Msgr. Fred Easton is not exactly the first persons who'd jump to mind when one thinks about miracles. Trained as a canon lawyer, the judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is by nature of his profession rational and methodical. He also came face-to-face a few years ago with the miracle of Phil McCord.
McCord, the son of a Baptist lay minister was then the director of facilities maintenance for the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods near Terre Haute, Indiana. McCord had had trouble with his vision since childhood. By the fall of 2000, with the development of cataracts in both eyes, his eyesight had grown much worse.
On September 21, 2000, McCord had surgery on his left eye, but a second surgery about a month later on his other eye did not fix the problem. By the end of 2000 McCord was facing the possibility and the risks of a corneal transplant.
Discouraged, McCord was walking one day in early January 2001 past the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. He heard organ music coming from inside and almost by instinct followed the music into the church. McCord sat down in a pew. There, roughly familiar with the Catholic tradition of praying for saints' intercession, he prayed to Mother Theodore Guerin, the founder of the Sisters of Providence mission, to ask God to improve his vision or to give him the strength to endure the surgery.
McCord was not a great man of prayer. He said later he wasn't exactly sure why he did what he did. But he prayed for healing. And by the next morning he got it.
When McCord woke up the next day, he looked in the mirror and thought his eye looked better. When he went to the ophthalmologist, the doctor confirmed it. He did not need surgery, and there was no medical explanation for why the eye had healed.
"The whole thing went away. This just doesn't happen," Easton says. In time McCord's case was carefully documented. Testimony was presented at a hearing in Indiana, and the medical evidence was reviewed by a panel of five doctors in Rome. His became the second miracle formally attributed to Guerin, a French-born nun who founded schools and orphanages for children in Indiana and died in 1856. Pope Benedict XVI canonized her on Oct. 15, 2006 as St. Theodora--making her the eighth saint from the United States.
McCord could not be reached for an interview for this story, but for Easton, who served as the delegated judge for the McCord hearing in Indiana, the experience confirmed that--even in this skeptical, postmodern, scientific age--miracles really are possible.
While the popular conception of a miracle can be wide ranging ("It's a miracle!" rings out for everything from finding that long-lost set of car keys to winning the lottery), the Catholic Church has a specific definition for the kind of miracle formally recognized in a canonization process.
"It has to be a physical miracle, normally one that's easily demonstrable, that could not have happened by any other means," Easton says. "That's the key," that there can be no other scientific or medical explanation.
"It's nailed down pretty much by the doctors, and especially then by the doctors in Rome, those five people whose task it is to pick holes in all the arguments. And [in the McCord case] they didn't find any holes," Easton says.
"If I didn't believe in miracles because of my faith, I'd believe in them now because I experienced it in a sense, vicariously, by hearing all this testimony. I call it a quiet miracle. There were no pyrotechnics."
I believe in miracles
In this age of technological wonders, doctors can diagnose and treat many diseases that, not so long ago, would have been fatal. It would be natural for people in the 21st century to put their faith in science, not miraculous healing.
But while some do scoff--and we all wince when a so-called faith-healer is revealed to be a fraud--it seems that most people do believe in miracles. …