Archive for the ‘saints’ Category

Walking the Walk

January 7, 2009

During our chat yesterday, Sacred Heart Radio host Brian Patrick raised the question of what exactly it means that the Church “recognizes the heroic virtues” of a particular person (as it did most recently last month, in the case of three people whose causes for sainthood are being considered).   It occurred to me that this is a good question, and an important one, both because it’s a far more important element in the Church recognizing a person as a saint than many people realize, and because it’s crucial to the way each of us live our own Christian lives as well.

Recognizing a person’s heroic virtues is an essential part of the process that leads to canonization.  There are, of course, dozens of virtues — kindness, patience, purity, modesty, generosity, courage, truthfulness, integrity, humor, empathy, and on and on.  Among them all, seven are primary.  

The four primary human virtues are called the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.  The three theological virtues are faith, hope, and love.  To “make the case” that a person should be beatified/canonized by the Church, the promoter of the cause must demonstrate through thorough biographical research that he or she lived out these virtues in a heroic or extraordinary manner. 

Living these in an extraordinary way is really what sainthood is all about.  That’s an important point, because in many people’s minds, being a saint = doing miracles.  When I introduce my high school students to a saint they’re not familiar with, one of the first questions I can expect to get is, “What miracles did they do?”  If my answer is “none,” I get a lot of odd looks, like I’m telling them someone was arrested without committing a crime, or given an award for something they didn’t do. 

That’s partly our (the Church’s) fault, because one part of “the process,” and the one that naturally holds more fascination, is that one miracle is required in order for a person to be beatified, and another in order to be canonized.  But notice, because many misunderstand this: this does not mean that it must be demononstrated that the person in question performed miracles during his/her lifetime.  Most saints performed no miracles during their lifetimes. 

Rather, these are miracles that are attributed to the person’s intercession after his death.  People, familiar with the candidate and his reputation for holiness, pray to him after his death, and obtain a miracle, usually a medical healing, that is sudden and unexplainable by medical science.  (And the investigation into such an event, like the one I mentioned here recently, is thorough.  Several medical experts must testify that there is no scientific explanation.)

The Church requires this as part of the process because it is considered God’s divine stamp of approval on the intention to canonize.  A human can make a mistake in judging whether or not a person lived out the virtues heroicly (witness the drastic differences of opinion currently to be heard about Pope Pius XII — someone’s mistaken).  So the miracle is considered God’s way of saying, “Yes, I agree.”

It’s important that we notice the emphasis on the virtues, because it’s a lesson also in what it means to live an authentic Christian life.  We’re all called to sainthood.  But that’s not to say we’re all called to perform miracles.  Rather, we’re all called to live lives of goodness.  Doing that, doing it even when it’s hard, doing it to a heroic degree — John Baptist de LaSalle’s acts of justice, Thomas More’s prudence, Franz Jagerstatter’s fortitude, Pier Giorgio Frassati’s temperance, Mother Teresa’s faith, Josephine Bakhita’s hope, Gianna Molla’s love — that’s sainthood! 

My students sometimes insist that “letting” people be saints who never did any miracles during their lives is “lowering the bar.”  But I insist right back at them that that’s way off the mark. 

Who, after all, is challenged, if, to be a saint, one must miraculously heal the sick or levitate while praying?  I’m not.  If I have to do that to be a saint, I needn’t bother trying.  But if being a saint means being prudent, just, temperate, courageous, faithful, hopeful, and loving in the specific, concrete circumstances of life in which I find myself, and being these things especially when it would be easier, sometimes far easier, not to — well now, that’s a bit of a challenge, isn’t it?

Fostering a relationship with the saints gives me companions on this difficult journey, examples in the constantly needed lesson that it can be done, and friends who are praying for me, to help me do it.

Oremus pro invicem.  Let us pray for one another.


The Trial of Thomas More

December 4, 2008

A large poster print of this famous portrait of St. Thomas More, done by Hans Holbein the Younger during More’s lifetime, hangs on the back wall of my classroom, where I teach morality day in and day out to high school juniors.  I make explicit reference to it at least once a year, when we do our unit on conscience. 

I make a big effort throughout the year to include compelling real-life examples of our various topics into the morality course.  My two primary illustrations, during the conscience unit, of what conscience is all about are More and Blessed Franz Jagerstatter.

So I was very interested to read this new post over the the First Things blog.  Written by Michael P. Foley, a professor of patristics at Baylor University, it offers an overview of a fascinating conference held last month at the University of Dallas called “Thomas More on Trial.” 

Lest you think the conference was merely a re-presenation of the historical facts of the event, something we might just as well learn by sticking A Man for All Seasons in the VCR, note the questions that were considered by the gathering of scholars from a variety of relevant disciplines:

Every aspect of the trial was scrutinized. What did it mean to take an oath in the sixteenth century? What were More’s legal rights, and were they respected? Was due process observed during the trial? Did Richard Rich perjure himself, or did he merely misremember his conversation with More that became the most damning piece of evidence submitted? How much pressure were the judges and the jury under from Henry VIII? Which, if any, of the four extant accounts of the trial is the most accurate? And how did More ensure that his side of the story would be heard through his writings without incurring further suspicion of treason?

And Dr. Foley only teases us by noting a few of the surprises that came during the course of the Dallas proceedings:

For instance, did you know that we have no copy of the oath which More famously refused to take? That no official transcript of the trial was made? That we are not certain whether there were one, three, or four formal charges? That, contrary to current legal practice, the more grave the case, the fewer the rights of the accused? That More’s civil rights, as defined by English law at the time, may have been more or less respected? In other words, there was nothing procedurally unusual about More spending years imprisoned in the Tower of London, undergoing several interrogations, being suddenly brought to court for trial, and hearing the charges against him (read in Latin) for the first and only time. And there was considered nothing untoward in having judges sitting on the bench with a vested interest (to put it mildly) in seeing More condemned, such as an uncle, a brother, and the father of Anne Boleyn.

Read the entire post from Dr. Foley, even though other details he offers (about, for example, the varying assessments of the trial by a 4-judge panel at the Dallas conference or the fascinating comments by More himself to the judges who ruled to have him executed) will only make you wish you could read through an unabridged set of conference proceedings. 

Any possibility of their publication?  Let’s hope so.  I’ll keep an eye out, but if anyone happens to come across them in the meantime, I’d be very interested in hearing about it.

St. Thomas More, pray for us.

Happy 150th birthday

November 26, 2008

to St. Katherine Drexel!  Born November 26, 1858, in Philadelphia.

Mother Cabrini (or at least her arm bone) on the move

November 25, 2008

St. Frances Xavier CabriniMother Cabrini relic gets new home

November 25, 2008

A sacred relic of the USA’s first saint, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, who helped the poor and sick in Chicago, was moved Sunday to a new temporary home in a Little Village church.

The Chicago Tribune reports that parishioners at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii welcomed the relic, the humerus bone of the right arm of Mother Cabrini, who was the first American to be canonized by the Catholic Church.

She is one of us,” said Bishop Raymond Goedert during the services. “Every piece of Chicago was blessed by her presence. Chicago is where she lived and died.

Mother Cabrini started dozens of hospitals, schools and orphanages throughout the country. In Chicago she founded the now-shuttered Columbus Hospital in Lincoln Park, and the Cabrini-Green public-housing complex was named in her honor.

The relic was transported in an ornate glass and gold reliquary to an altar at the church. While there are dozens of Mother Cabrini relics worldwide (her heart is in Italy), the humerus bone is Chicago’s most significant.

The relic was displaced about a year ago from a Mother Cabrini shrine on the property of Columbus Hospital, which is being renovated into Lincoln Park 2520, a 306-unit condominium complex. The National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is housed within a chapel on the grounds. The chapel is owned by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which Mother Cabrini helped found, and is undergoing renovations.

Beatification Day: The 188 Martyrs of Japan

November 24, 2008

Today, Cardinal Peter Seiichi Shirayanagi, the retired archbishop of Tokyo, will preside at a Mass in which he will beatify 188 seventeenth century Japanese martyrs.  Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins will also attend as Pope Benedict XVI’s envoy. 

The Associated Press article, published Friday, is well done and worth reading in its entirety.  Clips:

TOKYO (AP) — Samurai warriors, housewives and children were crucified, thrown into hot springs and tortured, but refused to renounce their religion. Japan’s extraordinary but relatively unknown history of Christian persecution is finally receiving recognition in a beatification of 188 martyrs.

The upcoming ceremony on Monday bestows honors from the Roman Catholic Church that are one step short of sainthood for Japanese killed from 1603 to 1639. The ceremony is expected to draw 30,000 people to a baseball stadium in the southwestern city of Nagasaki.


The most intense persecution came under Tokugawa Ieyasu, who followed Hideyoshi, and the martyrs being beatified Monday were killed during that period.

Among them will be 16 people, including three children, whose fingers were chopped off and their foreheads branded with a symbol of the cross. They were thrown into the boiling waters of a volcanic mountain.

Another martyr, the Rev. Julian Nakaura, was one of the first Japanese to travel to Rome and receive blessings from the pope. He endured torture called “the pit.” Bound tightly with ropes, his body was hung upside down into a hole filled with excrement, until he died on the fourth day.

This comes soon after the election of Taro Aso, Japan’s first Catholic prime minister.

Be sure to check out my previous post on this beatification, for an interesting look at who’s included among this group.

Celebrating Sr. Alphonsa

November 11, 2008

I’ve mentioned here before that there is clearly a very deep interest and devotion to the newly canonized Sr. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception that we’re not very aware of here in the Church in America.  (Or at least my little corner of it!) 

This article, published Sunday, makes that point well:

Over 100,000 take part in function for Saint Alphonsa

Kottayam (Kerala), Nov 9 (IANS) Over 100,000 people Sunday evening took part in a celebration at the St. Mary’s Church, Bharananganam, which has the tomb of Saint Alphonsa.It was on Oct 12 that Blessed Sister Alphonsa was canonized at a function held in the Vatican and became the first native Indian to be canonized.

Revising a Wonderful Resource

November 6, 2008

I noticed that Terry at the incredibly helpful Patron Saints Index is doing some major reworking of the site.  For several years, Terry has been offering this site as an extraordinary internet resource, all on his own time.  If you’re not familiar with it, check it out, and maybe send him a note of thanks for his apostolic efforts.

An American Saint’s Journal

November 2, 2008

Two years ago, Mother Theodore Guerin was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI, making her America’s newest saint.  (Though I’m pretty sure she never became an official American citizen, she did come here from France at age 42, and spent the last 14 years of her life here, doing some extraordinary and tireless work for God during that time.) 

I did an article on her canonization at the time for Our Sunday Visitor, which included interviewing the vice-postulator of Mother Theodore’s cause, and it was all extremely interesting.  She deserves to be better known among American Catholics.

So I was pleased to see this news today: A journal that St. Theodore kept throughout her American years, which has been carefully preserved by the Sisters of Providence, the community in Indiana that she founded, is now digitized and available to all on the internet.  All 260 pages can be view here.  The work was done with the help of the Indiana Historical Society. 

The Sisters of Providence website tells us:

According to the July/August 2008 issue of the Indiana Historical Society’s publication, INPerspective, “After receiving permission to separate the pages by clipping what remained of the stitches, each sheet was gently humidified to relax the center crease and then gently flattened. Some pages have been mended with an early conservation technique that uses undyed sheer silk gauze and wheat starch paste to cover fragile areas, which allows the script to be read while holding the torn areas together.”

Sister Mary worked closely with Ramona Duncan-Huse, senior director of the Indiana Historical Society Conservation. In an e-mail correspondence to Sister Mary, Ramona wrote about this project. “We have finished the Guerin diary; attached is the first page! We are very excited about the research these digital images will allow. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to work with this very special artifact — special not only to the Sisters of Providence, but to the world.”

They appear to be all in French.  But I’m sure they’ll make an excellent resource for research into the history of the Church in that part of America, as well as into the life and spirituality of Mother Theodore.

Fr. Martin: Halloween and All Saints’ Day

October 31, 2008

Edith Stein: Seeker of Truth

October 30, 2008

Here’s an excerpt from a book called Edith Stein: Seeker of Truth by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, posted today.  The book is a study guide published by a group called ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women).  It accompanies a class that is also offered by ENDOW in certain areas of the country.  I wasn’t familiar with the group, but their website is certainly worth a look.  And Dr. Mitchell’s book looks like an excellent resource.