Bishop's Interview: Miracles are proof of the presence of God
Editor: Bishop, I’ve had some recent conversations with friends that brought the topic of miracles to the forefront of my mind. So I thought that we could discuss them today. To begin with what is a miracle?
Bishop Vásquez: A miracle is an event or an act of God that goes beyond natural laws. According to the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a miracle is “a sign or wonder, such as a healing or the control of nature, which can only be attributed to the divine power.” For example, a miracle from Scripture is the parting of the Red Sea (Ex 14: 21-22). God intervenes in what is taking place and causes something to happen outside the laws of nature that benefits those involved. In the Gospels, Jesus cures many people, and the point of these miracles isn’t to astonish people, but rather to prove that the kingdom of God is present.
I firmly believe miracles continue to take place because God does not abandon us. God is always intervening in our lives. I often think to myself: Where would I be if God wasn’t intervening on my behalf? Even after I make mistakes or I sin, God continues to intervene on my behalf. God is very attentive to all of our needs. We must remember that not every prayer will be answered with a miracle, and God’s decision to intervene in one’s life by a miracle is part of his divine will.
The miracles that Jesus performed required that the recipient have faith. As Jesus told Bartimaeus just before he granted him his sight, “Go your way; your faith has saved you,” (Mk 10: 52). Miracles do not force a person to be convinced that God is acting on their behalf rather they are meant to strengthen one’s faith. They don’t force us to believe in God rather they are meant to elicit faith in such a way that we can boldly proclaim that we believe in God.
Miracles point to the reality of God. When a miracle takes place and it is to be attributed to a particular person, the miracle must be verified by the church. This is not to say that miracles don’t happen if the church hasn’t verified them. However, if someone who is ill from terminal cancer and through the intercession of a particular saint or potential saint is then cured, the church has to verify that cure. Doctors are brought in who will question and investigate to determine what happened. The doctors may or may not be believers or may or may not be Catholic; nevertheless, their task is to investigate objectively whether the miracle occurred.
Editor: So miracles are the work of God but can be attributed to the saints?
Bishop Vásquez: Yes. When Jesus works miracles in Scripture, he does so always by the hand of God. God works miracles, but through the intercession of different saints we believe that God listens to our prayers. We pray to the saints, and we ask them to help us. In much the same way as I would ask my brothers or sisters to pray for me if I were sick or if I were struggling with a difficult situation, I can ask the saints to pray for me as well. The saints are people who have died but whom we believe are alive and with God in heaven. Therefore, they have God’s ear, if you will. When we pray to the saints, we ask them to help us, we ask them to plea for God’s help on our behalf.
Can we go directly to God? Of course, we can, but the saints are our friends and part of our family of faith who are praying for us. They are friends of Jesus and, of course, we want them to be on our side when we are battling illness or difficulties in our lives. When a miracle occurs after praying to a saint, we should remember that it is God who initiates the miracle. It is the saint who asks God to grant the request; however, the saint is not the one who grants the miracle.
Editor: What does have to happen in order for a person to be named a saint of the church?
Bishop Vásquez: According to the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a saint is “the ‘holy one’ who leads a life in union with God through the grace of Christ and receives the reward of eternal life.” To be named a saint is a long and arduous process. There is a Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican that reviews the cases of men and women, who through the ages were close to God, did good works and were considered holy.
The church gathers testimonies, and examines their lives and writings to determine if these men and women are indeed saints. A case for sainthood cannot be opened until a person has died and then a postulator is assigned to initiate the cause for sainthood and compile the information necessary to proceed. The first step in the process involves identifying the particular person as a Servant of God. If the Servant of God is determined to have had heroic virtues, then they are named Venerable by the church. The next step is the approval of a miracle attributed to the intercession of the possible saint. If a miracle is proven, then the person is beatified (and titled Blessed). After a second miracle is proven and upon the consent of the pope, a person is made an official saint of the church.
Documenting the life of a potential saint can be a very costly and involved process. Many saints come from religious communities, often because those particular communities have been able to provide the resources and personnel to put together the causes for sainthood. Usually the process for sainthood takes years to complete.
St. John Paul II is one of our most recent saints, and his canonization was unique in that it came about fairly quickly. Many remember him as I do, our beloved pope who served us so faithfully from 1978 to 2005. Upon the canonization of St. John Paul II, Pope Francis said, “John Paul II continues to inspire us. He inspires us by his words, his writings, his actions, his style of serving. He inspires us by the suffering he endured with heroic hope. He inspires us by his total self-entrustment to Christ, the Redeemer of man, and to the Mother of God.” Because he was pope, there was much documentation of his life and his writings and two miracles were documented rather quickly; therefore, he was canonized in 2014, just nine years after his death.
On the celebration of All Saints Day (Nov. 1), we commemorate all the holy men and women who the church recognizes as being with God in heaven. In our Creed, we express our belief in the Communion of Saints, that is we believe the Christian people on earth are united to those who have gone before us and are united with God in heaven. They continue to pray for us here on earth as we continue our journey with our eyes fixed on the goal of heaven. Our desire is to join them and be with God for eternity.
Editor: What is your prayer for all of us as we witness the daily miracles in our lives?
Bishop Vásquez: The daily miracles in our lives include the beauty of the day, the nature around us, the good and kind acts of others, witnessing new life coming into the world, and the elderly being cared for with love and devotion. These things are “ordinary,” but we cannot lose sight of them because they communicate the presence of God. As we witness these “miracles” in our lives, let us smile and thank God and may they lead us to deeper faith and to share our faith with others.
My prayer is that we may recognize the hand of God in the ordinary events that surround us. May we marvel at God’s wonderful and generous love for us and know he is constantly present. May our hearts always be grateful for all of God’s abundant goodness.