“Did a miracle occur in Knoxville, Tennessee?” This is the question at the heart of an inquiry just initiated by Bishop Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville. Bishop Stika has established an inquiry board headed by Cardinal Justin Rigali (now in residence in Knoxville) to investigate the recent claim of a possible medical miracle which has been attributed to the intercession of Servant of God Isaac Hecker.
Isaac Hecker (who lived from 1819 to 1888) was an American Roman Catholic priest originally ordained for the Redemptorist Order in 1849. After a strong desire to establish a Redemptorist novitiate in the United States and conflict with his superiors, Hecker was expelled from the Order. Hecker persevered and, in 1858, was given permission by Pope Pius IX to found the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle (the Paulists). Hecker’s spirituality was marked by his faith in the work of the Holy Spirit. His thought and life’s work was to establish a robust dialogue between the Catholic faith and Amerian culture.
On January 25, 2008 Cardinal Edward Egan of New York formally opened Fr. Hecker’s cause for sainthood. Before beatification two things need to be established. The character of the proposed saint needs to be investigated and shown to be consistent with the full teachings of the Catholic faith. This is often done through a thorough review of the person’s life and any writings or correspondences left behind. This process is occurring in New York City at this time. Second, a miracle needs to be established as occurring through the intercession of the particular Servant of God. The miracle needs to have occurred after the Servant of God’s death, it needs to be a proven medical miracle with no reasonable explanation possible and the man or woman who received the miracle must be firmly convinced that it occurred through the intercession of the proposed saint.
The inquiry into this second aspect is what is now occurring in Knoxville, Tennessee. Out of respect for the man or woman’s privacy, the Diocese of Knoxville has not released the name of the beneficiary of the proposed miracle. The diocese has stated that it is a medical miracle that is being investigated and that doctors are being approached regarding the case in order to provide medical testimony. The diocese has also stated that the proposed miracle occurred in the Knoxville area. If things fall into place and it is determined that the incident is unexplainable then Bishop Stika will make the decision on whether to send the material to Rome for further review or not.
Whatever the outcome, the Church’s inquiry process into this possibility witnesses to some beautiful components of our Catholic belief and faith. Miracles demonstrate that God is near and that God is a loving God. God is not some removed monarch (benevolent or not) sitting on a throne, unconcerned about the creation he established and set in motion. God is a loving father who cares for his children and who is involved in our lives, most often unseen and even unacknowledged, I believe. Miracles are possible precisely because God is not removed. I have found that the more that I grow in faith; the less that I believe in coincidence and the more that I believe in providence. God is involved in his creation and God is moving and acting in ways that are bringing creation to the fullness of his Kingdom! Sometimes these movements of God catch our awareness and our wonder. Miracles are such movements. Miracles demonstrate the nearness and the love of God.
Miracles occurring through the intercession of the saints witness the reality of the resurrection. Being Catholic in what is sometimes called “the Belt Buckle of the Bible Belt” means you get asked many questions with one of the more common ones being “Why do Catholics worship saints?” First, we do not worship saints. I immediately respond to that misunderstanding. Lately though I have found myself going on to say that Catholics honor the communion of the saints and their unique role in the life of the Church precisely because we believe in the power of Christ’s resurrection and we take it seriously. In the resurrection Christ has overcome sin and death which means the separation that these entail. Through the resurrection we are as united with the “Church in Triumph” (the communion of saints) as we are with one another, who now comprise the “Church in pilgrimage”. It is precisely through the triumph and resurrection of our Lord that I can turn to those who have gone before me in faith, especially those men and women who lived heroic and virtuous lives, and ask that they pray for me and with me just as I can turn to my Christian brothers and sisters that I physically see around me in order to ask for their prayers. As Catholics we believe in the communion of the saints and their ability to intercede precisely because we have faith in the resurrection of Christ!
Did a miracle occur in Knoxville, Tennessee? That is to be determined. Do miracles happen? Yes. Our faith witnesses to this throughout the centuries and miracles, in turn, witness to the nearness and love of God and to the ever new transformative power and possibility of Christ’s resurrection! When asked in an interview how long the process would take to establish the miracle and beatify and then possibly down-the-road canonize Servant of God Isaac Hecker; Bishop Stika simply responded, “In God’s time.” It is a good answer.