With the Canonization of Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II this Sunday, the topic of sainthood has been abundant in the media. With all this talk of popes and saints, what does it really take to become a Saint?
The Bible talks about saints as true followers of Christ. The term “saint” can be used for each and every person in Heaven with the Lord. With that being said, The Catholic Church certainly does not make anyone a saint. Jesus is the way to Heaven and only the Father can judge the souls of those who have died. What the Catholic Church does is recognize the Sainthood of a particular person through a formal process called canonization.
The canonization process begins after a person has died. Why are the living not declared formal saints? Because since they have not finished their earthly journey, we cannot be certain of how true they will stay to the faith. After they have died, there is typically a five year waiting period before investigation into the life of the person begins to allow emotions to subside regarding the life of the person so as to provide for a more thorough and unbiased investigation. In the case of Blessed Pope John Paul II, the five year waiting period was waived by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in light of the very public faith life that John Paul II led. It was clear the five year wait was not necessary for a man many considered a saint among the living.
Once the wait has passed, the investigation begins. The life of the person is looked at in great detail. Their virtues and writings are examined thoroughly and witnesses are called to testify to the life the person led. Once the Vatican determines that this person did indeed lead a Christian life of heroic virtue, they are declared “Venerable.”
The next step is the beatification. For a person to be beatified, a miracle must have occurred through them. The miracle is not by them. God performs the miracles, sometimes through men. Acts 19:11 tells us, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul.” Likewise, these miracles are performed by God, in His name, through the intercession of a saint in Heaven. The purpose of the miracle is to serve as proof that the person is indeed in Heaven with Our Lord. The miracle is investigated in depth and if proven true, the person is declared “Blessed” by the Church.
In the case of Blessed Pope John XVIII, an Italian nun who was dying from complications from a stomach surgery was miraculously healed. The miracle for the beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II was the healing of a woman suffering Parkinson’s disease.
The final stage is canonization. This requires a second miracle to have been performed. The second miracle for Blessed Pope John Paul II was the miraculous healing of a woman from Costa Rica with a brain aneurism. The requirement of a second miracle through Blessed Pope John XXIII was waived by Pope Francis due to his very evident faith and the immense good he accomplished throughout his life in various parts of the world, even earning the nickname the “Good Pope.” The canonization confirms that God has shown us this person is in Heaven with Him. It is at this time that the Church recognizes their heavenly sainthood by formally declaring them a Saint.
Why all the fuss? Why does it even matter if they are a Saint? Why do we even need Saints?
The Saints serve as examples of how we are to live our life. Certainly we have the example of Jesus which cannot be matched by any man. But the Saints offer another example. They give us an example of everyday people, sinners like you and me, who persevered in the faith and have received their reward in Heaven. Just as young athletes may look up to Olympians as the ultimate winners in their sport, we look to the Saints as what we strive to be! We do not worship them or pray to them. We acknowledge their faith in Christ and can ask them to pray for us. After all, they are in Heaven with the Father! Revelation 5:8 tells us that the prayers of the saints rise to God like incense. We are called to pray for one another and with one another. Just as we might ask a friend to pray for us or for a loved one, we ask the Saints to do the same.
So how do we become a Saint? For many of us, our lives may not be as far reaching that we will garner the attention of the world and be formally canonized as a Saint. But that should not deter us! We are all called to sainthood! By following Jesus and striving to live every moment of our lives for Him, we are our way.