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Saints Point Us Toward God
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Q: Few lay men or women have been formally canonized. Most saints belonged to religious communities, but people in that state of life make up a tiny percentage of the Church. Doesnít the present situation suggest that only priests and vowed religious can become saints? I donít find this very inspiring.

A: The formal canonization process requires a group of people interested in seeing someone beatified and then canonized. Although some dioceses have promoted the cause of a particular layperson, most often it is religious communities who support the process needed for someone to be investigated, declared venerable, have a miracle authenticated, then be formally beatified, have a second miracle approved and eventually canonized.

At present, most laypeople who are blesseds or saints were either martyrs (Thomas More or Edith Stein, for example) or founded religious congregations (Elizabeth Ann Seton or Margaret of Cortona). On October 21, 2001, Pope John Paul II beatified Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini, the married parents of four children, three of whom entered religious communities. This is a step in the right direction, but we are not there yet!

The Church identifies blesseds and saints not for their benefit but for the Church’s sake—to show that holiness is possible in every century, every walk of life, every part of the globe and every circumstance of life. If saints already enjoy eternal life with God, no honor on earth can increase their happiness. In the hymn “Lead Me, Lord,” John Becker has Jesus say, “Blessed are those whose hunger only holiness can fill, for I say they shall be satisfied.”

There is only one holiness (God’s), though there are different ways of reflecting that holiness. Chapter Five of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church is entitled “The Universal Call to Holiness.”

In his 177-page book Married Saints (Alba House, 1-800-343-2522), John Fink describes 24 married saints and their conjugal path to holiness.

For over 1,000 years the Catholic Church has had a feast of All Saints, acknowledging that its list of saints can never account for everyone who is in heaven.

Saints point us to God. In Los Angeles last February, I visited Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral and noticed that John Nava’s tapestries (entitled “The Communion of Saints”) presented 136 people woven into 25 magnificent banners, all pointing toward the altar and the crucifix behind it.

These saints and blesseds include 124 who are named, plus 12 more infants, children, teens and adults of various ethnic groups. Saints Maria de la Cabeza and her husband, Isidore the Farmworker, are there, part of this “great cloud of witnesses” (see Hebrews 12:1) whom we hope to join at the Eternal Banquet.

Q: While visiting another city recently, I came across St. Andrew Church. Over the main entrance was a saint holding what appears to be an X instead of a cross. What does that symbol represent?

A: That X is actually a cross, frequently called “St. Andrew’s Cross.” According to tradition, such a cross was used for his crucifixion. St. Andrew’s Cross is part of the flag of Great British and many British Commonwealth countries.

If you have ever seen a Mass televised from St. Peter’s Basilica, you may have seen a large statue of St. Andrew holding this kind of cross. He is the patron of Greece, Russia and Scotland, and his feast day is November 30.

Because the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople is considered St. Andrew’s successor, Pope John Paul II went to Istanbul for this feast in 1979 and has sent delegations to represent him in other years. The ecumenical patriarch, who has come to Rome for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29) in 1987, 1995 and 2004, has sent delegations in other years.

Q: What is the meaning of eucharistic adoration in the Church? I have been attending such adoration in the past year and would like to know about it. It makes me feel good to attend. Does it carry a special blessing?

A: This practice has become more common in recent years, especially linked to prayer for more vocations to priesthood and religious life. Some parishes now have this once a month or even weekly.

In 1973, the Congregation for Divine Worship published an instruction entitled “Forms of Worship of the Eucharist: Exposition, Benediction, Processions, Congresses.”

It says: “Prayer before Christ the Lord sacramentally present extends the union with Christ which the faithful have reached in communion. It renews the covenant which in turn moves them to maintain in their lives what they have received by faith and by sacraments. They should try to lead their whole lives with the strength derived from the heavenly food, as they share in the death and resurrection of the Lord.

“Everyone should be concerned with good deeds and with pleasing God so that he or she may imbue the world with the Christian spirit and be a witness of Christ in the midst of human society” (#81).

In his 2003 encyclical Church of the Eucharist, Pope John Paul II writes: “Whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the faithful can in some way relive the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: ‘Their eyes were opened and they recognized him’ [Luke 24:31]” (#6).

Later the pope explains that the worship of the Eucharist outside Mass “is of inestimable value for the life of the Church....It is the responsibility of pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species....The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: By not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass, we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace” (#25).

Eucharistic adoration will certainly receive increased attention during the Year of the Eucharist proclaimed by Pope John Paul II from October 2004 through October 2005.

Generations of holy women and men have found that honest, persevering prayer before the Blessed Sacrament has helped them to open their eyes, to accept God’s grace more deeply and respond to it with greater generosity.

Q: I have trouble keeping all of this straight. What steps does the Church follow in recognizing saints? How do Servants of God and Venerables differ? Does something special happen to a saintís mortal body?

A: For almost the first millennium of the Church’s life, there was no centralized canonization process with investigation of the person’s life and miracles attributed to his or her intercession. The local Church recognized as saints holy women and men whose life and death demonstrated great virtue.

The term “Servant of God” now describes someone at the start of the entire process, which begins in the local diocese and eventually moves to the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. A person whose life and writings have been formally investigated can be declared Venerable. Martyrs do not need a miracle for beatification. For others, after a miracle has been investigated and accepted by separate committees of doctors, theologians and cardinals, the person is approved for beatification.

Technically, that means the person can be honored liturgically in a specific region or within a certain group (for example, a religious community founded by the new blessed). Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, however, is venerated far beyond India or the several religious communities she founded. Another miracle is needed for her canonization.

A person with an unknown grave can be beatified or canonized. There is no grave, for example, for St. Maximilian Kolbe who was murdered at Auschwitz in 1941. If the place of burial is known, there is a “public recognition of the body” before the beatification.

Kenneth Woodward’s book Making Saints (Simon and Schuster, 1996, 2nd ed.) explains the canonization process very well. “A saint,” he writes, “is always someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like—and of what we are called to be.”

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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