Sep 24, 2020
A friend asks me to write about miracles, taking as an example the events that brought him and his wife together in a happy marriage now in its 58th year. To his credit, he doesn’t suggest their case is exceptional. Rather, he sees it as instance of God’s hand at work in their lives, just as God is at work in everyone’s life. Other people, he suggests, might benefit from seeing their lives the same way he and his wife see theirs.
The happy experience of my friend and his wife certainly doesn’t involve anything resembling what we usually call miracles – instantaneous occurrences in which God sets aside the laws of nature to produce some desirable result.
The classic examples are Jesus’ miracles – curing lepers and paralytics and raising the dead. This is the kind of miracle that provides evidence for beatification and canonization. A recent instance is the curing in 2015 of a child in utero from a life-threatening condition, a miracle that led to the beatification of Knights of Columbus founder Father Michael McGivney (scheduled October 31in Hartford).
Events like these are what the great 20th century Christian apologist C.S. Lewis calls “instant” miracles. But besides them, there are the things Lewis termed slow miracles, which take place over time.
“A slow miracle is no easier to perform than an instant one,” he remarked – but it’s harder to recognize because it involves a series of events more or less unremarkable in themselves that lead to a particular outcome. Slow miracles include what St. John Henry Newman calls “providences,” adding that it is “often very difficult to distinguish between” the two. These providences, he says, are not strictly miraculous, but are better understood as “providential mercies…what are sometimes called ‘grazie’ or ‘favors.’”