Saints & Seekers
As we embark upon the Advent season—the time when we celebrate Christ’s birth and look forward in hope and faith to His Second Coming—here are ten saints to accompany on your journey.
1. Holy Mary, Mother of God: A teenaged Jewish virgin who was told that she would miraculously conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the savior of the world, Mary is the ultimate Christian believer, a humble woman whose faith was more on the order of a mountain, than a mustard seed. Mary was one of the lucky few who witnessed Christ and His miraculous ministry on earth, but it was a journey that began and ended in dark night of the soul—darkness at first in being unable to see the promise delivered to her, and then, utter, horrible blackness at the end when her hoped-for Savior was put to death on a Cross. As Pope Benedict once wrote: “For Mary, as for Abraham, faith is trust in, and obedience to, God, even when he leads her through darkness. It is a letting go, a releasing, a handing over of oneself to the truth, to God. Faith, in the luminous darkness of God’s inscrutable ways, is thus a conformation to him.” This is the faith that seeks understanding, but doesn’t demand it—the faith that remains true to the very end, even when all seems lost.
Now, she may become a saint.
This week, Dorothy Day’s cause for sainthood got a ringing endorsement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Day—the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and certainly a beloved figure for many Catholics today—nonetheless may seem an unlikely candidate for sainthood. Early in her life she had an abortion and she once attempted suicide. She opposed World War II, dodged a bullet while advocating integration in the South, and was arrested several times for her social activism.
But it’s precisely her background that made Day such a compelling candidate for sainthood, the bishops said.
Day would come to later deeply regret her abortion and ultimately converted to Catholicism as a result of her second pregnancy. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has called her journey “Augustinian,” according to the Catholic News Agency, saying that “she was the first to admit it: sexual immorality, there was a religious search, there was a pregnancy out of wedlock, and an abortion. Like Saul on the way to Damascus, she was radically changed,” making her “a saint for our time.”
“Of all the people we need to reach out to, all the people that are hard to get at, the street people, the ones who are on drugs, the ones who have had abortions, she was one of them,” added Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, according to the CNA report.…
St. Leo the Great’s famous Tome is a classic that shines forth with a remarkable beauty and vibrant clarity all these centuries later. Below are some of the best excerpts which I offer to readers as material for morning meditations or perhaps inspiration for your prayers today—focused on the Incarnation, they are especially timely as we approach the season of Advent. (Note: all of the below are quotes except for some of the introductory bolded phrases.)
■ ‘An unprecedented order’: So without leaving his Father’s glory behind, the Son of God comes down from his heavenly throne and enters the depths of our world, born in an unprecedented order by an unprecedented kind of birth. In an unprecedented order, because one who is invisible at his own level was made visible at ours. The ungraspable willed to be grasped. Whilst remaining pre-existent, he begins to exist in time. The Lord of the universe veiled his measureless majesty and took on a servant’s form.
■ Humanity fully graced by divinity: So the proper character of both natures was maintained and came together in a single person. Lowliness was taken up by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity. To pay off the debt of our state, invulnerable nature was united to a nature that could suffer; so that in a way that corresponded to the remedies we needed, one and the same mediator between God and humanity the man Christ Jesus, could both on the one hand die and on the other be incapable of death.…
Holding office in the late fifth century, Pope Leo I was the first to be called the “Great”—and for good reason. Pope Leo—whose feast day was celebrated last weekend—took on just about every major heresy of his time, established the dogmas of Christ as being fully man and fully God, asserted the primary of the papacy, and staved off a barbarian invasion of Rome.
The Heresy Killer: As Pope, Leo tackled both Pelagianism and Manichaeanism, a form of gnosticism. Soon after taking office, he banned the practice of admitted Pelagians to Communion without first requiring them to renounce their heresy. He was even more aggressive against the Manichaeans, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia: “This zealous pastor waged war even more strenuously against Manichæism, inasmuch as its adherents, who had been driven from Africa by the Vandals, had settled in Rome, and had succeeded in establishing a secret Manichæan community there. The pope ordered the faithful to point out these heretics to the priests, and in 443, together with the senators and presbyters, conducted in person an investigation, in the course of which the leaders of the community were examined.”
Dogma of Christ’s Two Natures: The heresy which Leo is perhaps most remembered for suppressing is Monophysitism, which held that Christ had one nature—presumably some mystical mixture of humanity and divinity. Leo is credited with orchestrating the dogmatic definition of Christ’s dual yet distinct natures that was issued from the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.…
St. Thomas Aquinas is certainly one of the best known saints. But most of us, I imagine, think of him more as a figure from whom we can learn so much about the theology and philosophy of the Church. Usually, Aquinas is not thought of as one to whom we can relate to on a personal or spiritual level—the way that a devout Catholic might pray to St. Joseph or St. Anthony for assistance.
But there is another side to St. Thomas Aquinas. He was, after all, the author of five of the richest Eucharist hymns sung by the Church as well as numerous prayers. Aquinas brought his whole heart to his faith, not just his mind. So, with that in mind, here is a prayer to the saint that I found in an old prayer book, Blessed Be God, which dates back to the 1920s:
O Angelic Doctor St. Thomas, prince of theologians and model of philosophers, bright ornament of the Christian world and light of the Church; O heavenly patron of all Catholic schools, who didst learn wisdom without guile and dost communicate it without envy, intercede for us with the Son of God, Wisdom itself, that the spirit of wisdom may descend upon us, and enable us to understand clearly that which thou hast taught, and fulfill it by imitating thy deeds; to become partakers of that doctrine and virtue which caused thee to shine like the sun on earth; and at last to rejoice with thee forever in their most sweet fruits in heaven, together praising the Divine Wisdom for all eternity.…
In case you missed it, early last month, Pope Benedict XVI named two new doctors of the Church.
Both of them—John of Avila and St. Hildegard of Bingen—were already saints. And while there are hundreds, if not a thousand or more saints, as doctors, they join a far smaller club of just 33 individuals that includes St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Therese of Lisieux. (Counting the two new doctors there are now 35 of them.)
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, someone is declared a Church doctor “on account of the great advantage the whole Church has derived from their doctrine.” Their teachings, it is safe to say, can be taken as an authoritative expression of Church doctrine, something that is not necessarily the case with every single saint.
Below is an overview of the two new doctors and their significance:
St. John of Avila: A priest, preacher, and theologian, St. John of Avila is a 16th century Spanish mystic who is known for his theological writings on the priesthood and his influence on the reforms at the Council of Trent. Though unknown to most Catholics today, John of Avila was highly regarded in his own time and won accolades from some of his contemporary saints. St. Francis de Sales called him “the learned and saintly preacher” and that other saint of Avila, St. Teresa, recognized him as the “Master of things spiritual.”
His most famous work is Audi Fili, commonly described as a “tract on Christian perfection.” The description on Amazon elaborates: “His spiritual masterpiece… is a guide to the spiritual life in which hearing the word of God in the Scriptures and contemplating the face of Christ, especially in his passion, leads to personal transformation in the communion of the Father and the Son.” The Sophia Institute Press also has come out with a new collection of his letters on a number of spiritual topics including the following, according to the official book description on the publisher’s site: the habits of an authentic Christian life, suffering, the nature of true beauty, the graces of the liturgical year, preparation for Mass, and other insights for daily Christian life.…
Other than the Pope himself, it’s an exhaustively complex process that involves the laity, local dioceses, and a whole array of top Vatican officials and departments. Here’s a quick snapshot (note—portions excerpted or adapted from the USCCB and EWTN are noted):
(Note to readers: It might be helpful to refer to my previous post on the steps involved in canonization, while reading this.)
Petitioner – Party initiating action in canon law. In the case of a sainthood cause, the petitioner is one who asks the bishop to begin the investigation which could ultimately lead to canonization. (A bishop may also begin a cause on his own initiation.) – USCCB
Congregation for the Causes of Saints – A department of the Roman Curia, established originally as the Congregation of Rites by Pope Sixtus V in 1588. Reorganized and renamed in 1969 by Pope Paul VI, and again in 1983 by Pope John Paul II. In addition to making recommendations to the pope on beatifications and canonizations, it is also responsible for the authentication and preservation of sacred relics. – USCCB
Postulator – Person appointed to guide and oversee the cause. There are two of them. One oversees the cause at the diocesan level. The second one, resident in Rome and appointed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, oversees all aspects of the beatification and canonization at the Vatican level.…
Most people know that a miracle is needed in order for someone to be decreed, or recognized, as a saint. But why exactly? The miracle actually is needed for two closely related yet distinct reasons. It first confirms that the prospective saint is in heaven, interceding on our behalf with God. The miracle can also be seen as a sign or divine seal of approval in the canonization process—that God himself has stirred the faithful into action. In other words, the miracle confirms the confessor is enjoying the ‘beatific vision’ of God in heaven. Here is how Pope Benedict XVI has put it:
In addition to reassuring us that the servant of God lives in heaven in communion with God, miracles are the divine confirmation of the judgment expressed by church authorities about the virtuous life.
This is what adds a true theological dimension to the process of sainthood. It is what elevates it beyond mere human process in which a person is recognized as holy into one in which heaven itself witnesses to their holiness.
And just what is meant by a miracle?
The Catholic Encyclopedia puts it quite beautifully:
The wonder of the miracle is due to the fact that its cause is hidden, and an effect is expected other than what actually takes place.
There are three such types of miracles—those that are above, those that are contrary to, and those that are beside or outside of nature.…
Every so often a news headline announces to the world that a holy man or woman has been declared a Servant of God or Venerable or Blessed—and are close to being a recognized as a saint. So which comes first? Servant of God or Venerable? And is a miracle necessary or not? The confusion only mounts when one attempts to search online for answers—usually, you’ll turn up a lengthy list of a dozen or so steps that must be undertaking. It’s truly an enormously complicated, multifaceted process that involves administrative, scientific, and theological elements.
Below I’ve created a diagram that boils this down into the five essential steps that must take place in order for a holy man or woman to be decreed a saint. Within each one, are a number of actions that must be completed, at several levels, but this will show you the big picture.
For those that thirst for all the nitty-gritty details, here are the online sources I’d recommended for further reading. In this case, I recommend against turning to usual sources for guidance: the Catholic Encyclopedia at the New Advent site or any number of the Vatican documents on the process. Normally these would be the first place I’d turn for any question about the Catholic teachings and practices on faith and morals, but in this case, they don’t really help resolve the confusion.
Recommended additional reading: Click here for the EWTN explanation.…
Let’s first begin by re-phrasing the question: How many holy men and woman are recognized by the Catholic Church as saints? Because the answer to the first cannot really be known—the Catholic Church makes no claims that its list of saints is an exhaustive one. Certainly, there are numerous holy men and women who were, or rather are, saints, but whose status as such is not known, or, at least, not known now.
But there is no easy answer to the second question either.
Turning to Google—the obvious starting point for such an inquiry in the digital age—you’ll find an independent Catholic media site, http://saints.sqpn.com, which puts the total at 8,050. But that tally includes saints as well as blesseds and venerables and excludes servants of God, so it’s not very helpful. Plus the site does not explain how it calculated that number. (My e-mail inquiry to the author asking for documentation of how he arrived at his count never received a response.) Another Catholic outlet, St. Anthony Messenger, raises the question, but ultimately concludes there is no answer.
The first comprehensive listing which I have been able to uncover is a seventeenth century publication known as the Acta Sanctorum, or Acts of the Saints, which originated in Belgium and is affiliated with the Jesuits. So far, I have yet to see a count though.
Next, there Butler’s Lives of the Saints marked 1,486 entries when it was first published in the 1750s (and cited in St.…