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.