Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Lourdes: one for 'the rationalists are winning' file?

There is a story on the ABC site from Reuters about Lourdes backing away from the declaration that miracles occur in the context of a new verified healing. 

Now given the source, it is probably being given a bit of rationalist/modernist spin.

A Lourdes 'remarkable healing'

Still, it does seem to fit with what is being said elsewhere:

"The Roman Catholic shrine at Lourdes has announced the "remarkable healing" of a French invalid, avoiding the traditional term "miracle" as doctors increasingly shy away from calling an illness incurable....

The case of Serge Francois, 56, whose left leg was mostly paralysed for years, was the first healing announced since the church eased some rules in 2006 for declaring a person was healed thanks to visiting the site.

Bishop Emmanuel Delmas of Angers in western France, where Mr Francois lives, said the bureau of medical experts at Lourdes had concluded the recovery was "sudden, complete, unrelated to any particular therapy and durable."...

About 7,000 sufferers have claimed to have been cured at Lourdes since the medical bureau began keeping records in 1883, but only 67 were declared to be miracles.

In interviews about his healing, Mr Francois has said he felt a sharp pain after touching water from the Lourdes spring during a pilgrimage in 2002 and thought he would die. Minutes later, he said, his left leg felt warm and he could use it again...

The church eased the Lourdes rules five years ago because the 20-member medical bureau, made up of Catholic and agnostic doctors, increasingly declined to draw conclusions for cases they agreed were instances of unexplained healing.

When the new rules were introduced, the church opted for them to confirm proven recoveries as authentic healings, even if the doctors no longer called them miracles."

The importance of miracles

One obvious question arising from all of this is just how this reluctance to claim a miracle lines up with the criteria used by the Congregation for Saints.  The miracles accepted for some recent saints - notably Blessed Cardinal Newman - certainly seem to reflect a much lower bar than that used at Lourdes.  Yet the declarations on the miracles of saints have a much higher level of authority, given that they have to be approved by the Pope, than miracles declared at Lourdes do. 

Lourdes of course sits in a special situation - its medical bureau was set up in 1905 by Pope Pius X to prove something to the rationalists, and sits largely independent of ecclesiastical considerations.

But miracles, whether large or small, are important as they attest to the continuous working of Providence in our lives.  Dramatic miracles like miraculous healings can help convince even skeptics and non-believers to convert.  The smaller, less dramatic interventions, the one's perhaps provable only to ourselves, serve as a constant reminder of God's care for us individually.

So while it might once have had its time, the Lourdes approach, both old and new, it seems to me, is looking like an awfully outdated approach that seems more often to be giving fodder to the rationalists and miracle-haters amongst us rather than providing the ammunition to counter them.

We surely need to recover the word miracle in our vocabularies.

1 comment:

R. J. said...

I can't recall where I read this, and nor does a quick Google search inform me on the matter, but a few years ago I learned by accident that pilgrims to Lourdes were still outnumbering pilgrims to Mecca. Interesting and comforting news if still true.