Saints and how to be one
Sister Judith Sutera, OSB
Editor's note: Sisters from Mount St. Scholastica write a weekly column titled "View from the Mount" in our hometown newspaper, the Atchison Globe. this column appeared in the Feb. 5th edition of the Globe.
Saturday, I gave a presentation at Sophia Center on saints. The title for my presentation (and this column) has two meanings, and I reflected on both of them in my talk there.
The first meaning is how the Catholic Church officially makes a person a saint. Catholicism is unique among Christian religions in that it places great importance on saints and has a complex and thoughtful process for declaring a person to be one. But all of the world's religions recognize that there are certain individuals who exemplify the best of human nature, and that these people should be admired and imitated.
The Church does not take the title of saint lightly. IN modern times, there is an official investigation not only of what good and holy things a person has done, but a parallel investigation of anything negative that anyone might claim about them. With some of the high profile, recent ceremonies declaring sainthood for Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa of Calcutta, many people heard about the part of the process where miracles have to be attributed to the person. This may sound strange, but it has logical reasons behind it. Human beings can't know everything so they might think a person is very holy but may be mistaken.
So the Church asks for signs from God, in a sense letting God weigh in on the matter. Catholics do not worship saints; they honor them. They do not believe that the saints are as powerful as God by themselves. They pray to the saints to intercede for them to God so that God might grant their prayer.
If this sounds odd, consider that we ask for intercession all the time. Have you ever said to another person, "I have some medical concerns, say a little prayer for me," or something similar? We don't seem to have any problem asking another ordinary person to put in a good word with God. Then why would we not want a little support from someone who has gone before us and is close to God in an even better way?
Because we hear so much about the really reat and amazing things that some saints have done, we tend to forget that they were real human beings. If you read biographies of saints, some of them seem unreal: pious from a very early age, always doing good for others, even performing miracles in their lifetimes. But this is where the second meeting of being a saint comes in.
Actually, some of them had very hard lives and some of them were even great sinners. At some point, they courageously turned their lives over to God. There was a lot of interest in the diaries of Mother Theresa published some years ago because she talked about her doubts and her struggle to keep faith. Some people thought such doubts meant that she couldn't be a saint, but actually it is the willingness to keep praying and loving, even with doubts, that makes one a saint.
Think of someone you've known that you thought was holy. They probably didn't work miracles, or have a life that was free of pain and temptation, or walk around with a glowing light surrounding them. You might diescribe them with such adjectives as loving, a good listener, prayerful, gentle, honest, generous, caring. Thosw who get canonized as saints may have these traits in an exceptionally large degree, but anyone can try to cultivate the qualities they see in the "saints" around them.