There has been another development in the canonization case of the Blessed John Paul II, which means it’s time for another round of news stories that — to one degree or another — mangle what Catholics and members of other ancient churches believe about prayer and the saints.
Before we get going, here is a handy doctrinal reminder: For Christians, only God can perform miracles. Here’s how Father Arne Panula of the Catholic Information Center here in Washington, D.C., explained it to me in 2011:
“What must be stressed is that we pray for a saint to intercede for us with God. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that we ask the saint to pray ‘with’ us, rather than to say that we pray ‘to’ a saint,” he said.
“You see, all grace comes from the Trinity, from the Godhead. These kinds of supernatural interventions always come from God. The saint plays a role, but God performs the miracle. That may sound like a trivial distinction to some people, but it is not.”
Now with that in mind, check out the lede on this quick online story from The Atlantic:
The Vatican has reportedly “approved” a second miracle that can be attributed to the memory of Pope John Paul II, opening the door for him to become a full saint faster than anyone in recent history. The Vatican won’t reveal the details of the miracle just yet, but it allegedly concerns the “extraordinary healing” of a woman in Costa Rica, who recovered from a brain injury after praying to the deceased pope. A similar healing miracle was attributed to John Paul in 2011, giving him the two miracles required to reach full sainthood.
Whoa, that contains at least one totally new twist on the usual errors.
What in the world does it mean to say that the “memory” of Pope John Paul II was the cause of a miracle? Later on in the same paragraph, we have the more familiar error — the part about the healing talking place after someone “prayed to the deceased pope.”
Meanwhile, a loyal GetReligion reader who studies all things Catholic noted some other quirks.
Why the strange quotation marks around “approved”? What does it mean to be a “full” saint, as opposed to a “half” saint? Is this brain injury a “similar” miracle to the earlier healing from Parkinson’s disease? Really? Is there a chart?
The other more subtle, and common, errors in this case are two-fold. First, the word “intercession” is missing. Second, it sounds like the Blessed John Paul II actually performed the miracle, not the Triune God of the Christian faith.
It’s common for journalists to get at least part of that right, which is greatly to be preferred. Note this language in a piece from The Huffington Post.
VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II has moved a step closer to sainthood.
A Vatican official says a commission of theologians approved a miracle attributed to his intercession, clearing a key hurdle. The case now goes to a commission of cardinals and then Pope Francis. John Paul’s canonization is possible in autumn to coincide with the 35th anniversary of his election, though the official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to reveal details about the case that it may be too soon.
Good use of “intercession,” but this again begs the question. The Blessed John Paul II offered his prayers, but to whom, or rather, to Whom?