By Deacon Matt Kiehl
This weekend, on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Church will celebrate the canonization of two saints: Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Both men served as pope during critical moments in the life of the Church. John XXIII is perhaps most famously known for convening the Second Vatican Council (“Vatican II”), which led to renewed engagement by the Catholic Church in the modern world. John Paul II was one of the longest-serving popes in history, from 1978 until his death in 2005, and was so widely traveled that he is considered to have been physically seen by more people than anyone else who has ever lived.
The Church doesn’t “make” saints – God does that. But for the sake of those of us who are seeking to share eternal life with God in heaven, the Church recognizes the holiness of people we call “saints” to help us along the way as we seek to respond to the Lord’s call to holiness in each of our lives. Before someone is called a “saint” by the Church, they usually go by several other titles after their death as the canonization process unfolds. While the process of recognizing saints has changed quite a bit in the Church’s history, today there are basically three stages before canonization:
“Servant of God” – The canonization process begins in a diocese, where someone is appointed to gather information related to the life of the deceased. This process normally begins no sooner than five years after someone’s death and includes gathering of the person’s writings, interviews with people who knew the person, and any other pertinent data that would be helpful for their cause for sainthood. When sufficient material is gathered, a formal report on the “Servant of God” (candidate for sainthood) is prepared and sent to Rome.
“Venerable” – After reviewing the report from the local diocese, an office at the Vatican responsible for overseeing causes of saints will recommend that the “Servant of God” be declared “Venerable,” or heroic in virtue. It’s at this point that prayer cards are often created and prayers for this person’s intercession may be made.
“Blessed” – When someone is beatified, they can be called “Blessed” and are thus worthy to be thought to be in heaven. Usually, this requires at least one miracle to be attributed to their intercession. If the person is a martyr, the Pope must only declare that they are in fact an authentic martyr.
Typically, after a second miracle is attributed (or, for a martyr, a first miracle), a blessed may be named a saint. This is a recognition by the Church that the person surely enjoys eternal life with God in heaven. Feast days can be celebrated in their honor, and churches may be named after them.
Simply put, a saint is nothing more than someone who enjoys life in heaven with the Lord. They are not superheroes, but are people who answered God’s call in their life and lived a life of holiness. God invites every one of us to be saints, and promises to give us the grace to become saints with his help. So as we celebrate these two new saints, we should also celebrate God’s call in our lives to be saints as well!
Deacon Matt Kiehl is a transitional deacon and seminarian for the Diocese of Richmond