Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Reader Writes: "The Whole Sainthood Question Makes Me Cringe"

John Paul Blesses Maciel

In what I posted yesterday about the construction of saints, Janet Hanson writes a powerful response noting that the whole process of canonization is premised on theological notions and practices that take the Catholic church far back into a past that perhaps needs to be examined more critically:

The whole sainthood question makes me cringe. It takes the practice of faith and religion back to a more superstitious time. 
As I write about this, it will probably become obvious that I'm treading on ground that I probably haven't thought through significantly. And I may hurt some feelings. It's not my intent. 
I just think the whole "demand" that we must "document" miracles done by the would be saint, takes this more into the realm of fan club or groupie than spiritual role model. 
And I even believe in miracles in a very limited way. I guess I believe in the small "m" miracle. Or synchronicity. But I think when we start thinking of miracles as spiritual favors that we ask for and get, then we've turned "God" into the pop machine god. Put your money in, your wish comes out. 
And, yes, I do perceive that Pope Francis saying, "Okay, okay, we'll make both John the 23rd and John Paul saints!!" looks more like an exhausted mom who cannot wait for school to resume who splits the last cookie between her kids to get them to stop squabbling for a while. 
I'm sure that this grand gesture speaks to some. I'm not one of them. And if I were inclined to read about sainthood as a process, I would probably greatly enjoy the above cited resource. 
I have been reading about Dorothy Day sporadically. When I read her, I think: Wise. Compassionate. Walking the walk. I even love her image of difficult people as Jesus in his deepest disguise. But making her into a saint means that someone undertook her as a cause. They want her to be a blessed mascot for the peace and justice arm of the church. She would most likely tell us to take up her mantle and go live with the poor in solidarity and DO what she modeled. (Or maybe not, but still....) 
I think this is a well intentioned but misguided effort on many peoples part.

I think Janet's absolutely write. To pose again the question I posed yesterday: for whom is the construction of John Paul II as a saint being done? Part of the answer to that question is surely that the construction of any saint under the current terms of canonization in the Catholic church, which require a miracle on the part of the saint-to-be, serves the needs of a church that wants to hold onto the trappings of its medieval authoritarianism, its control of the faithful via claims that salvation is impossible outside the church. Medieval Catholicism, the kind with which many of us hoped we'd made a decisive break with Vatican II, always and has at its disposal a grab bag of magic tricks to bolster clerical power over the lay faithful--who should knuckle under and submit to the power of the clergy, the magic tricks want to convince us.

As Janet's posting concludes, for many of us who have struggled to grow beyond these infantile notions of what it means to be a faithful Catholic, the notion of sainthood is about something else altogether. It's about living the Christian live in an exemplary and challenging way, which causes others to be inspired and to want to emulate the saintly Christian. It's that--the exemplary practice of the Christian faith, in which self-giving love of others is always central--that makes many of us continue to cherish the notion of saints and the communion of the saints.

The canonization of John Paul II militates against this understanding of sainthood for many of us, and undermines our faith in the communion of the saints and in the church's commitment to a holiness in which self-giving love of others is the leitmotiv of holiness. How can we possibly look at the photographs of Maciel kneeling before John Paul II and receiving his blessing and think the words "saint" and "holy" and "love" of the least among us?

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