Let me begin by saying “I am a Catholic.” I’ve always been a Catholic and will go on being a Catholic until the day I die. My parents raised me in the faith and had me attended Catholic School where I was indoctrinated daily by ruthless, unrelenting nuns who pounded the Baltimore Catechism into my head over and over again. Still they could not crush my questioning spirit completely. It is that questioning spirit that caused my problems with the Catholic Church in later years.
The church and I haven’t always seen eye to eye and I haven’t always agreed with Holy Mother Churches politics of power and archaic point of view. Through the years I’ve butted heads and had many a battle of words with some overly pompous, pretentious pastors who could never satisfactorily answer my questions and believed that a self-righteous smile and a simple answer, “You are not qualified to understand the ways of the Catholic Church” should placate my quest for truth. Perhaps that response might quell the curiosity of many of the faithful sheep, but not me. Still “I am a Catholic and a believer.”
Yes, over the years, the church and I have been through quite a dance. Our discord has caused our relationship to wane at times, resulting in a sort of on again, off again affair. Presently its mostly off. After nearly a two year period of regular Sunday attendance I simply stopped going and haven’t been to church in months. But that doesn’t mean I love God any less or am any less a Catholic. It simply means I’m not going to church. I am still a Catholic. With that said let me get to the point.
One would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not be aware of the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II that took place in Rome on Sunday. It was a grand affair unprecedented in the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church and witnessed by a crowd of more than 800,000 people in and around St Peter’s Square and millions more who watched on television. Both men are now in the company of saints, canonized by Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope Benedict. The celebration has been hailed as “The Day of Four Popes,” a grandiose event befitting the spectacle and ostentatiousness the church has grown to enjoy. A day that could have more appropriately been called “The day of Two Saints.” After all, isn’t sainthood what it was really all about?
Before Sunday’s event only 5 popes had been canonized over the past 1000 years. That number now stands at 7. This is the first time in church history that 2 popes have been canonized together. Now like countless other Catholics I’m left to wonder why these two dead popes were canonized so swiftly? Why was the bar lowered and the long reigning requirements for sainthood changed to accommodate these two former popes? Why were they put on the fast track to sainthood? Was it truly because both men are deserving of sainthood? Many believe that Pope John certainly is, but John Paul has his detractors. Many say that JP should not be a saint because he turned a blind eye to mounting sexual problems among priests and perpetrated a lie, never acknowledging or accepting responsibility for the actions of his clergy. Definitely not very saintly. But apparently it doesn’t matter. A reigning pope can change the requirements for sainthood as he deems necessary. In other words the pope can pretty much do whatever he wants. I don’t doubt that his decision will open the door for the fast-tracking of even more select, saintly candidates.
But why the rush to sainthood? Why lower the bar? Does the Vatican leader have some ulterior motive for their canonization? Some speculate that Pope Francis merely wants to change the long held image of saints to a more modern one. They say he wants to shift the saintly image from the mystical miracle worker to a much needed status as role model. They believe Francis is merely continuing the work started by Pope John Paul II, who in 1983 changed the rules regulating the proven number of miracles needed for canonization. John Paul went on to canonize 482 saints during his 27 year reign, more than in the previous 600 years combined! Perhaps Pope Francis is simply going for the record set by the newly canonized saint. Pope Francis now has 10 saints in his first 13 months with many more waiting in the wings. We’ll have to keep an eye on that.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with two former popes being named saints. Certainly they were good men and had redeeming qualities as many have stated but being good isn’t the key component to sainthood. If it were then I think my grandma should be canonized. She lived a good, humble life, prayed often,believed in the power of the rosary, loved God with all her being and even offered all her pain and suffering to the poor souls in purgatory. Yeah, she was a saint of a woman and should be canonized. St Pepita. I like that!
The problem I have is not with the candidates, but with the canonization process. There should be no playing favorites. I believe that the protocol that has been in place for sainthood should remain in place and be followed verbatim until changes or exceptions that are made for a few, are changed for all awaiting sainthood. There are a growing number of worthy candidates who were nominated long ago and in various stages leading to canonization who are still waiting. Something is not right. The wheels of sainthood turn slowly for them. I’d really like to know why that is? And yes, “I’m still a Catholic.”