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What is a Saint?

Cardinal Newman

On the fourth day of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK, he held mass in Birmingham. But why Birmingham? The city is the burial place of John Henry Newman, a 19th century cardinal in the Catholic Church, and the reason the Pope was there is because Newman was being ‘beatified’, which is the step before being declared a saint.

Apparently, in order to be made a saint, a ‘miracle’ has to be ascribed to Newman, and that miracle came in the form of Jack Sullivan.

Jack Sullivan, an American permanent deacon, was suffering from a serious spinal disorder when he first prayed to Cardinal Newman.

Jack was in agony and bedridden after surgery on his spine, the pain was so agonizing he was unable to sleep and had trouble breathing. A scan showed the vertebrae in his lower back had turned inwards and were squeezing his spinal cord, severing the protective layer around the spine. His doctor said the case was one of the worst he had ever seen and that he was lucky not to have been paralysed. One day during an intense bout of pain, Jack, for the second time, prayed to Newman; he asked:

“Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk, so I can return to classes and be ordained.” “As soon as I said the word ‘ordained,’ something happened that was very serious and very wonderful. I felt a tremendous sense of heat, I felt a tingling feeling all over, and at the same time I felt a very precious moment of joy and peace. I call it a little peace of heaven that I experienced; I was consumed in this tremendous moment of peace.

When the moment was over I realized whereas before I was bent all over, leaning on the bed. Now I was standing up straight without any pain, I had an eagerness to walk and now I didn’t need a walker, I didn’t need a cane.”

Jack was healed of his spinal disorder on August 15, 2001 and since then he has had no pain and can walk normally; his doctor was amazed after he examined him and told him there was no medical or scientific explanation to explain what happened to him. Traditional reductionist scientists and doctors don’t like so called miracles because according to their worldview they shouldn’t happen.

Almost a decade later, on Sunday 19th September, 71-year-old Jack, still walking and free from pain will preach the Gospel at the Birmingham Mass beatifying John Henry Newman. Newman, an ordinary man, is now a saint.

This is clearly a big event for the Catholic Church, and I’m happy for Jack but I’m surprised too. People claim to be healed and are healed ‘miraculously’ every day all over the world, and often they say they prayed to Jesus or Allah or God before the healing took place. Usually any talk of spiritual healing or psychic phenomena is frowned on by the church, and often attributed to the devil, but then not everyone is a permanent deacon.

We don’t know if Jesus, or Allah, or God heals people, and we don’t know if John Henry Newman healed Jack, but we do know Jack was healed.

Ordinary people who have these experiences are often ridiculed and ignored, which is a shame, because if more people were treated like Jack, and the church and science accepted that ‘miracles’ do happen, maybe the world would be a more understanding place… but then, there would be a lot more saints.

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