Monday, April 21, 2014

Saint: Why I Should be Canonized Right Away

I saw a short clip by Lino Rulli somewhere recently, and it wasn't half bad. Very funny, good-natured guy with some substance. Somewhat timely, too, perhaps, given the up-coming canonizations of Blessed John Paul II and John XXIII. Lino Rulli, Saint: Why I Should Be Canonized Right Away(Servant Books, 2013).




I read an essay on Mormon temples a while back. It pointed out that they used to be rarely built, and a very big deal to the Mormon faithful. As the 20th century accelerated, the LDS church started building mini-temples all over the place, and the end result was the temple and its facilities came in practice to be less impressive to participants since they were far less exceptional in incidence. For a visual explanation, visit the LDS temples webpage and scroll through the pictures chronologically. The contrast between buildings like a Manti or a Cardstone Temple and a Raleigh temple could not be more telling, even if we are talking buildings that serve as settings for Masonic-like rites.

I think there is an exact parallel with the increase and diversification of saint-making in Catholicism. Kenneth Woodward points out,

"Over the last 900 years — before the year 1234 there was no formal process for determining that someone was a saint — the Roman Catholic Church has canonized hundreds of individual men and women and hundreds more in groups. But only three of them were popes. The lesson of history seems to be this: If you aspire to official sainthood, avoid getting elected pope."

That might come as a shock to a generation that has heard nothing but pleas for sainthood for all the post-Vatican II popes. Woodward tries to conclude that the lesson currently at hand with the joint canonizations is that Popes can be saints too (!), but I'd argue the impression being created is exactly the opposite, that popes are typically saints, not to mention a rather irreversible sort of hyperdulia that is being projected towards Vatican II. While John Paul II's suffering certainly suggests heroism, to apply the concept of heroic virtue to Pope John seems a stretch no matter how its presented.

This may all seem like curmudgeonly prattle, but then again, we have columnists with clout seriously bandying about the idea of canonization for G.K. Chesterton, I guess it is all of a piece. Before it's over we'll probably have Saints Chavez, Tolkien, and de Hueck to deliver us, to boot. The more the modern Church speaks and acts, the more it seems to wade into the trivial.



To rant on, quoting Rorarte Caeili...

One of the glorious historic characteristics of the Catholic Church, an expression of her stern Roman sobriety, has been her great hesitation to succumb to the appeals of popular opinion on the great and powerful of this world. Two great examples, of course, have included the refusal of the Church of Rome to explicitly extend to the Universal Church the cultus of great men who did much for the Church but had many personal misgivings: Constantine the Great, venerated by Churches of the East, and in specific particular churches of the West; Charlemagne, venerated in specific particular churches of the West.

Even more symbolic has been the Church of Rome's refusal to simply canonize her former Bishops en masse, though there were so many great ones in the periods that followed the early centuries of great persecutions during which so many popes were martyred. Not many were recognized as saints later on, and even fewer were so after the canonization process developed more clearly in the second millennium.

In both cases, this hesitation of the Church of Rome (which itself explains the historical development of the procedures for beatification and canonization) indicates an admirable freedom of action in which she refuses to succumb to the pressures of princes and masses, or to a repulsive use of canonization to express self-congratulation for her own greatness.

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For me, this all fits with the modern tilt towards God's universal salvific will. If God's love is so great, and He is so very much on man's side, so to speak, breathlessly waiting to forgive and to see everyone reach their own fulfillment, if His whole concern is for grace to perfect every instance of nature, with only the most stubborn of wills posing any real problem, then of course more people than not *will* be saints, and canonization becomes little more than public eulogy for good Christians. Choose your saint, since that is essentially the profile of everyone once deceased. It wold be unChristian to suggest otherwise in our program to affirm God's irrepressible mercy or the life-reviving strains of Vatican II.