Published October 27, 2005
On one of the final evenings of my trip to Rome, I had a pizza with a friend of mine who works at the Congregation for the Saints, the Vatican office that oversees the processes for canonizations. We talked about many different things, including several of the many causes for sainthood of Americans that are currently in various stages of completion at the Congregation. They represent quite a spectrum of individuals, including our first Native-American blessed, a Haitian hairdresser, a legendary priest from Buffalo, two intrepid African-American women who founded religious congregations, a meek Midwestern Franciscan friar, and several others. What they all had in common was that they practiced the Christian virtues in a heroic fashion.
The establishment of the fact of living the faith heroically is among the first steps necessary in the process of canonization. Living the faith heroically means that an individual not only lived a holy life but also practiced all the virtues well beyond what most of us ordinarily witness. Then there is the practice of verifying some expression of Divine approval, usually through some miraculous healing or sign that puts the individual on the path toward sainthood.
This past Sunday, Pope Benedict declared the first saints of his Pontificate. He canonized St. Józef Bilczewski (1860-1923), Archbishop of Leopoli in Poland; St. Gaetano Catanoso (1879-1963), a parish priest in Reggio Calabria, Italy; St. Zygmunt Gorazdowski (1845-1920), a priest in Poland whose entire priesthood was dedicated to caring for the poor; St. Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga, SJ (1901-1952), a Chilean Jesuit priest who founded numerous social service agencies in Chile; and St. Felice da Nicosia (1715-1787), an unschooled Franciscan Capuchin brother who spent his entire life in humble service in Sicily.
The entire piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica was filled to overflowing with people from Poland, Sicily and Reggio Calabria and with a huge crowd from Chile. Many people there actually remembered meeting and knowing St. Gaetano and St. Alberto. Holiness had personally touched them through these outstanding men of faith and love. The crowd kept applauding and singing whenever the names of their local saints were spoken. We are hungry for holiness, and we honor it whenever it comes near.
Why do Catholics honor the saints? Why do Americans recognize the Heisman trophy winner? Why do we follow the Academy Awards, the Emmys, and the Nobel Prize winners? We are encouraged by people who excel in life. We admire those who perfect a talent well beyond the ordinary. Saints are those who live the life of faith in heroic manner!
This coming Tuesday, the Church will celebrate the Solemnity of All God’s Saints. This is a day when Catholics are supposed to go to Mass because of the importance of honoring all the saints who have lived successfully. There are countless numbers of saints who have never been through the process of canonization, whose heroic lives were lived quietly and with little fanfare. These are the saints who were grandparents, sisters, brothers, spouses, neighbors, nuns from our past, former parish priests and deacons, and little-known people whose way of living was a source of inspiration and encouragement and hope. The process of canonization can be long and intricate. All of this is so that the Church can be certain that those we hold up for public recognition did in fact achieve the greatness of life for which we honor them. However, on All Saints Day, we pause to recall that God invites every one of us to holiness and more than a few of us ultimately do win the prize with the help of God’s Holy Spirit. They manage to become saints without any public acclaim—except on this day! All you Saints of God, pray for us!