Monica Besra, beneficiary of Mother Teresa's first "miracle"
In this past week's edition of the Michigan Catholic newspaper "The Catholic Times" there was an interesting headline on Mother Teresa's Cause for Canonization. The piece was entitled "Miracle, Anyone?" and was all about how everything was on track for Blessed Mother Teresa's canonization save for the fact that they are "still waiting for one more miracle." The article featured an interview with Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator for Mother Teresa's Cause. In his remarks on the need for another miracle, he said, "We get thousands of reports of favors from people praying, but so far, nothing that can be presented as a miracle."
This is interesting, because even the one miracle that Mother Teresa currently has is (in my opinion) not very well attested. Here are the facts on the one miracle recognized by the Vatican in 2002:
This miracle concerns the case of one Monica Besra, a 35-year-old villager from northern India cured of an ovarian tumor. Besra and the Missionaries of Charity claim that the tumor vanished in September 1998 when a medallion with an image of the late Mother Teresa was applied to the site of her pain.
However, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, chief gynecologist who treated the woman at Balurghat District Hospital in West Bengal, says that it was quite possible that his patient was cured by four anti-TB drugs she was taking at the time, which could have dissolved the tumor. He said he admires Mother Teresa greatly and thinks she should be beatified for her work among the poor. But not for this case. “[Besra] had a medical disease which was cured by medical science, not by any miracle,” he says. His hospital superiors back him up, saying that records show she responded to the treatment steadily. Five doctors in Rome consulted by the Vatican on the case disregarded this scientific probability and hastily agreed there was no medical explanation for the cure. Mustafi said he was never contacted by the Vatican.
Monica Besra, of course, believes in the miracle. But it is interesting to note that her own husband disbelieves in the miracle and attributes the healing to the doctors. He said, "It is much ado about nothing. My wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle" (source). Besra does admit that she was receiving medical treatments from the doctors at the state-run Balurghat Hospital at that time., but says, “Those who love Mother will believe." That she loves Mother Teresa there is no doubt. But it is not sentiment that determines the value of a miracle in the normal procedures of the Catholic Church.
Traditionally, miracles were very scrupulously and rigorously investigated. Part of the job of the Advocatus Diaboli was to try to intentionally disprove alleged miracle stories, or if not disprove them, at least suggest scientific or naturalistic explanations for them. The purpose of this, of course, was to ensure that only genuine, bonafide miracles of the undoubtedly supernatural order were proclaimed authentic. With Mother Teresa's one miracle, we do not have to go very far to suggest a possible natural/scientific explanation - the woman happened to be taking medical treatments at the same time as the alleged miracle occurred. In this case, how can anyone distinguish the effects of a possible miraculous cure from the natural effects of medicine? I'm not ruling out the miraculous, but I am thinking that now the waters are sufficiently muddied so as to say that we ought to look for something much more substantial in this second miracle. Hearing that the Vatican never even bothered to contact Besra's doctor to verify the claims is especially troubling.
If we say we believe that the modern world needs saints, we ought not to proclaim them on such tenuous evidence. It is also interesting that Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk's attitude is "We just need one more miracle" for the Cause to be successful. This is true if we are talking about bare minimums. But what ever happened to saints like St. Vincent Ferrer, who raised nineteen people from the dead during his life, converted 30,000 Jews and Moors (compared to Mother Teresa, who said God wanted to "make Muslims better Muslims") and performed anywhere between 3,000 and 14,000 miracles during his life, not to mention the scores that have happened after his death, 853 alone at his New York Shrine?
True, not all saints are "wonder-workers," but it is something to think about. I think Mother Teresa is either in heaven or on her way there, but for the sake of the credibility of the Church I want to see he miracles allegedly wrought by her to be scrutinized ruthlessly against any possible other explanation. Otherwise, we open ourselves up to ridicule by atheists and non-believers, as if already the case with this particular miracle (see here). Granted, atheists will always mock and doubt, but do we need to assist their mocking attacks on the Faith by holding up as miracles stories which are obviously questionable at the very least?
We ought not be afraid to submit or alleged miracle stories to scientific scrutiny. Our faith, which is in truth and not in superstitions and gossip, demands nothing less.