Saints To Be Made

haloMoDo, certainly not a saint for internet Catholic true believers, is bound to raise blood pressures and temperatures with her NYT smackdown of one blessed here. And this, particularly, will be hard for many to swallow:

The Vatican had a hard time drumming up the requisite two miracles when Pope Benedict XVI, known as John Paul’s Rasputin and enforcer of the orthodoxy, waived the traditional five-year waiting period and rushed to canonize his mentor. But the real miracle is that it will happen at all. John Paul was a charmer, and a great man in many ways. But given that he presided over the Catholic Church during nearly three decades of a gruesome pedophilia scandal and grotesque cover-up, he ain’t no saint.

Like or loathe the woman, she raises some important points, and would seem to share some common ground with her detractors.

Common ground? Am I serious? Absolutely.

Was John Paul II perfect? No. Does a saint have to be perfect? Be careful how you answer that. The perception I read out there is that sanctity goes hand-in-hand with perfection. Clean morals, clean dishes, and probably spotless underwear.

We rather gloss over Peter, don’t we? We tout one-man-one-woman marriage, but we forget patriarchs and kings who married early and often in the first half of the Old Testament. We accept David had a lot to sing about. But we overlook his polygamy. We certainly cut him more slack than the divorced-and-remarried.

We’ve so tied up the notion of sainthood with behavioral perfection, that the scrutiny to find some screw-up–something well-worn in the public sphere these days–is put into action. Ms  Dowd is just employing the same tactic I’ve seen elsewhere in the blogosphere countless times. Only difference is she’s attacking the hero of the culturewar. Not a target of it.

With making two pope-saints, can we ask if we are witnessing a political compromise? Between these two popes, almost every Catholic can get happy. And if people prefer to dwell on the sacrament of subtraction, then by a similar token, everybody has a reason to reach for the antacid. Pope Francis seems to be suggesting we put aside our frowny faces. Let’s rally around our favorite, and let’s not lob flying objects at the other camp. At least not on this merciful Sunday.

Forming a Child for QuietThe rush to canonize has already exacted a certain toll, no matter how one shapes the news. Are popes good saint material? Do they inspire little girls and boys to be saints, or to admire from afar? Do they inspire adults to read their words and declare allegiance to one other than Christ? Is it good to dwell on the weaknesses of saints? Sure as shootin’, they all have them.

Maybe it is good to mention these weaknesses. If it inspires others to sanctity despite their flaws, more power to these new saints. And let’s face it: JP2 will never be the patron of church administration any more than John XXIII will be consorted with Jenny Craig.

The most important thing is making saints among the living, not the dead. As Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Saints To Be Made

  1. Liam says:


    A couple of thoughts.

    The threshold for canonization is threefold: (1) evidence of a public cultus – that’s a sensus fidelium thing, and in the case of both popes, it’s way satisfied, (2) evidence of heroic virtue – NOT perfection, as you note, and (3) some “objective” evidence that they have effective powers of intercession (the miracle prong) – this is meant to weed out too many folks that might arise by mislead folks under the first prong. On the second prong, I think many folks found each pope’s handling of terminal illness to be heroic. In the prolonged case of JP2, it was also an opportunity for poor governance, but that’s no bar to canonization. In JP2’s case, we also have his significant witness for non-violent resistance to totalitarianism; there is a good, if not conclusive, argument that his witness in the 1980s supported the non-violent resistance within Poland in a way that bore fruit in a peaceful revolution that was imitated in much of the Eastern bloc in different ways (with Romania being the signal counterpoint to this). For peace Christians, that’s a very important witness to remember if we forget it. It’s not so much the breaking of Communism as a model for the process of resistance on that impressive scale against a foe that was well-armed. For the Catholic Church to have absorbed this at such a level is a sea-change from the millennium and a half after St Augustine when the Church was quite happy to bless the use of the sword.

    Paul VI reportedly is up for beatification (the miracle is in the process of recognition, I read).

    There’s been a considerable pivot in how the Catholic faithful expect their Popes to pope, as it were, since the Papacy faded as a secular power over 300 years ago (and reinforced after Napoleon held two successive popes as captives and again with the demies of the papal states). It’s an improvement, but not without its limitations, as you well note.

  2. Jim McCrea says:

    No pope should even be considered for canonization until 100 years have passed since his death. Time brings truth to hagiography, ebullient reactions and wishful thinking.

    Wait untill Benedict (or Francis, for that matter) dies. The clamor will begin immediately. JPII opened “the saint of the month club” during his pontificate and now it is expected as the norm rather than an exception.

  3. Devin says:

    To paraphrase a joke I once heard, the differences between John XXIII and JP2 are small, it is like comparing people who live in Arkansas to people who live in Louisiana, Navy Seals to Green Berets and prisoners to graduate students. These two Popes have more in common than Presidents Obama & Clinton. So canonizing them together doesn’t seem that big of a deal to me. That being said a little bit of wait time for both of them would have been preferable especially JP2. And the only thing I dislike about them being together this Sunday is that at least in my diocese JP2 is overshadowing JXXIII significantly. For example, if you talk to pilgrims from our diocese who are in route, you wouldn’t even know there are two people being sainted.

  4. Ray MacDonald says:

    I don’t worry about these guys. I knew a real saint and martyr – Fr. Martin Royackers SJ. You can look him up.

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