Faith Works 4-30-11
John Paul, the People's Pope, the People's Saint
Tomorrow, in the Roman Catholic Church, Karol Wojtyla will be declared a saint. That's the birth name of the Polish priest who became known to the world as Pope John Paul II.
Sainthood is a category recognized in various part of the larger Christian world on various levels. The Orthodox Church of the east recognizes saints, more by common consent than by any official process of the church, and they consider "a saint" to be those who are undoubtedly in the presence of God.
Most Protestant bodies consider anyone who is part of the gathered community a saint, but only exemplary examples are referred to as such – "oh, she's a saint" – but you do often hear in hymns and sermons "all the saints, on earth and in heaven" spoken of, including any committed member of the body at worship.
It's in the Catholic Church that you hear the most about sainthood, and where there's an official process for declaring someone a saint. More to the point, the Roman Catholic hierarchy has a process of "canonization," with four steps to it, through which an individual's case goes to be declared "a saint."
You could say five steps, because almost without exception you have to die first (Aaron, Moses' brother, is called a saint, the only one in the Bible, and that may just be a question of translation).
When you die and popular or general opinion says "that person had the qualities of sainthood, a special example to the faithful for closeness to God," the official Church will decide to call some "Servant of God." That's step one, the beginning of what is really called the "recognition" of a saint, since the Catholic Church would say they don't "make" saints, they simply discern who has been one.
That can be done by a local bishop, or by the Vatican and the Pope if there's a special circumstance, such as asking for recognition sooner than within five years of the death (as has happened for Mother Teresa and John Paul II).
Moving to the next stage, and the title "Venerable," requires the involvement of the Vatican Curia. When that designation is given, you can't name churches and such after them, but their "cause" starts to move forward, and prayers are offered to ask for intercession.
"Blessed" is the next-to-last step, and a person is declared Blessed So-and-so by the Vatican when a miracle is declared as the sign of that person's intercession (or if the person was martyred for their faith). They can be honored on a local basis, and their cause is much more an effort of the larger church, with a "devil's advocate" assigned to look into the person's background and activities to see if a case can be made to NOT declare sainthood.
If a second miracle is confirmed as being due to the intercession of the "Blessed," then the path is open for sainthood, or "canonization." The key point here is that when a person is declared a saint, it is intended to be a recognition by the church of something that was true all along, and an affirmation of the absolute certainty of the church in the world that this person is undoubtedly in the presence of God.
When the church reaches this level of assurance, then the title "St. So-and-so" is given, churches can be dedicated in their name, and a date is assigned for the particular "feast day" of that saint, usually on the anniversary of their death.
Given that there are thousands of saints, the date thing is sometimes adjusted a bit, and not every "saint's day" is an official event in church life, but their name does go into the liturgical calendar for that day and any worship that happens then. St. John Paul II's feast day will be October 22nd, in honor of his installation as Pope on that day in 1978.
For me, May 1 will be a special day for an entirely different reason, but I'll tell you all more about that next week! Blessings to all you saints out there . . .
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he is not known to be a saint on any official calendar. Tell him about people special to your faith journey at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.