Friday, April 25, 2014

Saints and Miracles

When talking about the canonization process, I have often called it the most democratic thing in the Church - in the sense that no one is going to get canonized in the absence of authentic popular devotion. If there were any doubt about the authenticity and widespread character of popular devotion to soon-to-be Saints John Paul II and John XXIII (photo), the amazing assemblage of pilgrims now gathering in Rome should certainly be sufficient to dispel any such doubts. It is obvious where the People of God are on this issue!

Admittedly there has been some grumbling.  Some grumbling concerns the way in which Blessed John Paul's cause seems to have been "fast-tracked." Of course, in the past other saints have been "fast-tracked" too. Saint Francis of Assisi was canonized just 2 years after his death. Saint Thomas Becket was canonized within 3 years of his death. Both were examples of figures who generated a medieval equivalent of 2005's "santo subito" - the popular demand to see John Paul canonized soon. In fact, I can remember a TV commentator at the time of John XXIII's funeral describing the popular reaction as similar to "canonization by acclamation," as it might have happened in the earliest centuries of the Church's history. The point is not popular acclaim, per se, but the special witness of a particular person's holy life (or martyrdom) which generates that popular acclaim that matters and that needs to be examined, tested, and verified.

In this regard, it is the requirement of proven miracles that, I think, can best serve as a corrective to haste. A reputation for heroic sanctity may reflect the  short-term tastes and fashions of a particular historical period. What the test of the miracle requirement contributes to the process is subjecting a legacy of popular acclaim and a reputation for heroic sanctity to some external validation that is the closest we can come on earth to an expression of divine approval of a Servant of God's cause. 

There are arguments being advanced that would favor further reducing the requirement for miracles not just on occasion but in general. Obviously, there have been cases where the miracle requirement has been dispensed with. Pope Francis has dispensed with the requirement of a second (post-beatification) miracle in the case of John XXIII. And he has also already employed the alterantive of "equivalent canonization" in several recent cases - among them, the early Jesuit St. Peter Faber. Of course, there are circumstances which warrant such special action. But I would hope not to see momentum develop in favor of further reducing the number of required miracles as a general rule. 

That said, it certainly is, I think, a very good thing that the overall process has evolved so as to facilitate many more canonizations than in the past. After all, the Church is a lot larger than in centuries past, and so many more saints are correspondingly needed to dramatize the power of God's transforming grace at work in the lives of diverse types of people in all segments of this world-wide Church.

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