Making A Saint

Thanks for the comments on the “Hero Worship” thread. It wasn’t my main intention to get into a debate on the merits of Pius XII’s stance with or aid to Jewish refugees in the 1940’s. It’s certainly not a surprise that the man is a controversial figure. But some obvious questions and observations are afoot regarding saints.

1. Clearly, not all saints avoid the controversies of virtue, morality, and inaction. Let’s keep this in mind when discussing merits of potential saints in the future.

2. Being declared a saint is probably more about hero worship than most Catholics would want to admit. We cheer for countrywomen and men. We cheer for ideological mates. We cheer for people whose personal qualities or experiences (loneliness, persecution, etc.) mirror our own, or at least touch on our affective side.

3. It’s all relative. A little controversy in Rome is no problem, but in Latin America, forget it. We can appeal to the emotions (The santo subito! of JPII) or just as easily turn off that spigot when we want to talk about theology or doctrine. Likewise the privations and sufferings of the martyrs: feel bad for them. But maybe not so much when other Christians or even Catholics delivered the blow. You never know: they might have been heretics.

The question goes begging: what makes a saint? Can one be a saint without any followers at all? Does one need to have earthly support to achieve sanctity? Does the Roman process of declared saints always add to the sanctity of the pilgrim Church or does it sometimes detract from it?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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10 Responses to Making A Saint

  1. Gavin says:

    What makes a saint?
    God’s grace.

    Can one be a saint without any followers at all? Does one need to have earthly support to achieve sanctity?
    If anything, that just makes sanctity more difficult.

    Does the Roman process of declared saints always add to the sanctity of the pilgrim Church or does it sometimes detract from it?
    Pretty often detracts from it. The word “saint” doesn’t conjure up an image of the Church Triumphant for most Catholics; instead it conjures up an official list. The “Saint-Machine” was one of the more regrettable aspects of JP2’s career, in my opinion.

  2. tom Kolar says:

    The “Saint Machine” had the opposite effect on me. When I read about these people, I had to look into their lives, how they lived and how they affected other people, and many times I just thought “Wow”. I could never do that, but I am happy Jesus enriched their lives so much, that they enriched me by being one of the sinful pilgrims walking bedside them. Knowing John Paul somewhat personally made me think,” Why are not all bishops like him?”When he became Pope, I felt sorry for him, because he was no longer his own man.

  3. Jim McK says:

    Why shouldn’t canonization be about hero worship? In most respects, it is hero worship funneled by hierarchy toward the good of our faith. Would you prefer a church where hero worship is unfettered and unguided, so that we remember heroes with all their flaws, and forget those who allowed God to shine in their lives? (with all their flaws)

    Followers are essential to canonization. Holier people may exist, but the mark of the one canonized is the use God makes of their lives to inspire others. The miracle requirement exists to testify the saint’s position in heaven, closeness to God etc., but fundamentally to show that people are still devoted, still following the light of Christ reflected on the face of the saint.

    Canonization is one of the places where popular devotion, the voice of the people, finds expression. It can be slow, but it is probably worth the effort long term. Presenting saints can make for a greater shake up of the curia than most other things. (and keep in mind our current Pope shares his name with Benedict XIV, who literally wrote the book on saints)

  4. tom Kolar says:

    Another thought. From what I have been observing about the responses, it seems Catholics want their saints to be absolutely perfect in all things – and that prerogative belongs to God alone. We can spend time arguing about why Peter denied Jesus three times, or some Pope should have done this or didn’t. Sanctity is not perfection. I think Benedict XIV described Sainthood as “doing ordinary things extraordinarily well”. I remember reading a story where the Archbishop of Chicago would try to avoid Mother Cabrini, because she had a short fuse.

    One of my Protestant friends who married a Catholic still gets amused about how we Catholics get so caught up in Popes, bishops and priests and spend a whole meal arguing about them. She said growing up they went to church and really didn’t talk about the pastor that much, and didn’t even know about the Superintendent ( Lutheran Bishop now).I guess we all care on some level – and so we agree or disagree.

    I do remember a TIME MAGAZINE article a few years back in an Article about President Roosevelt mentioning that American Catholic Bishops together with some Jewish Rabbis went to FDR in the 30’s about the Jewish Problem in Germany; and FDR said there was nothing he could do about it – and he reminded the Catholics and Jews that this was a Protestant Country and they were only guests here ( so keep quiet) – So before 1939 the American Catholic Church was concerned about the persecution of the Jews.

    The Catholic Church is a Society and will always have some heroes. It started in the early Church with calling the Apostles Holy Ones after their deaths. Some people will revere others more than others – it is a personality thing. Saint Simon Stock comes to mind. Why he was considered a Saint by some? – different times and different cultures.

    Merry Christmas & Blessed New Year

  5. Todd says:

    Tom, thanks for all your comments. You’ve offered a lot of food for thought.

    Speaking for myself, I don’t know that I want perfect saints as much as I’d like more honesty on the part of those who admire their heroes.

    I can admit that Tom Merton fell in love with a nurse. That might give me pause in my admiration for the man. I don’t think it significantly dents my regard for him as a saint.

    So I do think heroes have their place. But if the main mechanism for recognizing heroes is a sainthood process that mirrors an athletic hall-of-fame, I have to ask: is this the best way for us to go?

  6. Neil says:

    Dear Todd,

    I think that we have to ask two questions:

    1. What is a “hero”? After all, we can speak of pagan heroes, distinguished by unyielding will, strength, reliability, and pride. We can also speak of modern heroes, capable of understanding monsters and recognizing the potential for monstrosity within themselves. But we can also speak of Christian, heroes, who manifest humility and the willingness to undergo suffering for others. (Stephen T. Asma wrote a very good short article about Beowulf, Tolkien, and the recent Beowulf film that really gets at this.)

    Our estimation of hero worship should depend on the definition of “hero.”

    2. What are saints for? Your post never offers a properly theological definition. Let me sketch one out: Saints show us the truth of Scripture. As David McCarthy has written, “Certainly, literary, historical and other critical tools ought to bear on how the Bible is understood, but, at its fundamental level, the truth of scripture is most fully grasped when lived out.” So we learn things about Scripture that we would not know if they weren’t “performed” or “embodied” by a particular saint.

    Would we really grasp, “”The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” without St Francis? And so on.

    Best,
    Neil

  7. Jimmy Mac says:

    Thoughts on “sainthood” —-

    “You’re as sick as your secrets.” Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM

    “The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts.”
    John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), Book I, Chapter II, paragraph 3

    “A long face is not a moral disinfectant.” C. S. Lewis

    A martyr is one who lives with a saint.

    A saint in heaven is a saint in glory; a saint on earth is a different story.

  8. crystal says:

    I don’t expect saints to be perfect. My favorites are the ones who have brought something special to light for me … Ignatius of Loyola, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila and even Alexander Nevsky. They had human failings but they also offered something positive and admirable.

    But someone like Pius XII – I confess all I see about him is the negative.

    • tom Kolar says:

      My question would be is what do you know about Pacelli and his entire life – as for the fact of his feeding of thousands of starving Germans after the First World War when he was Papal Nuncio to Germany. You have to actively study someones life, and not just sit back and be the recipient of just what you heard which may be documented or undocumented. This type of thinking is caused by the serious flaws in the American Educational System. Students are not taught to do research to the sources. American students like to use WIKAPEDIA – and I keep finding blatant factual errors all the time on the site.
      If all I heard about Lincoln is that he suspended Habeas Corpus and for all practical purposes became a Dictator during the Civil War – I might conclude he was a bad man – but we studied about him, his entire life and presidency and put this all into context – studying all views – not just the sources that hated Lincoln, but objective Historians.
      I see images of Pacelli moving through crowds of starving Germans giving them food and blankets and tents, I also see Pacelli moving through the bombed out sections of Rome on foot with his assistants handing out all the Lire he could get his hands on from the Vatican Bank so the people could buy food. I see little children holding on to him crying frightened from the bombing. I saw all these photographs personally. I see Pacelli begging Churchill and Roosevelt not to bomb Rome – but they did anyway – as I mentioned before – also hitting the Vatican.
      He also was a realist who had to face the facts that after the war Catholicism was dead in Europe. Stalin would never give it back. He had to prepare for that eventuality.
      He had an eventful papacy.
      Try studying History like a European Student with all the facts, and if you come up seeing Pacelli in a negative light, then you have come to an objective conclusion that is valid.

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