Catholics and Miracles?? I Don't Understand?

Updated on November 11, 2011
C.W. asks from Santa Barbara, CA
24 answers

Hello all, I hope you can share some personal explanations with me about my friends with hopefully more than "It is written in the bible" or "that's what the church teaches me". I seem to need more than that at this difficult time.

The past two weeks have proven to be quite tough for me. The first situation involved a great friend that suddenly passed away from liver cancer leaving a wife, ten year old son and three month old daughter. With the exception of my friend that passed away, the rest of the family is very Catholic. Initially they were certain there would be a miracle and everything would be fine. At his service, the family was convinced he was better off (than living in pain I agree) being cradled in God's arms in heaven. Most of the other guests in attendance were just happy because he went to bothered me that his immediate family was left without a husband and father and we lost a friend..

In the more tragic situation, my best friend's 16 month old grandson nearly drowned in their pool. He was flat lined for 18 minutes and is still on a ventilator after 18 days. Once again the family is very Catholic and will not listen to the multiple physicians that he has no brain activity and this is how he is going to be. They are absolutely, positively certain there will be a miracle and he will be returned whole and will walk out of the hospital. I certainly appreciate that this is a more comfortable feeling with faith than I have.

Can anybody please share their thoughts maybe including medicine and the body in addition to faith and that miracles will happen if you pray hard enough? Thank you in advance for taking the time to read and hopefully respond.


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So What Happened?

Many thanks for the very thoughtful answers you took the time to write. There is so much more for me to take in now. With regard to my friend with the grandson with no brain activity, the entire family is making a correlation between the number of prayers and the probability of an incidence of a miracle. To them, physicians do not play a part at all. Once again, all of your input is greatly appreciated.

**Good morning - Thank you for the additional input and all of the very insightful comments. I think I have a better understanding of the situation. It is still so tough for me, I don't understand how the family can smile and be positive that a miracle is going to happen (like they are ordering one up). Getting ready to head out to Children's Hospital, it is such a heart breaking situation to look at (for me, not the family). I need to be there for my friend so I will go. Thank you again!

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answers from Los Angeles on

As a parent of a cancer kid, I know exactly how you feel. I know people that have pulled kids off treatment. The kid dies...... As ridiculous as I think it all is, I also see how faith is able to keep people "together" at their worst time.

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answers from El Paso on

Okay. I will start by saying that I, too, am Catholic. No where in our faith does it say that if you pray hard enough or long enough a miracle WILL happen. Nor does it say that your prayers will be answered in the way that YOU want them to be. In all likelihood, God has already accepted this poor child's spirit and it is only the body that is still here. While I can say that I, as an outsider, agree with the doctors, I don't know that I would be able to say the same if it were my child. I would probably hope against hope for a miracle, too. Give them time, and they will likely accept what it is.

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answers from San Francisco on

I am Catholic and I believe in miracles. I have experienced them and that has deepened my faith and inspired me to try to be the best person I know how to be. When I was one my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. One month later his mother was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer. Both were told there was nothing to be done and to get their affairs in order. My father died 3 days before my second birthday. My grandmother lived another 11 years (she died at 86) and the doctors could not explain it, nor did she receive treatment. She was a woman of deep faith and amazing personal strength. I do not believe she prayed to live. I think she prayed for me and my sister and God answered by giving her enough time to help raise me. Had she died as well, when my father did, I do not honestly know how I would have survived.

When I was 32 years old, my favorite uncle was diagnosed with lung cancer and given months to live, my best friend was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and I had just decided to give up on fertility treatments after two years when I was told IVF was the only option. I went to St. Patrick's church in San Fransicso and lit three candles. I prayed for my uncle, my best friend and then I prayed that God would send me a child in "any way possible." I had truly accepted that I might never become a mother, and I completely opened my heart to God at that moment. I got pregnant that month and my due date was St. Patrick's day. My best friend lived to see my child born and was his best auntie ever until she died when he was three. The day she died is the day I found out I was pregnant with my second child. My uncle is now 87 years old and celebrated his 65th wedding anniversary. He was part of a research study and so in a sense, I see his treatment as a kind of miracle drug. He is my youngest son's godfather.

I do not think these things happened because I prayed or because of how I prayed. I think these things happened because of a miraculous love that is centered in God and Christ and that radiates through us all. It might sound like magical thinking, but I have no other way to explain these things. I know many people who die from illnesses that do not seem serious and I know many wonderful couples who are not able to conceive or even adopt. Why was I blest in this way and others were not? Why did my grandmother live and not my father? Those are the mysteries of life and sometimes it can be very difficult to live with the uncertainty of these kinds of mysteries. I choose to embrace and focus on what I see as the profoundly beautiful in the world, the miracles that surround us in spite of the immense tragedies.

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answers from Seattle on

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Hope manifests in different words with different people. Miracles, divine intervention, luck, karma, planning, foresight, prayer, magic... we all HOPE for what we want... and we use different words to describe that hope. Inshallah, God willing, with a little luck, if we can work hard enough, keep faith, keep heart, fight, don't lose hope... something miraculous, wonderful, wished for, prayed for MIGHT, JUST MIGHT happen.

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answers from Washington DC on

I really believe that sometimes 'bad' things happen because we, the living, need to learn and grow from the experience - in the spiritual AND secular sense. If we were spared all the tragedies of life because of our faith in miracles, we would be very weak indeed and would probably feel entitled to have our every whim go our way. The Lord sees the big picture that we cannot. Sometimes things need to happen in order for key things in that big picture to come to fruition.
I believe in miracles, but I also know that we have a limited perspective in life. Better to believe that things are in his hands and he will help you get through it, come what may.
I had a baby sister die when I was 10 (my ONLY sister out of 4 brothers, I should add). It was sudden and a difficult time for our family. Do I wish my sister would have lived? Absolutely, but who's to say that our family didn't get things out of that experience that they needed? I believe that I'll see my sister again someday, so it is not really a loss. Maybe there would have been a more profound loss in another way if my family would have been spared that lesson, and the growth that came from that experience.

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answers from Austin on

One problem I see is when people are told that the miracle didn't happen because they "didn't pray hard enough".

A prayer is a request to God..... some people see it as a "demand" that God do things THEIR way.....

I see it as a request to God... and there are basically 3 possible ways it may be answered.. "Yes", "No", or "In My Time". God's answer to the prayer often isn't the answer WE want, but it is what HE feels is best. God's timing may not be the timing we want, but their may be a deeper meaning behind all of that.

A prayer for healing may not be answered with physical healing.... death IS a part of the circle of life.... we may not WANT a person to die at a young age, but it isn't in our hands.....

My niece died at the age of 33, after being in a semi-vegetative state for several years, after her heart stopped suddenly. She left behind two young boys (they were 6 and 9 when it happened, and were 10 and 13 when she finally passed away). There were prayers from around the world for her recovery.

No, we didn't get the answer to the prayer as WE wanted, but we also understand that it isn't OUR WILL that is to be done, but God's will.... I'm not saying He caused her to die.... death is just part of living.

I hope that made sense what I'm saying? I do believe in miracles.... isn't the birth of a child the greatest miracle ever? We just have to start looking at them in a different light. We may not see the great miracles that are told of in the Bible, but that doesn't make them any less real. People do heal spontaneously from things like cancer, heart problems, and such.... we just look past the miracle of it, and look for a rational explanation.

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answers from San Francisco on

I have to agree with the other Catholics who responded that I did not grow up expecting that if I prayed hard enough a miracle would happen. Nor was I ever taught that prayer trumped science or doctors.

Most Catholics I know believe in the possibility of a miracle, rather than expecting one in answer to prayer. If you think about the premise of a "virgin birth" there has to be a willing suspension of disbelief, right? However, that possibility of a miracle, and the feeling of grace that accompanies witnessing it, or simply praying, is what Catholicism means to me. I bet a lot of other moms experience this feeling in practicing their religion too. I think I would feel this way whether I was Catholic or not. Sometimes life is don't need religion at all to admit this.

The Catholics you know in these tragic situations are simply turning to their faith because that's all they can do. I will pray for your best friend's grandson...and for his mother...

You are a good friend for trying to gain understanding of these families and their faith. I am sure you are a great comfort to your friends C..

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answers from Charlotte on


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answers from Reno on

Hi C.,

I'm not Catholic and I'm skeptical of miracles, although I've seen many amazing things happen in my life. Perhaps the miracle is when we, within our hearts, can accept a difficult situation and proceed in a thoughtful, rational manner.

As much as medicine is a science, it is also very much an art. Sometimes we get an "artist" who, like Michaelangelo, Da Vinci or Monet, can do extraordinary things with the human body. We would call that a miracle. But, perhaps the reality is that it was just a doctor who worked really hard and had a lot of good luck.

Who knows? I certainly don't. Good luck on your quest to understand.

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answers from Dallas on

I don't think it has do do with how hard we pray or there would be more spontaneous healings.
I have experienced a couple of miracles myself. I did pray, but not nearly as hard as I have been praying since I found out I have cancer.
So I can see my someone would say why bother to pray. But God wants us to communicate with him and it does benefit us whether we get the answer we think we should get or not.

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answers from Honolulu on

Not a Catholic, but I am a Christian and also a nurse with experience in NICU. We occasionally lost the fight to keep the little ones with us when I worked (and before I was a believer) and here are some observations on that kind of situation.
The family has to make the decision to take that little guy off the vent. Eventually the docs may step in, but it sounds like NO ONE is ready to do that just yet. If he is on the vent without brain activity, he is already gone, but I know I couldn't be the one to say "I will be the one to sever the last ties my child has to this world." Could you? The miracle they may be praying for may be the superhuman strength to let go. Trust me when I say, accepting this and coming out peacefully on the other side is a much more vicious battle than any war zone or disease. I have prayed for this family's peace and strength.
As for the other friend, I am sorry for your loss and that of his family. In another season of my career I worked in hospice. Liver cancer is no picnic and they may have HAD their miracle as well in that he passed quickly and hopefully with minimized suffering.
I agree with those posters who commented that God is not a drive thru that you can place "orders" for miracles. However, He does answer our prayers and our goal in praying is to try to bring our desires in line wihth His plan so that we can rest and be at peace. He can certainly change ANY outcome, but I think (and this is just my humble opinion) that the real miracle is being able to walk through the tough times KNOWING that regardless of the outcome, God can make all things work for our good.
Finally, I have seen and been a recipient of miraculous healings (the "nothing modern medicine can do, let's just give up, oh wait, where did the problem go?" kind) so I have learned that nothing is impossible with faith and God. Although great faith is a blessing, even a little faith can move mountains. God loves to surprise us and I think he also likes to grow our faith if we ask Him to. That being said, I hope that the reason that you posted is because you are curious about faith. If you are interested and have other questions, (although I am not an expert) I would be happy to help you seek other answers. Please feel free to PM me any time. I promise not to beat you over the head with religion, okay? :-)

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answers from Provo on

I am not Catholic so I can not give any insight in that direction but I know that people grasp whatever helps them make it through the day. I was in a really bad car accident when I was twelve and ended up with brain damage. No one before me had ever made it through an accident with this kind of injury alive. I was kind of a test dummy. The doctors told my parents that I would never walk again and that is if I managed to make it. They also told my parents that I would never have kids. My grandfather was there praying with me every night and I not only walk but run and I have three kids!! There is a lot of power in prayer but God knows what is best. Sometimes what is best for us may not be in his plan. I know I am here right now because God has a greater purpose for me!!!

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answers from Oklahoma City on

Sometimes being healed is going home to our Heavenly Father. Sometimes that is the only way to be healed due to our body being human. As time goes by this poor family may have to face making life altering decisions and come to accept they are not going to see that miracle. But let's still pray that they will get the miracle the so desperately want. It can't possibly hurt to have hope of one.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Well, I don't think this is a Catholic issue. Perhaps a Christian O..
I watched my stepfather wither away with cancer, and, ultimately lose the battle. He was a very strong Christian. He prayed and believed that God would heal him. HOWEVER, he also sought out good treatment, therapies and qualified hospitals and surgeons, etc. because God can work in other ways (i.e. through someone else with a skill, a talent, etc.).
I do know people that DO follow the letter of the bible "through his stripes you shall be healed" but that can be interpreted in a lot of ways as well...
Prayers will be answered. Miracles can happen. However, not always in the way you "think" they're going to be answered/happen.

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answers from Dallas on

Seems like it's the Catholic thing that bothers you. Miracles happen.... no explanation. So sorry for your friends and their troubles. Blind Faith is hard to understand. Miracles happen all the time and so do illness and accidents. Those people were praying for a miracle. Praying. If they expected this miracle to happen, they would turn their back on God and the Church when they didn't get their miracle. Did they? I suspect not. they may be angry with him but it's hard to stop believing. No one knows when a miracle will or won't happen. It's just faith. If you believe in God, you believe he can do anything but you have to trust his decision when your miracle wasn't granted. He has his reasons...........

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answers from San Francisco on

Poor people. That's so sad. I don't believe in miracles but I'd probably start praying too. They are going to have to let go in their own time.

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answers from Santa Barbara on

I see it like this: when everything is taken from you as that wife & child, as the parents/family of that baby, there is nothing left but faith. Faith that the lost one is in a far better place than he was suffering. Faith that God will give that baby another chance at life. That is the only thing they have to hold on to in order to keep sane and strong to continue with their lives without their loved one.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Prayer can end with a miracle or can be therapeutic for the grievers. It buys time and helps you through. God's will is God's will. When he takes someone there is a reason for it. There is always a domino effect after a death. The bible states that we are no different than the fishes in the sea that get caught up in the nets of the fisherman. That's just the way it is. Good people and evil people all die at some point.

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answers from St. Louis on

What I have learned is there is a reason for everything even if we cannot see it because of our pain. Like the baby on the ventilator, maybe he will have a miracle and it will strengthen the faith of someone who will help guide others. Maybe the baby will not recover and the strength of the family to continue to believe will show people with much smaller problems that if these people can believe we should continue as well.

I don't know really, I know I have a mess of questions for when I am finally in a position to ask. :)

What I have learned though is it is not the strength of prayer but the plan of god that determines the outcome. It has to be or nothing else in the bible makes sense.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Dear C., I'm really sorry for what you are going through because of your love for your friends. As a Catholic, I do believe that miracles can happen. However, they are called "miracles" cos they are few and far between! Unfortunately there's a very fine line between "faith" and "delusions"! Personally, if I was told that a loved one was brain dead, I'd remove them from life-support. I feel so strongly about this that my husband and I have even drawn up "living wills" instructing that our life NOT be prolonged by artificial means if there is no reasonable chance of recovery. In this situation I feel it's more appropriate to pray for the strength and wisdom to help your friend deal with the inevitable. God Bless.

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answers from Las Vegas on

It is hard to understand one, until you experience one. (Ha! I started this post long ago, stumbled upon it again and clicked and found the line I started still there.)

I have seen many of miracles happen and not happen. I think back to being a very sick asthmatic child. I needed treatment, but my parents kept me home and comfortable with teas, a blanket, a throw up bucket, and a whole lot of prayer. I don't remember an inhaler or breathing treatments. I always thought they didn't have those things when I was a kid until I met my husband and we shared our childhood illness we had in common. In retrospect, it was ridiculous to not take me to the doctor for much needed treatments and rely on a miracle, however, my Dad shared with me that he thought they were going to lose me a couple of times. With that said I guess the miracle is, I am still here.

My cousin shot himself in the head and the bullet hit his brain. He was suppose to be brain-dead, but just as quick as his wounds healed he was up walking and skiing and doing everything else he enjoyed. They said it was a miracle.

Now that we know my mothers faith...she was seeing a doctor for quite some time about her stomach problems. I had no idea this was going on. They changed her insurance, which made her change her doctors and the new doctors said he was going to test until he found the problem. Stage 2 intestinal cancer was actually stage 3 once they got in there and the doctor felt he got it all out. When she went in, I was sitting there in the hospital the night before surgery when the doctor on duty asked who else had the cancer in her family and she said her sister had intestinal cancer and he asked her if she had felt the pain. She said no and when he left I asked, "Mom did you hear him? They believe you have cancer" and she replied, "The nurse asked me how long I had it and I told her I don't have cancer". I jumped up to chase the doctor because I thought she needs to know what she is here for and she told me to sit down and told me too, "I don't have cancer". Of course the doctors witnessed the cancer and she did have it, but her faith in God totally got her through this.

There are more, but my point is that not everything is answered with a miracle, but your faith in God certainly carries you through many ordeals.

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answers from Portland on

People in desperate straits grasp at whatever gives them hope to carry on. If you had come to believe in the power of prayers to produce miracles, no matter what evidence existed or did not exist (that's the very definition of faith), then you would probably hang on to that for all you were worth, until, finally, some other outcome becomes emotionally possible to accept.

I'm so sorry to hear about these tragedies that have come so close to you.

Here's an astoundingly touching meditation (from a moral but not religious woman) that delves deeply into this topic.

Please be aware that she sometimes uses strong language, so more delicate readers may find a few passages alarming.

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answers from Philadelphia on

Wow... Two really tough situations to deal with. I am catholic and believe in miracles but some situations are hopeless. Sometimes I think people pray for the wrong things. For example, if someone looses a limb, know one in their right mind would pray for a miracle...that the limb grows back. Unfortunately, it is very common when there are brain injuries to not fully comprehend the magnitude of the situation because their loved one still looks whole. I will pray that this family accepts the terrible fate of this child and that they can let this child go by taking him off of life support.
Re: the death of the father, I do believe there are fates much worse than death. I am glad the family can find peace that their loved one is no longer suffering.

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answers from Chicago on

I think the fact that both of these families are Catholic is a mere coincidence. I have been Catholic since I was 4 weeks old, and I have never thought (and haven't been taught) for an INSTANT that God is obliged to do MY will if I say x # of prayers to Him.

For the family with the comatose son, the reason that they are not listening to doctors is because at this point the doctors have flat out told them that there is nothing that the medical community can do. For people of faith, what is left after God's helpmates (the doctors) have told you that they can't do anything else? A person of faith has no other choice but to pray for a miracle, or pull the plug, which closes off the possibility of hope. There HAVE been instances of "human vegetables" making full and inexplicable recoveries. They are nothing short of miraculous.

For the other family with the father who passed away, I cannot understand why the family would be rejoicing and certain that he was in heaven. This simply is not a Catholic idea--it is actually pretty Protestant to assume that he is in Heaven. The way to approach death, from a Catholic perspective, has always been to mourn the loss of the person and to pray for the repose of the soul, as there is no "get into Heaven" pass. Each soul will be judged at the time of death, and "not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter [the] kingdom." They should be mourning his loss and not rejoicing just yet--they need to continue to pray for him.

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