Since the beginning of time, men have seen things happen that are beyond natural explanation.
Waves have parted, people have risen from the dead, the sick have been instantaneously cured. The Old Testament is filled with the marvelous works of God, and when Christ came to earth, He performed many, many miracles.
We hear stories of miraculous occurrences in the lives of the saints too and, in fact, the Church uses medical miracles to advance a potential saint’s cause for canonization.
It is not extraordinary that God can do these things. He is the Author and Master of the laws of Nature. He can—and does—work above these laws in order to directly interact with us for His own wise purposes.
But how do we know that something is a miracle? How do we know something isn’t a tall tale, or something strange but ultimately explicable by natural means, or the figment of a deluded or stressed imagination? How do we know it’s not demonic?
The Church knows that miracles can often be confused with other things, and that, unfortunately, fallen humans sometimes make up stories for the purposes of fame or attention. She also knows that demons have certain powers that can make certain things appear miraculous.
In view of these facts, the Church has developed a protocol to validate miraculous occurrences. She does not, of course, investigate every single claim, but rather those that have public repercussions, such as the miraculous healings attributed to the saints that, if validated, will advance their cause for canonization. Eucharistic miracles are another form of miracle that often warrants her attention, since they draw venerators and it is important to ensure that the miracle is authentic.
In all these investigations, the Church is careful, thorough, and detached in her approach. She employs doctors, scientists, and competent authorities in order to rule out natural explanations or to understand the phenomenon better. Only when she has completed this stringent process does she validate the miracle.
You can learn more about the facts and fictions surrounding miracles in The Catholic Guide to Miracles: Separating the Authentic from the Counterfeit. In this fascinating book, author Adam Blai—a certified consultant to exorcists and a decades-long student of the supernatural—discusses instances of miracles, their false imitations, and how the Church tells the difference. Available today at The Catholic Company!