From the New York Times best-selling author of The Vatican Diaries comes a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the Vatican investigates claims of miraculous events. Apocalyptic prophecies and miraculous apparitions are headline-grabbing events that often put the Catholic Church's doctrine of "rational faith" at odds with the passion of its more zealous followers. To some, these claims teeter on the edge of absurdity. Others see them as evidence of a private connection with God.
For the Vatican, the issue is much more nuanced, as each supposed miraculous event could have serious theological and political consequences. In response, the Vatican has developed a highly secretive and complex evaluation system to judge the authenticity of supernatural phenomena. Former journalist John Thavis uses his 30 years' experience covering the Vatican to shed light on this little-known process, revealing deep internal debates on the power of religious relics, private revelations, exorcisms, and more. Enlightening and accessible to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the book illustrates the church's struggle to balance the tension between traditional beliefs and contemporary skepticism.
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John Thavis has many gifts. Not only does his writing sparkle with clarity and good sense, but he is able to bring many disparate elements together in a narrative that is not only coherent, but fascinating. His books make what could be dry and tedious subjects come to life, and no less so here.
In my own life, I have known people who believe with all their hearts in the power of relics and the intercessions of saints. These folk have a sincere and true sense that "their saint" is a living friend of their soul, in the way Father Romano Guardini wrote about those in the presence of God. A few believe they have been saved from medical conditions or other harm by the saints. I have a particular saint to whom I am deeply devoted.
Yet believers are often seen as the most medieval, or even atavistic, followers of superstitious nonsense. But might they have reason to believe? How does the cult of a saint arise? What makes someone an "official" saint, and how do they come to be associated with the realm of miracles?
Thavis goes a long way toward answering that question, and how involved the answer is! It takes money these days, lots of it, to put forth "a cause,", and also a great deal of patience. Hearing about the process was quite interesting; I didn't know there were Italian solicitors who specialized in this area.
Questions as to why someone is or is not canonized is itself fascinating. It certainly seems to have less to do with a person's actual sanctity than a certain degree of popular and/or Church support.
And what of saints' physical relics? Some of the stories here reveal avarice, bad taste, and even repulsive practices regarding these objects.
Some anecdotes about intercession are rather amazing, such as the one about the nun who swallowed a needle and believed herself to be healed by the deceased pope John XIII. Or the young girl who received an alleged miracle healing after being pronounced dead.
Other stories of "alleged" rather than "officially verified" occurrences, are fascinating, too. For example, the examination of Marian apparitions is very well done, and is far more rational and forthright than much which has been written on the subject.
Thavis also looks into some of the so-called end time "prophecies" and what the Vatican is up against when the faithful give devotion to such things. (Best not to bring the bishop too many problems, that seems to be the unspoken subtext for parish priests these days. If you doubt me, ask one).
In all, this is an exceptionally good book, one I'd recommend to every Catholic, whether you're a "Vaticanista" or not. It will illuminate much about the faith that is still unknown to many. I learned a lot and enjoyed the experience, and the narration was excellent.
A good read for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Find out what the Church teaches on possession, miracles , sainthood etc. very informative and educational.
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