Miracles expert explains the purpose of miracles and what they mean for our faith

(Barnes and Noble)

Anybody could claim a miracle, but how does the Church determine which reported miracles are genuinely divine and which are fake?

A new book titled "Exploring the Miraculous" written by Michael O'Neill gives readers all the relevant information on miracles, including common questions on the importance of miracles, an explanation of the approval process, and description of the various types of miracles approved by the Roman Catholic Church, the Catholic News Agency reports.

O'Neill says when the Church is presented with a claim of a miraculous event, it may conduct extensive fact-finding, psychological examination and theological evaluation. He says the highest recognition the Church could give to an alleged miracle is to declare it "worthy of belief."

However, it may also reject the claim if it is determined to be fraudulent or lacking in supernatural character.

A third option is for the Church to take a middle road, declaring that there is nothing contrary to the faith in an alleged miracle, without making a determination on whether a supernatural character is present, O'Neill says.

Official Church investigations may take years. However, mere reports of a miracle, even without official Church blessing, can prompt believers to travel long distances just to get a glimpse of the supposed divine manifestation.

And the faithful are not the only ones fascinated by claims of miracles.

Getting to the bottom of these alleged miraculous events is also important for atheists and sceptics since "they've got to have an explanation for the inexplicable," he says.

O'Neill says miracles have a universal appeal. "We all pray for miracles of one sort or another. They can be ... small things like praying for an impossible comeback in a football game, or [finding] a lost wallet or wedding ring," he says.

"But they can also be these really big things, such as our loved ones, they fall away from the faith and we want them to return, or somebody from our friends or our family is very sick and we desperately implore God's help for them. It's something that everybody experiences," he says.

O'Neill says miracles also serve as a link for people to "feel connected to God."

"No matter how strong we think our faith is or want it to be, we always want to know that God is there for us, and miracles are that sort of element that bridges the gap between our faith and our connection with God," he says.

In his book, O'Neill describes and provides examples of all kinds of miracles within the Catholic Church, including healing miracles from saints in the canonization process, biblical miracles, apparitions, locutions (audible messages from God or a saint), miraculous images, Eucharistic miracles, incorrupt bodies (those that either partially or fully do not decompose after death), and stigmata (the wounds of Christ appearing on some living people).

The most popular miracles, according to O'Neill, are apparitions of the Virgin Mary. About 2,500 claims of Marian apparitions have been recorded throughout history. The biggest of these claims are the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje, which remain unverified by the Church.