Science and the Miraculous: How the Church Investigates the Supernatural
The moment an assassin’s four bullets struck Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, the pontiff knew a miracle was unfolding. He would later say he realized immediately that as one hand was firing the bullets, another was deflecting them from their fatal trajectories. “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullets’ paths, and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death,” the Holy Father said.
A miracle unto itself, the pope survived against overwhelming odds. Equally miraculous, the assassination attempt was foretold by the Blessed Mother at Fatima, Portugal, who first appeared on the same day of the May shooting, more than six decades earlier, in 1917. Even as a child, Pope John Paul II, now a saint, was deeply devoted to Mary. His faithful love for her never waned. At the pope’s request, the bullet that lodged closest to his heart was hammered into the crown that adorns the statue of Our Lady of Fatima at her shrine in Portugal.
Saint Pope John Paul II believed in miracles.
The story of the Blessed Mother’s apparition at Fatima, her revelations, healings, and the supernatural events that took place there are recognized by the Vatican and accepted by millions of Catholics worldwide.
But what about other apparitions of Mary, the saints, and even Jesus Himself? How do we know they are authentic? What about the reports of miraculous healings and heavenly messages seeking our devotions and prayers? How does the Catholic Church discern which are credible and which are not?
Michael O’Neill — known in Catholic circles as “The Miracle Hunter” — reveals these answers in his new book, Science and the Miraculous: How the Church Investigates the Supernatural. O’Neill earned his nickname after devoting countless hours to researching miraculous claims dating back thousands of years. He shares what he has learned on television and radio programming, as well as social and print media, and personal appearances around the world.
Through his latest work, O’Neill gives us an understandable overview about the detailed ways the Catholic Church assesses miraculous claims. He begins by discussing with readers the link between faith and science, pointing out that in 1988 Pope John Paul II said, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.”
O’Neill points out that the Church has brought forth some of the greatest scientific minds the world has ever known in the fields of medicine, genetics, chemistry, geology, astrophysics, and cosmology, to name a few.
Through this insightful look at the Catholic Church’s historic and continuing involvement in discovering the truth, readers can begin to understand how Church leaders rely on both faith and science to separate fact from fiction.
O’Neill writes that our faith is one founded on miracles, pointing out several examples in the Old Testament beginning with the Genesis account of creation to the New Testament with 37 miracles performed by Christ.
In Science and the Miraculous, O’Neill helps us understand different types of miracles, ranging from physical healings, where incurable diseases are inexplicably reversed, to Eucharistic miracles, where muscle tissue from the human heart and blood are physically manifest in the host. He also discusses incidences of apparitions, weeping statues, incorruptible bodies, and people who bear stigmatas — wound marks of Christ.
The Miracle Hunter does not profess to know the answers about which accounts are valid and which are not. His objective is to show how the Church investigates each case.
Readers can discover how the Church has done this with Vatican-recognized miracles at such places as Fatima, Portugal; Lourdes, France; and Mexico City, Mexico, where millions of faithful visit shrines annually.
In his book, the author points out that “only 28 times since the Council of Trent has a local bishop declared an apparition to be worthy of belief, and of those, only sixteen have received additional recognition from the Vatican.” The numbers, O’Neill says, show that the Church “approaches miraculous claims of divine revelations with skepticism since there have been over 2,500 claims of Marian apparitions.”
O’Neill states in his book that while most of world’s religions believe that miracles are possible, “the Catholic Church stands above the rest in its reliance on science to attempt to validate true miracles, or at least properly dismiss cases of hoaxes in order to protect the faithful in the truth.’
He continues, “The Church stays true to its pedigree and historical connection to science by such a stringent adherence, even requiring multiple medical healings validated by a panel of doctors from various faith backgrounds in order for one of its saints to be formally recognized.”
During a recent talk in Dallas, O’Neill sat down with the North Texas Catholic to discuss his new book and why he felt compelled to write it.
“It is important that people realize that the Catholic Church takes claims of miracles very seriously,” O’Neill said.
“When it comes to modern miracles, even those approved as ‘worthy of belief,’ the Church says that belief in them is completely optional. Only if they provide a boost to faith and draw people closer to Christ should they carry meaning for the faithful.”
O’Neill also went on to discuss what inspired him to become “The Miracle Hunter” and to write such titles as Science and the Miraculous.
“Miracles can be a point of inspiration for many people,” O’Neill said, “and for some, miracles can be the very thing that brings people to God.
“I am both a believer and a skeptic, and I hope that people can appreciate that with my book. Some people might be surprised with some of the positions I take and facts I point out. They don’t always lead to miraculous conclusions.
“My life is split between researching and investigating miracles, and sharing what I have learned through television, radio, books, presentations, and pilgrimages. And I hope that people can learn more through my experience and find inspiration in that.
“At the very least,” said O’Neill, “it is my hope that when people encounter my work, I hope that they ask the questions: ‘Is that possible?’ ‘Is that true?’ and maybe it opens up some minds and hearts to God.”
Science and the Miraculous: How the Church Investigates the Supernatural is available from the EWTN Religious Catalog online and other book outlets.
Learn more about the Michael O’Neill on his website: MiracleHunter.com