“Obviously, my wife was quite distraught at this,” he said, recalling discussions. “I was not happy, but I’d had two years to kind of deal with the fact that this might be a possibility. She, on the other hand, had been much more easily able to dismiss it because she hadn’t met me until after I had already recovered.”
After much talking, the couple decided that children – whether their own or someone else’s – were definitely in their future, no matter what, so they began to take adoption training courses for certification. However, two months into the marriage, something happened that changed their lives forever.
“My wife was pregnant,” Connors said. “The doctors said, ‘This is amazing, this is not something that could possibly happen. Please treasure this child because you’ll never, ever have another one.’”
Taking their doctors’ advice, they joyfully welcomed the birth of their son Jack in 2008. But it was only a mere few months into his life that another unexpected “miracle” took place within the Connors family.
“Five months later, my wife became pregnant again,” he laughed. “Our daughter is now a year old, and in January my wife will be giving birth to our third child.”
“The doctor still confirmed that I’m basically unable to have children,” Connors explained. “It’s not as though things magically got better; in fact, my physical well-being, abilities and disabilities remain exactly the same as they did when we were first tested. The only difference is, we keep having these miraculous children.”
Although Connors has always been a devout Catholic, he believes that the children that God has blessed them with are just another reminder of the blessings of his Catholic faith.
“I had already recovered from what should have been a fatal disease, so I was fortunate that I had already had a very strong faith life,” he said. “I guess what it (having children) did was kind of reinforced and reconfirmed not just the truth of God and faith and everything, but kind of reconfirmed the wonder and the power of God as well.”
‘Your faith has saved you’
Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, people had been on the lookout for signs of the miraculous. True miracles have been known to bring people together, strengthen weakening faiths and even change the course of history, as was witnessed during the shooting of Pope John Paul II in 1981.
While God performs miracles every day, it takes faith to truly see them, according to Jennifer Christ, a spiritual director and freelance consultant in ministry within the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
“I think that faith is necessary to recognize a miracle as God’s action,” she said. “The miracles in Scripture – the prerequisite there – is always some kind of faith, some kind of belief, some kind of trust that Jesus was a healer or holy person. Very often, right in the Scriptures, Jesus will say, ‘Your faith has saved you.’”
In general, miracles tend to fall into two categories: Miracles and miracles. The latter are the kind that seem to happen every day: your old car started after you whispered a quick prayer, you received an A on a mid-term exam you weren’t prepared for, or you received your paycheck two days earlier than expected, when you needed it the most.
The former term (Miracle with an uppercase M), are the kinds that science and man just can’t explain: the unexpected healing of a paraplegic, the curing of cancer when the final diagnosis was terminal, a Eucharist host turned into actual flesh, and the “dancing” of the sun in Fatima. While those types of miracles are often few and far between these days, they do happen.
Miracles and the Vatican
In May of 2009, 26-year-old Jory Aebly was shot in the head execution-style during a random mugging in Ohio. The chaplain at the Cleveland hospital where Aebly was admitted had given him the last rites of the church after his doctors confirmed that his condition wasn’t survivable. In a last ditch effort to intervene, Fr. Art Snedeker gave Aebly a rosary that had been blessed by Pope John Paul II, asking the late pope for his prayers. Soon after, Aebly’s doctors were astonished to see his condition improving. His release from the hospital March 30, 2009, came only two days before the fourth anniversary of Pope John Paul’s death.
To nearly all those involved, Aebly’s recovery was seen as a miracle. Although he suffered from severe headaches, he completed daily sessions in physical, speech and occupational therapy, and within his first week of recovery he could walk with the aid of a walker and supervision, according to the hospital Web site.
While the Vatican and the diocese of Cleveland aren’t commenting on the alleged miracle, it has been speculated by many that this will be another miracle attributed to Pope John Paul, a necessity that must take place for someone to be canonized a saint. But according to Dr. William Thorn, an associate professor of journalism for Marquette University and a leading expert on media and the Vatican, the process to verify and document a true miracle is much easier said than done.
The Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes is investigating his recovery. Created in 1969 by Pope Paul VI, the congregation is currently under the direction of Cardinal José Saraiva Martins; secretary Archbishop Edward Nowak and the under-secretary Msgr. Michele Di Ruberto. In addition, there is also a staff of 23 people to help with the caseload.
Each year the congregation prepares “everything necessary for the pope to be able to set forth new examples of holiness,” according to the Vatican. After approving results on miracles, martyrdom and heroic virtues of various servants of God, the Holy Father then proceeds to a series of canonizations and beatifications, an act that can takes years to fulfill.
When a claim of a miracle is presented, the first person in line to see the investigation through is a priest, according to Thorn.
“And then it is up to the priest to report it to the bishop. The bishop is the one who has the first line of authority over this, and the bishop has the authority – not only as the pastor or priest has the responsibility to report it to the bishop – the bishop has an obligation to do some level of investigation,” Thorn explained. “So, he may ask two or three other clergy to interview, or he may call in a psychologist or two, he may call in physicians, but the initial investigation is always done in the diocese (in which the alleged miracle occurred).
“If the bishop says, ‘This doesn’t seem to me, based on our evidence, to be at all miraculous,’ it basically ends there as far as the church is concerned, because no bishop next door or from any place else can intervene at all. Bishops are charged with responsibility with their territory and that’s it,” he added.
If the bishop in charge believes that a miracle may have taken place, his next order of business is to bring it to the Vatican.
“That triggers a whole new layer of investigation, and there is a special branch of the curia that would get involved,” Thorn explained. “They would bring in, or turn it over to, somebody who would be sort of a defender of the miracle, and another who would be the devil’s advocate, who would take the opposite side. So, they would work through the facts in the case and it would be argued, and then it would move on from there.”
A recognition of God’s action
While hundreds of cases have been brought to the congregation, it might take years to investigate even a single case. However, for the smaller, “everyday” miracles that take place in the lives of the faithful, it doesn’t take much to convince them that God is truly present.
“I think that when a miracle happens, whether those small ones or those big ones, at that moment, I think the miracle – or our recognition of God’s action – it means we’ve gotten back into that right relationship with God, even if it’s only momentarily, to realize that God is God and we are creatures,” Christ explained. “So when we get back in that right relationship, then we’re able to see what God is doing.”
While Connors believes that his children are solid proof that God is with his family, he has had some experience with the miraculous in the past.
“One of the reasons I think (miracles) were so easily accessible to me is that our family had – a few generations ago – already had miraculous healing stories. My great-grandfather was a cripple whose mother prayed at the Cathedral of Luxemburg every day for three years and then he miraculously recovered and he could walk one day,” Connors, a parishioner of St. Mary’s Visitation in Elm Grove, replied. “I was open to miracles from a very young age … (having children) not only reconfirmed everything that I had learned in my life and believed and everything, but also reconfirmed the miracles and the possibilities of miracles that I had been told in these stories growing up for many years.”