And I'm a convert to Catholicism.
Growing up in a non-Catholic household, in an anti-Catholic area of an at-best non-Catholic country, I have a perspective that folks who grew up in the Church may not.
What is a Saint?[Insert your favorite joke about New Orleans' football team here]
Saints as "King's Kids"
Listen to some preachers in America, and you'd think a saint is someone who is obviously a "king's kid:" with lots of money, and an expensive car, house, and wife. Which is another topic.
Saints: The American Football Team
Listen to a football fan, and it's the name of a team that - for the first time in history - won the Super Bowl this year.
Saints as People Who've been Dead for Centuries
Listen to many people, unless things have changed a lot since I was growing up,1 quite a few people in America think that saints are are people who lived at least five or six centuries ago. And that most of them are characters in stories that people made up.
There's a (tiny) element of truth to that.
Many saints did live and die during the centuries between the birth of Jesus the Christ and the end of Europe's feudal period.
And the Catholic Church has, over the centuries, reviewed records and taken the names of some saints off the list. Not because they were naughty people: but because there isn't the sort of documentation that the Church requires these days.
Saints as Disciples of Remarkable Fidelity
Here's how the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: a saint is "...a disciple who has lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord...." (Catechism, 2156) That's in a section dealing with baptismal names. I'm named after Brian Boru, a king of Ireland in older times. To my knowledge, there isn't a "Saint Brian."
Actually, in a way, there is. Sort of.
" 'The Church . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as 'alone holy,' loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.'289 The Church, then, is 'the holy People of God,'290 and her members are called 'saints.'291"I'm a saint?! May God help me: I sure don't feel like one. Note the capitalization, by the way: that was "saint" with a lower-case "s". A few people get the upper-case title.
"By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.303 'The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church's history.'304 Indeed, 'holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal.'305"I'll get back to canonization, but first this:
"After confessing 'the holy catholic Church,' the Apostles' Creed adds 'the communion of saints.' In a certain sense this article is a further explanation of the preceding: 'What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?'479 The communion of saints is the Church."
Canonization? Whadaya Mean, You Fire Someone Out of a Cannon?There are rules (what else?) for getting someone recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church. It's a somewhat tedious process. Here's a really short description:
"Canonization: A declaration by the pope that a person who died a martyr or practiced Christian virtue to a heroic degree is in heaven and is worthy of honor and imitation by the faithful. Verification of miracles is required for canonization (except for martyrs)."Okay: the fast track for being recognized as a saint is to die as a martyr. I don't like pain, and on the whole do like being alive. I'd just as soon not die as a martyr. But I've known for some time that I may have to. (October 5, 2007, in another blog)
("Glossary of Church Terms," United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
It takes two verified miracles to make sainthood. And, yes: miracles do happen. Which is another topic.
Those Miracle-Working Saints All Lived Centuries Ago, Right?Wrong.
St. Maximilian Kolbe died in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and he isn't the only saint of the 20th century. Saint Faustina Kowalska lived and died in the 20th century, and there are others. (Saint Faustina is the one who started the Divine Mercy Devotion - there's an active devotion to the Divine Mercy here in Sauk Centre, where I live.)
I think there's a good chance that there will be more saints coming in the 21st century.
Here's part of the news item that got me started on this post:
"Body of California bishop transferred in hope of increasing devotion"Bishop Alfonso Gallegos Apocada died October 6, 1991, while helping someone push their stalled vehicle. (No: that isn't "martyrdom" - he'll need to arrange for two miracles to make the official list.)
Catholic News Agency (February 14, 2010)
"Next month, the body of a California bishop under consideration for canonization will be transferred from a Sacramento cemetery to the parish he served during his lifetime. Supporters of his canonization hope moving his body will make it easier for the faithful to ask for the late bishop's intercession. On March 27, the body of Servant of God Bishop Alphonse Gallegos, OAR will be exhumed from St. Mary Cemetery and moved to the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a parish in the heart of Sacramento where he served, reports the Sacramento Bee.
Bishop Alfonso Gallegos Apocada is the son of Joseph and Caciana Gallegos and had 10 siblings. He was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on February 20, 1931. From an early age he suffered from eye problems and had difficulty reading...."
Right. I left something out. Those miracles? The two that saints are expected to perform, if they're going to make it into the official roll call of recognized saints? The bishop will be expected to perform now, after he died.
- "Feeling Forgiven: My Faith and Emotional Perks"
(November 24, 2009)
- "A Patron Saint of - Scientists?!"
(October 25, 2009)
- "Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Going Against the Grain"
(October 19, 2009)
- "Today is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux's Feast Day"
(October 1, 2009)
- "Maria Goretti's Killer, Alessandro Serenelli: Sometimes People Change"
(July 6, 2009)
- "Finding the Patron Saint of Just About Anything"
(May 29, 2009)
- "Mother Teresa of Calcutta: She's No Princess Di"
(May 8, 2009)
- "Body of California bishop transferred in hope of increasing devotion"
Catholic News Agency (February 14, 2010)
A tip of the hat to catholicism, on Twitter, for the heads-up on the CNA news item.
1 They have. Changed, that is. I was born during the Truman administration. In my youth, glue sniffing was a major drug abuse problem, girls got pregnant out of wedlock - come to think of it, things haven't changed all that much. The change is more on of degree than of kind.
I'm not happy about contemporary America's divorce rate, the attitudes many people in this country have toward marriage, or the seriously whack philosophy apparently held by the dominant culture.
On the other hand, I remember the fifties. It wasn't exactly "happy days," except for a rather select part of the population. (January 12, 2010, and January 26, 2010, for starters)
People are still human beings: creatures with a free will, who were good at making - and getting into - trouble thousands of years ago; and still are.