Once again: God cures someone, through the prayers of JPII

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that almost every story written about the Vatican decision to recognize the sainthood of the Blessed John Paul II (and, in a surprise of timing, John XXIII) is going to include a phrase or two about the former pope performing a miracle of healing, or words to that effect.

Trust me, I am well aware of the fact that many Catholics use language, from time to time, saying that this or that person was “healed by” prayers “to” a particular saint. At this point, however, I guess the big question is whether journalists should strive to include at least one passage in these stories that actually discusses what Catholic doctrine says about saints, intercessory prayers and miracles.

Please ponder this less than perfect analogy. By now, in the post-Sept. 11 age, most journalists are aware that the term “jihad” has a rather complex meaning. While many Muslims consistently use this term in reference to “holy way,” the actual definition of the word means “struggle” or “effort.” One online dictionary states both parts of the equation thusly:

1: a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty; also: a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline

Now, I think most editors would consider it wrong if a reporter wrote a story in which the term “jihad” was frequently used and never paused to explain what this doctrinal term truly means for believers in the Muslim faith, as well as mentioning how the term is commonly used in reference to armed struggle. In other words, journalists should — to help readers fully understand the reference — describe precisely what Muslims believe about this term and this concept.

At this point, maybe that’s the most we can hope for with the concept of divine healing in response to the intercessory prayers of the saints. One more time, here’s a word on the basics, care of Father Arne Panula of the Catholic Information Center here in Washington, D.C.:

“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.”

With that in mind, let’s look at two different wordings in a new Reuters report about John Paul II. The first is a classic example of how some Catholics talk about this phenomenon. This is long, but it’s important to see all the details:

(Reuters) – Suffering a potentially fatal swelling in the brain, Costa Rican grandmother Floribeth Mora says a voice spoke to her through a photograph of the late Pope John Paul II, miraculously curing her and sealing the late pontiff’s sainthood.

The Vatican said on Friday Pope Francis had approved Mora’s cure as the requisite second miracle for the sainthood of John Paul II, who led the Roman Catholic Church from 1978 to 2005. …

According to Mora, she drifted off to sleep in the early hours of May 1, 2011 after watching a mass on television to mark the beatification of John Paul II, who died in 2005. She says she prayed to the late pope to heal her, and when she awoke, her eyes fell on a picture of him she had on top of the television.

“I woke up when I heard a voice that said ‘get up,’” Mora, now 50, said on Friday at the Roman Catholic Church’s administrative offices in San Jose, showing the clipping. “I was alone in my room, I only had this clipping that was published around those dates to commemorate John Paul II’s papacy.”

“I had it in front of me and I heard a voice again that said ‘get up’ and I looked at his photo and saw his open arms and I heard a voice that said ‘be not afraid’ and I said ‘Yes Lord,’” she added between tears, a golden rosary hanging around her neck. I went to my husband and he asked me what I was doing and I just said ‘I feel fine, I feel fine, I feel fine.’”

You can see both understandings of this doctrine in this passage, built largely on what we must assume are accurate quotes from this Catholic believer.

I would ask this, concerning the crucial paraphrase. We are told that she “prayed to the late pope to heal her,” yet her response to the supernatural voice that addresses her is “Yes Lord.” I wonder: Is it proper to address a saint as “Lord,” or is she acknowledging that the ultimate authority in this healing is God?

At the very end of the same story, the Reuters team states the equation this way in reference to an earlier healing:

Before he was beatified, the late John Paul had already been credited with asking God to cure a French nun of Parkinson’s disease, the same malady he himself had suffered from.

This wording is very specific and I know few who would question it. Note that the late pope had “already been credited with asking God to cure a French nun” of Parkinson’s disease.

At this point, I think the key is to see if journalists include (a) any reference in these stories to God being the source of the claimed healing, with (b) God acting in response to the prayers of the saint.

And what should journalists avoid? Here is a textbook version of that, care of The Daily Beast:

On May 1, 2011, the late pope John Paul II was beatified as a precursor to sainthood after being credited for miraculously curing a French nun of Parkinson’s disease. On that day, the family of a severely ill Costa Rican woman reportedly prayed to the beatified pontiff for her recovery.

The bottom line: John Paul II miraculously cures someone. The late pope did the curing.

Really?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://lostreef.blogspot.com/ Virgil T. Morant

    That the lazy journalism of those who don’t bother to get to understand (or accurately describe) a matter of dogma takes place is vexing. What is worse, there are of course those who, rather than just being negligent, will stridently insist that Orthodox and Catholics engage in idolatry and saint worship–with vague use of the word mediator thrown in liberally for good measure. Never mind that to most Christians of any kind asking one’s neighbor or fellow parishioner for prayers is a-OK, and the portraits of one’s family on the desk are inoffensive. I don’t reckon poor journalism like what’s discussed in this piece does much to help these silly perceptions.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    Did she say, “Yes, Lord,” or “Yes, sir”? Because “Si, Senor” is “Yes, Lord,” and “Yes, sir,” both. Depends entirely on context for the meaning.

  • Brian Westley

    At this point, I think the key is to see if journalists include (a) any reference in these stories to God being the source of the claimed healing, with (b) God acting in response to the prayers of the saint.

    As an atheist, I’d also object to journalists making statements like “god was the source of the claimed healing” and “god acted in response”, as these are clearly just more unsupported claims like the healing itself.

    • Richard Mounts

      Brian, I was going to jump all over your comment for lots of reasons, but most aren’t journalistic so they’ll have to wait for another venue.

      The journalistic point is that if the reporter quotes or paraphrases the person who claims to have been healed by God, well that is the word the healed person used. I believe, too, that the reporter ought to include a description of the scientific, medical review that is done. A panel of physicians must certify that none of the treatments given to the sick person was the cause of the healing. They have to confirm that there is no scientific or medical explanation for the healing. For the Church faith and reason are not contradictory. The reporter should include that, too.

      • Brian Westley

        Yes, it should be phrased as “claimed to be healed by god”, not “god was the source of the claimed healing”.

  • FW Ken

    No the healings themselves are medically verified. These people did get well. The agent(s) of those medical recoveries can, of course, be contested.

    Ok, I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but I really think this whole business of “pray to” vs. “pray with” is a distinction without a difference. In the first place, scripture speaks of apostles and disciples healing people (the sending of the 72, about which we heard yesterday at Mass), and moreover, numerous scriptures speak of out being “in Him” and doing things “through Him”.

    All of which is to say that I wouldn’t dog journalists too much for distinctions that don’t matter. Here is the loveliest reflection I’ve seen on this matter lately:

    Here’s my take on praying to the saints. To pray is to ask something of someone. To pray does not necessarily imply worship. We ask friends, relatives, etc., for help all the time. We ask them for favors, for comfort, for a sympathetic ear, whatever; or we ask them to intercede for us with someone to whom they may be close or with whom they have an association. Praying to the saints, in the sense of asking them for help on our earthly journey, doesn’t mean that we worship them. We don’t pray to them in the sense that we pray to God.

    http://tinyurl.com/mn76doh

  • Terry Mattingly

    The goal is to say that the church teaches that the healing is through God. An atheist reporter could verify that this is what the church TEACHES

  • retiredladyann

    What to say to some extreme traditionalists who are scandalized that Bl. John XXIII is being canonized? They blame him for everything that went wrong after Vatican II Council. They do not believe the Holy Spirit was involved in this Council-it was a mistake at the very least on his part? There is nothing in the documents of Vatican II Council that changed doctrine or dogma, of course, but reason goes out the window when trying to talk to them.


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