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"The Church has always been reluctant to claim that a miracle of healing has taken place," writes Catholic healing expert Dr. Francis MacNutt, of Florida, in a new, highly useful little book. "In 1974 I had the wonderful opportunity to spend three days at the famous shrine in Lourdes and spoke at length with the physician who was in charge of the Medical Bureau. He told me how frustrating it was to see so many remarkable healings taking place without being able to authenticate them because it is so difficult to meet the six stringent conditions that have to be present for a healing to be declared as scientifically verifiable. For example, one of the conditions is that the patient can't be taking any medication that could have possibly caused the cure. But what cancer patient under a doctor's care is not receiving radiation or some other medical treatment?

"As a result, the doctors have examined thousands of patients in whom measurable physical changes have taken place that they could not verify as a miraculous cure. Most ordinary observers could see that God had healed numerous patients, but nevertheless, the rigorous conditions could not be met to seem it as a miracle."

There it is -- the reason we hear so few wondrous healings declared from the pulpit or the chancery. It is a good meditation in this month when we commemorate Lourdes. For it is clearly the case that science is directing religion instead of the other way around. Therein is a reason for the current crisis of faith. If something can in any way be explained by normal means -- no matter how tiny the chance -- it is discarded (attributed to natural forces) when instead anything wondrous first should be attributed to God.

We have gone from one extreme -- superstition -- to another: believing only in the natural.

As MacNutt points out, in The Practice of Healing Prayer, which has the endorsement of his bishop, most effects of healing prayer are subtle and gradual -- for a while, barely noticeable. The improvements often come in increments. Most frequently they occur after repeated prayer for lengthy periods. Many times, medications are given sole credit (when it was a combination of factors).

Obviously, doctors factor into the healing process, and praying for the right doctor to make the right comments and advice as well as prescribe the right medication if medication is absolutely important is the way to approach the matter, as is constant prayer during and after examinations -- so that visits to the physician or specialist don't lead to unnecessary anxiety or excessive tests and so that the effects of physical healing are enhanced by spiritual healing -- including the good effects of medicine (with minimal side effects).

At Lourdes, the official tally of "miraculous" cures is just 68 (according to the most recent tally we could find) out of the approximately 7,000 people who sought to have their cases confirmed as miracles and the 200 million estimated to have visited since 1858 (meaning that, if we believed the low figure of less than seventy, only one out of every three million saw cures -- less than .00004 percent) -- when in fact the average pilgrim comes back with some account of seeing, hearing about, or experiencing health improvement at the shrine in France. Only five miracles declared as such since 1978.

We respect caution and prudence (it's essential) but also wonder if it's the percentage healed by the apostles (and of course Jesus) in the Bible. But then, ours is an age of hyper-skepticism. Hyper-skepticism can kils faith when faith is what heals (said Jesus; see today's Mass reading, 2/1). Isn't it time to shed exclusionary methodology? Isn't it time for the Church to set the pace, not men (often atheists) in lab coats?

Here's the question: if we could see with the eyes of Heaven, if we could view what angels do, if we could see what the Blessed Mother of Lourdes sees, as opposed to through the lens of science, how many miraculous cures -- and how many improvements (each of which is a little miracle) -- would have been registered?

[resources: The Practice of Healing Prayer]

[see also: Expert: how to heal]

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