifted from their lives. Others will come to help the disabled and the frail; others to offer prayer and intercession at Our Lady’s Shrine; and some will come simply to stop and stare. Hopefully all will be inspired to pray.
Now of course Lourdes is well know for the miraculous healings that have occurred and continue to occur there. And although many have been healed, and I would go so far as to say that every pilgrim returns home healed in some way, the number of miracles that are formally recognised by the Church is small, only 70, and perhaps you ask, why is this?
Well, the simple answer is that the Shrine needs to be 100% certain about such things. And so the inevitable question arises how does the Church determine the veracity of any alleged miracle cure?
Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself and we should begin by asking, what does the Church understand by the term miracle? And here I am grateful to a wonderful paper written by Mgr Charles Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta, and published in the Bulletin of the Lourdes International Medical Association in Oct 2013. Archbishop Scicluna quotes Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, better known as Pope Benedict XIV:
‘What do we understand by the word “miracle”? Let me start with a quote: “Miraculum propriae et stricte sumtum definitur quod sit id quod fit praeter ordinem totius naturae creatae.” (A miracle is properly and strictly speaking defined as that which is done outside the order of created nature.) And as such a miracle must have four other important characteristics: a) that it betrays that it is done by God; b) that it is not done with the power of words like, for example, occurs in the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord during the Holy Mass; c) that it is beyond all ordinary causality; d) that it is accomplished to confirm the faith of someone, or to give witness to the holiness of the same.”’
His article goes on, at length, to explain these grounds, but there is not room for more in this space. Suffice to say that when someone approaches the medical bureau in Lourdes today, they are advised that they are embarking on a journey, a journey which may not always be comfortable, a journey which may not always reach the destination they would expect; for not all cures are deemed miraculous. But, in all cases testimony is taken and medical evidence is gathered, but always in the light of these studied provisos:
a) The patient’s original diagnosis must be verified and confirmed beyond doubt.
b) The diagnosis must be regarded as incurable by current means.
c) The cure must happen in association with a visit to Lourdes.
d) The cure must be immediate, complete and permanent.
Now last February, I was in Lourdes for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and with immense joy the huge congregation listened, with wonder and thanksgiving, as the Bishop of Lourdes pronounced the 70th miracle of Lourdes: the healing of Sr Bernadette Moriau. So let us look at her journey!
Sister Bernadette was born in 1939. At 19 she entered the religious life and studied to be a nurse. Sadly, at 27 she started suffering terrible pain and was soon confined to a wheelchair. Numerous operations took place, but to no avail, and all medical treatments seemed useless. Her active life was over.
In 2008 she went to Lourdes and received the Sacrament of the Sick. She returned home as poorly as the day she'd set out, but within days, at the same time as the Eucharistic Procession was taking place in Lourdes, whilst in church for Adoration, she recalled the strong emotions she'd experienced at the blessing of the Sick in Lourdes. She felt an unusual sensation and an inner voice asked her to remove all of her medical supports. Her pain was gone, her body was healed!
Numerous, and extensive medical examinations in 2009, 2013 and 2016, made it possible for the Medical Bureau to decide on the nature of the unexpected, instantaneous, complete, lasting and unexplained character of the cure. And so it was confirmed that this cure is the 70th miracle of Lourdes. Yes, the journey is arduous but how wonderful are God's works!
Gracious Father, we thank you that you are a God of miracles who hold the universe in your hands. Thank you for this wonder-filled life!