Sunday, October 16, 2016

Catholicism Explained - Saints

I can't believe I got around to doing a Catholicism Explained post today! I'd been neglecting it sorely. :'(

So, I've been playing with a few ideas for making this feature better, and I'm curious what you think. For one thing, I'd like each CE post to be less of a defense and more of an introduction. That way each post could be shorter (and probably, in all honesty, much more consistent) and act primarily as a spark for discussion in the comments section. If a conversation in the comments section got in-depth enough, we could take that conversation as a jumping-off point for the next CE post. What do you think? Tell me in the comments!

And now let's get on to our discussion. :) I thought that since we just finished left off a month or two ago with the end of our Marian posts, moving on to saints would be a logical transition.

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I'm super excited! Today, October 16, 2016, Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio is being canonized. That means from today on, he won't be known as Blessed Jose, but as Saint Jose.

I was first introduced to Jose in the novel/fictionalized account Blessed Jose: Boy Cristero Martyr by Fr. Kevin McKenzie. This book positively captivated me. Jose's story was truly inspiring - and "inspiring" is a word I don't use often for fear of sounding cheesy.


Jose lived in Mexico during the 1920s - a time of bloody persecution for the Church, when faithful Catholics were driven to take arms against the unjust government. As a young soldier of these Catholic "Cristeros", 14-year-old Jose Sanchez del Rio was captured by the atheistic government and, after a short imprisonment, brutally martyred. Through everything his executioners did to him -- including cutting off the soles of his feet, making him walk on salt, and forcing him to dig his own grave -- he refused to give up his battle cry, "Viva Christo Rey" -- that is, "Long live Christ the King!"

(If you want, you can read a little more about Jose here.)

Obviously, Jose was a very brave and holy young man. I anyone would agree that he probably went straight to Heaven. So it should come as no surprise that on this day the Catholic Church solemnly recognizes that fact by naming him a saint.

But what really is a saint? And why do we have them? What difference do saints make in daily Catholic life?

Definition of a Saint

On the most basic level, a saint is someone who has died and gone to Heaven -- anyone who has "finished the race" and is now dwelling in glory with God. In other words, a saint is someone who has become exactly what God wants each of us to be. We're all called to sainthood.

Once we've established this definition, we can categorize saints into two main types: the saints we know about, and the saints we don't know about.

Let's talk about saints we don't know about first. Obviously, we don't know the eternal destinies of everyone who has ever died, so there are lots and lots of saints in Heaven who are never officially recognized. My grandpa might very well be in Heaven -- of course, we firmly hope that he is in Heaven. If so, then he is a saint. But since he never did anything out of the ordinary or was known for his extreme holiness, chances are very slim that a cause for his canonization will ever be opened, and even slimmer that his name will ever be listed in a book of saints.

Which brings us to the other category of saints -- the ones we do know about. These are those who have been officially canonized by the Church. Canonization, basically, is when the pope, guided by the Holy Spirit, makes an infallible statement that says, "Yes, this person is in Heaven and may be venerated as a prime example of a Christian life well lived."

Why Canonize a Saint?

We can never have too many good examples, right? That's one of the reasons good literature is so important. As humans, we don't like to be told what to do, we want to be shown what to do. ("Show, don't tell" is a great piece of writing advice, but spiritual advice-givers like Matthew Kelley use it a lot, too.) 

In canonizing a saint, the Church is giving us another person to turn to as a great example. 

As a Catholic, I can personally tell you that it's really encouraging to have the saints to turn to. For every situation that life throws at you, you can turn to a saint book and ask, "How did other men and women of God deal with problems like this?" 

So when I'm feeling trapped by a cycle of sin and feel unable to crawl out of it, I can turn to St. Augustine. He's not only escaped sin, but become a great example of holiness. When I'm feeling bored with the daily routines of life, I can turn to St. Therese the Little Flower. She'll remind me that the little things can be turned into acts of love for God. When I'm feeling embarrassed because of the scorn of nonbelievers, I can turn to St. Jose and remember that he remained strong in situations much harder than mine. 

"Saints of the Americas" map, from The Communion of Saints by the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary:
I thought this was a kinda cool visual of how saints are for everywhere and every time.
And, ooh, St. Jose could be on that picture now! I don't think I realized there were
so many New World saints...we need more saints in America. :)

How Does the Canonization Process Work?

Great question! I need to look into that myself. I've only got a fuzzy idea of the process. But, what fuzzy idea I do have, I'll explain. Just don't quote me on anything. :)

  • A holy person dies. Under normal circumstances, five years must pass between the death of the person in question and the opening of the canonization process. 
  • Ecclesiastical authorities and experts investigate the life of the holy person to see if it was filled with heroic virtue.
  • If the person is found to have been really holy, he's declared a Venerable.
  • If a miracle takes place due to the Venerable's intercession, he's beatified (that is, given the title of Blessed).
  • If another miracle takes place through the Blessed's intercession, he's declared a Saint. At this point the entire Church is given permission to venerate the saint.


It's something like that. Not sure if I've got all the details right. Oh look! Here's a nice little article explaining the whole thing. Looks like the above explanation isn't heretical, though it might be less than scholarly. :)

What's "Veneration"?

I'm sure words like "veneration" might make Protestants uncomfortable. Aren't Catholics giving too much attention to saints? Aren't they...worshiping them? 

Let's look at the definitions of the words "worship" and "veneration." 

Worship: 1. a reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred. (Note: that's from the Random House Webster's College Dictionary. I'm not sure I like it very much. In theology, worship is the honor afforded to God alone. Let's go with that one, since I'm pretty sure we all agree on it.
Venerate: to regard or treat with reverence; revere.

So "worship" means the honor given to God alone, and "veneration" means just plain honor. Catholics don't worship saints, we just venerate them.

Isn't Praying to Saints Wrong?

If "praying to" meant the same thing as "worshiping" -- if it meant going to saints instead of to God -- then yes, praying to saints would be wrong. 

But as it is, that's not what Catholics mean when they say they're praying to saints. "Praying with" might be a better way to put it, or "talking to." Basically, we talk to the saints the same way we talk to other Christians on earth. 

Which brings us to a cool Catholic doctrine: the Communion of Saints. This is the idea that all Christians are connected as part of the Body of Christ. Death doesn't separate us from one other in spirit -- just in body. Whether we're on earth, in Heaven, or in Purgatory, as long as we're in a state of grace we are all parts of the Body of Christ. 

That's where the idea of praying to saints comes from. It's a Biblical idea, as explained in this article

When we're praying to saints, we aren't asking them to do anything on their own power. Rather, we're asking them to pray for us -- and with us -- the way I might ask you or any other Christian for prayers. 

Another reason praying to saints is sometimes frowned upon by Protestants is that contact with the dead is forbidden. However, praying to saints isn't making forbidden contact with the dead. The saints aren't dead, but alive in Christ. Jesus' words support this position: "and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." (Luke 20:38)

Communion of Saints:

That's all I've got for now. What do you think? Any questions, concerns, or arguments that I missed? Any points I made that you'd like to argue with? Come, come, let us discuss! :) 

And, oh, if you like or loathe my ideas for changing Catholicism Explained, do be a dear and let me know. :)

5 comments:

  1. Cool! I much agree! And, as my family just finished a Divine Mercy Novena today, my first CE suggestion would be to do a post on that beautiful Chaplet, or on novenas in general. :) I think you could do it well. And also, on a completely different key, I was told you finished an interview of a certain Ferdinand recently by a friend. Would you consider sending it to me?

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    1. Ooh, something on the Divine Mercy devotion is a good idea....

      Oh yes! That interview! I would be happy to email it to you posthaste. :)

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  2. I’ve finally caught up! That took me way longer than it should have. But at least I’ve made it. Small request first: can you put those links to past posts back up? Those were helpful.

    This post is a good topic, but would it be alright to have separate posts on canonization, veneration, and prayer?

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    1. Haha, it's all right! I totally understand. Oh yes, I will continue to include those links. They slipped my mind for this particular post and by the time I thought of it I was too lazy to go back and edit. :)

      Separate posts are a great idea! I kinda doubt I'll get around to posting a Catholicism Explained today due to family circumstances, but I do plan to finally go back and see how many of your comments I can reply to today. Does that sound okay?

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    2. Okay! I think I replied to all your comments, Blue. Sorry, they're all kinda rushed -- I skipped the small talk and stuff in an effort to get through the questions more quickly, so I hope my tone doesn't come off as brusque. :) It's lovely discussing these things with you! You've got a lot of great thoughts, and the way you look into things and do your research is inspiring. :)

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