Lay people should be chosen for sainthood - Catholic Courier

Lay people should be chosen for sainthood

From time to time this column has highlighted the need to reform the process of identifying and promoting candidates for canonization, without suggesting that those canonized in the past were unworthy of the honor.

The Second Vatican Council introduced a broader perspective, emphasizing the role of saints as models and exemplars of the Christian life, alongside that of saints as intercessors and miracle-workers (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n. 50).

Since the overwhelming majority of Catholics are lay persons who are, or have been, married and who have children and grandchildren, we should be seeing by now some evidence of a new trend toward canonizing mostly married lay men and lay women rather than priests, nuns and martyrs. But such is still not the case.

Just before Christmas, during a private audience with Cardinal Jos√© Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Pope Benedict XVI authorized the congregation to promulgate pertinent decrees designed to facilitate the promotion of various individuals already in the “venerable” status to beatification, and of those already in the “blessed” status to sainthood.

Among those in the “venerable” status who now have a miracle officially attributed to them, thereby rendering them eligible for beatification, are an Italian diocesan priest who, in the early 20th century, founded the Sisters of Christ the King; another Italian diocesan priest who in the last century founded the Secular Institute of the Little Apostles of Charity; a third Italian diocesan priest; a priest from India who ministered to “untouchables”; a religious-order priest from Holland who did missionary work in Brazil; the Italian foundress of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Carmel; the German-born foundress of the Congregation of Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus; the Italian foundress of the Institute of Crucified Sisters Adorers of the Holy Eucharist; and an Italian Carmelite nun.

Others currently on the path toward eventual sainthood include two who have already been beatified: a 15th century Polish Franciscan priest and a 15th/16th century Italian nun. Those in the initial “servant of god” category (which comes before one is declared “venerable”) include a 16th century Italian bishop, a 20th century Italian bishop, an Italian diocesan priest who founded the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family, a German professed religious, the Italian foundress of the Congregation of Reparatrix Sisters of the Sacred Heart and the first directress of the Teresian Institute, a lay woman who never married.

There were also 34 individuals, many of whom were lay persons, who were killed during the Spanish Civil War and are considered martyrs for the faith.

Again, no question is being raised here about the worthiness of any of these candidates for eventual canonization. The only issue is whether it is prudent for church officials to continue presenting bishops, priests, nuns, martyrs and unmarried lay persons as our virtually exclusive models of Christian holiness when the overwhelming majority of Catholics are lay persons who are or have been married, and most of whom had children and grandchildren.

It is likely that the causes of these various candidates were already in process during the previous pontificate. If so, Pope Benedict XVI may still do something to reverse this centuries-old tradition and begin identifying and promoting candidates who led lives with which almost all Catholics can readily identify.

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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