I sat in Glasgow Royal Infirmary last summer and the consultant told me that I had cancer: stage 4, aggressive and incurable. When people said they would pray for me, I asked if they would do so through the intercession of Venerable Margaret Sinclair. She needs a miracle, I would tell them. I knew that the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints had looked into the case of Venerable Margaret, a poor Edinburgh girl turned nun, and concluded a miracle was still needed in order for her to be declared a Blessed.
I felt a great sense of achievement and hope when, at the end of September 2016, I completed my cycles of chemotherapy. But a couple of weeks later a lump appeared. It emerged that I had a very significant abscess that required removal by surgery.
I was promptly hurled into theatre at the end of October. I woke afterwards feeling groggy but pain-free for the first time for months as the surgery had gone much better than expected. Two weeks to the day after the operation, I was told that I could begin to prepare for going home three days later.
Everything seemed rosy until that night, I awoke in the small hours with excruciating pain in my chest and my shoulder. A scan was arranged in the morning and my consultant explained to me that I had a blood clot in my lung. That was the good news. The bad news was that the scan of my chest had shown up an extremely dangerous and extensive infection in the tissues of my body running from my hips to my chest and even to my shoulder blades in places. It appeared that I had become infected somehow with what the papers somewhat sensationally describe as a “flesh-eating bug”.
I was told that the normal treatment was to surgically remove the infected tissue but that I had so much infected tissue that the operation was unsurvivable and therefore no operation could be tried because it would kill me. Life expectancy was 24 to 48 hours. On Sunday the discussions had been about going home. On Monday they were about dying.
The next two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, are a blur to me. I slept through most of them, waking up to groggily acknowledge visitors and try to chat coherently with them. I was also receiving Holy Communion each day and had been anointed.
In the dim light of one of the evenings – which I could not be sure, though I was later told it was Thursday evening – Fr Joe McAuley arrived at my bedside with a relic of Venerable Margaret. He prayed the prayers of the official texts for her beatification and gave me a blessing with the relic. I began to feel a lot better.
‘You’re an enigma,” said the surgeon as I continued to improve, and nurses admitted that they were amazed I had made it through.
Seven weeks after my leaving hospital, the surgeon told me that he was surprised how well I looked and how much progress I had made. Now came the question. “Do you know what happened to me?” I asked. The answer was simple: “No.”
The surgeon reiterated that someone with the condition usually has a life expectancy of less than 48 hours.
I pointed out that I had people praying for me, asking that Margaret Sinclair intercede on my behalf. I introduced the word “miracle” and he didn’t shy away from it. The surgeon told me that he had listened to a radio show about the Vatican and miracles. He said they seemed very thorough and rigorous about such examinations. But in the light of that he would still say that my recovery had “no medical explanation”. That, of course, is the very essence of a miracle.
It must be made clear here that my cancer is still with me. It is still incurable in medical terms. But I was sick with something different from cancer and that sickness was necrotising fasciitis. Yet the infection did not eat my flesh. It went away and I recovered. For the doctor, that defies explanation. For me, Margaret Sinclair for some reason I cannot understand, has been successful in asking God to cure me of that bug – a miracle for sure in my book.
Now it is time for me to pass that judgment over to the Church. If in time it comes to pass that the Church decides that it is a miracle, then, please God, Margaret Sinclair will continue to intercede for us until that day the Pope can proclaim that it is indeed evident that, by God’s grace, she is to be counted among the saints.
Mgr Peter Smith is a priest of the Archdiocese of Glasgow. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Flourish, the monthly newspaper of Glasgow archdiocese