Exploring the Miraculous
By Michael O’Neill
224 pages, $19.95
Our Sunday Visitor, 2015
To order: osv.com/shop
The author of Exploring the Miraculous is Michael O’Neill, also known as the “Miracle Hunter.” He is a Stanford-trained engineer who, as a devout Catholic in his student days, became fascinated with exploring the technical side of the miraculous. He was first drawn to this subject matter while writing a paper on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on St. Juan Diego’s tilma. The many scientifically mysterious aspects of the image piqued O’Neill’s interest in exploring other miraculous Marian apparitions and healings.
Over many years, O’Neill has compiled fascinating scientific data to explain such events to the extent they possibly can — or to set out for the lay reader why such events are currently inexplicable. Speaking as a Catholic priest, I can say I’ve never met a Catholic who did not believe in miracles — our faith, after all, is founded on the miraculous events of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and the New Testament is chock-full of them, even after Christ’s ascension into heaven. (O’Neill looks at these also.)
O’Neill’s book helps us to understand the different types of miracles and how the Church determines whether an event is a miracle, a fraud, a mistaken explanation for a medically understandable healing or the misinterpretation of a credulous mind. The author also explains healing miracles in the canonization process, as well as apparitions and locutions. The study of the supernatural contained in this outstanding book directs our attention toward God and acts as a welcome and needed counterpoint to our contemporary earth-bound nearsightedness. As O’Neill notes in his preface, everyone loves a great miracle story, and the idea that miracles are still happening in the world can be a cause of excitement, as well as both a consoling and challenging reminder of the presence of God and his saints in a world that often assumes God’s absence.
The Church has been enriched by miracles from her very beginning. Christ’s miracles drew large crowds to follow him and to hear his words; miracles accompanied the apostles’ evangelization efforts; and the miracle of a cross in the sky inspired Constantine to legalize Christianity.
The Catholic Church has always affirmed the importance of miracles, and she teaches that one reason why Christ worked miracles was to demonstrate that the kingdom of God has already arrived on earth. Pope Benedict as Joseph Ratzinger explained that private revelation is an aid to faith and demonstrates its credibility precisely because it refers back to the one public revelation. A private revelation does not introduce new doctrine, but emphasizes aspects of already-revealed truth and can give rise to new forms of piety or encourage traditional forms, such as the Rosary that Our Lady encouraged Catholics to pray at Fatima.
Finally, the author points out that miracles can also take place through the intercession of God in prayer — even in battles and wars. Just think of the collapse of the Soviet Union or the Christian forces’ defeat of the formidable Turkish fleet at Lepanto in 1571 against great odds. That naval victory occurred with all of Catholic Europe, at the Pope’s directive, praying the Rosary and with Gen. Andrea Doria sailing with a copy of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his ship.
Opus Dei Father C. J. McCloskey is a non-resident fellow
of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington.