Reflections on Father Robert F. McNamara’s “Saints Alive” column on this web site
If you should make a list of all the saints and blesseds whom this column has introduced you to over the past few years, you would probably note that:
A very large percentage of the formally beatified and canonized have belonged to religious orders.
A very large number have been bishops.
There have been more men than women.
Lay saints among the non-martyrs have been relatively few.
Some explanation can be offered for these percentages.
Religious orders interested in promoting the canonization of their own members have in their own communities the means and a natural agency to broadcast knowledge of their holy ones and stimulate devotion to them; and canonization requires an organized campaign.
Bishops are leaders, and as such are usually better known than even their holiest priests.
Women saints are normally nuns, honored, of course, within convent walls, but not widely known outside them. Publicizing their virtues is thus a preliminary necessity. (Witness St. Therese of Lisieux, for example.) But men are more likely to have faced the public and won recognition by public good deeds.
Lay saints have been less frequently beatified or canonized simply because, unless they are martyrs, they are less known than nuns, than men, than bishops, than members of religious orders.
You may notice, however, that the Church of late is trying to achieve a greater balance in accepting the causes of people of more diversified background. Today when Pope John Paul II visits some remote country, he may there bestow the title “blessed” or “saint” upon a holy person of that land. Also, a lay Native American, Kateri Tekakwitha, has been beatified; and a lay professor of law, Contardo Ferrini. This fact encourages bishops today to propose for sainthood diocesan priests like Msgr. Nelson Baker of Buffalo; reformed alcoholic laymen like Matt Talbot of Dublin; and liberated black slaves like Pierre Toussaint of New York.
Of course, beatification and canonization are only certifications of the holiness of a few of the saints. The vast majority of God’s saints in heaven will never be canonized because the Church on earth has insufficient evidence on which to base the certification. There are hosts of our own friends and kinsmen who are with God; and that is the basic definition of “saint”. Father Jean-Jacques Olier, founder of the Sulpician Fathers, even ventured the opinion that “All Saints Day”, which celebrated all holy human beings in heaven, canonized or not, is perhaps even greater than the feast of Easter since it honors God as perfectly united to his own human “members”. Through His Holy Spirit dwelling in them, those about His throne become his radiance.
In early Eastern Christianity, there were already liturgical feasts in honor of “all martyrs” by the fourth and fifth centuries. In the West, a feast of All Saints was observed by the ninth century and it was already set on November 1. In England, “All Saints” was called “All Hallows”. The vigil before, consequently, was called “Hallow Even”, or “Hallowe’en”. The liturgical vigil was abolished in 1955.
Remember, then, not only to pray on each All Souls Day for the souls in purgatory of relatives and friends, but also to address your prayers on All Saints’ Day to your own saints, the baptized infants of your own families and acquaintances, and all your friends in heaven. Without telling you, of course, God has already swept hundreds of these up to Himself to share with them the eternal glory that He has promised to all the faithful. They will hear you in Him.
–Father Robert F. McNamara
(Update: Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized on October 21, 2012.)
Q552: John’s epistle (1 John 3:1) says that right now we are “children of God” (tekna theou, in Greek). I thought that Jesus was God’s only Son, as in John’s gospel (John 1:14)?
This epistle’s author can cause even more confusion, if one reads scripture only at the literal level. In 1 John 3:9 that follows, he says that God’s “seed” (sperma, in Greek) remains in everyone begotten of God.
John’s gospel makes it clear that to be “born of God” refers only to those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and rose from the dead. These believers are “given authority” (John 1:12-13) to be God’s children.
The author engages in a lot of metaphorical and figurative language, as above. But once in awhile he sheds light on what his meaning is, what his intention is. So in 1 John 2:29 he says by way of explanation, “everyone who acts in justice” or “acts in righteousness” is born of God or begotten by God (variations).
The key to today’s lesson in the Second Reading lies in the last sentence (1 John 3:3). It is the very fact that by faith we are God’s children which gives us our hope. We need to strive for holiness, because He who “begot” us is holy. All of our efforts must be directed to praying for the grace to imitate Christ; to living the Christ-centered life by avoiding sin in all of its manifestations; and to seeking justice for those to whom it is denied. In effect, we are called to a radical change in lifestyle so that our lives will witness to the beatitudes taught by Jesus in today’s gospel (Matthew 5:1-12a).
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Holy Spirit has enabled us to imitate the holiness of Christ (CCC #2345). The goal of our spiritual journey is to see God “face to face” in eternal life (CCC #163). What our faith confesses, the sacraments communicate: by the sacraments of rebirth, Christians have become “children of God” (CCC #1692).
When the Saints Go Marching In, I Want To Be In That Number
Who are these saints who go marching in? They are not just the canonized ones, notable for their heroic virtue. They are people from every race and social condition, the poor in spirit, the peace makers, those who hunger and thirst, those who give themselves in love for their neighbor. Their efforts, like ours, were not always perfect. Many of them, like us, stumbled and fell, but they asked for forgiveness and continued to work at it. So should we. Like them, we place our trust and hope in God, knowing that only by his grace and love can we be washed clean and join in their number.
Jesus, risen from the grave, raise me up to new life with all the saints. Lord, we beg you to support us till the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done. In your mercy give us safe lodging, holy rest and peace at last. Give us the peace that we should give to others, the peace that the world cannot give. Give us patience and comfort and renewed commitment when we forget your ways and focus on our own. Help us to follow the saints in doing your will.