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‘Making’ Saints—The Canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II

PopesWhen Pat and I first set up housekeeping, we did what young married couples did in the 1960s — we rented a garden apartment.
One of the wall hangings we bought on our limited budget—I was earning $105 a week—was a print of an engraving by Albrecht Dürer, a profile of St. Apollonia, a third-century martyr.
I have to admit that this engraving, black etching on a dull green background, wasn’t the most attractive accessory we could have picked.
That may be why it attracted the attention of my friend Lou Caruso when he first visited us at that apartment.
He paused at the portrait and studied it for a while and then asked, “Who the heck is this?”
“That’s St. Apollonia,” I said with feigned indignation. “Have a little respect.”
“Huh,” Lou said. “They don’t care who they make saints these days!”
He was joking, of course, but his observation evokes a common misunderstanding concerning saints—namely, the notion that the Church “makes” them.
When Pope Francis canonizes Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II on Sunday, he won’t be making them saints—he will be declaring the Church’s conviction that because of the way these two men lived they already are spending eternity in the presence of God.
Both men devoted their lives to service in the priesthood.
Angelo Roncalli, Pope John, obediently served the Church, accepting even positions he did not want; he took steps to save the lives of many Jewish refugees during World War II; he launched the rapprochement between the Catholic Church and Judaism, and he convoked the Second Vatican Council that promulgated unprecedented reforms in the Church.
Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul, studied for the priesthood in an underground seminary during the Nazi occupation of Poland; he protected many Polish Jews from the Nazis; he took part in the Second Vatican Council and made important contributions to two of its major documents—the Decree on Religious Freedom and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World; he advanced relationships between the Church and other Christian denominations and non-Christian faiths; he was influential in the collapse of Soviet communism in Poland and elsewhere in Europe and in the demise of dictatorships in Chile, Haiti, Paraguay, and the Philippines; he was an outspoken critic of official racial discrimination in South Africa; he actively campaigned against mafia violence in Italy; he was the first pope to oppose capital punishment and he upheld the Church’s teaching against abortion and assisted suicide.
Of the 265 men on the chronological list of popes, John and John Paul will be the seventy-ninth and eightieth to be canonized. The canonization process has begun for 16 others.
But other men who have served as popes and who led exemplary lives may be enjoying the Beatific Vision even if we haven’t been—and may never be—notified.
The formal process with its “blesseds” and “venerables” and “servants of God” is not for the benefit of those who have died and gone to heaven.
That process is for the benefit of those of us who still have our feet on the ground.
It provides us with, shall we say, certified examples of holiness—people such as Katharine Drexel, Elizabeth Seton, and Louis Martin and Celia Guérin—a deeply spiritual married couple who were the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
But we may presume that there are millions of saints whose names we do not know, whose names may not have been known beyond their own communities, but who spent their lives trying to act according to the will of God as it stirs the conscience of every human being.
It was the same with those millions as it was with the two popes: it was no institution but rather their submission to God’s will and their response God’s grace that made them saints.
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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2 Responses to “‘Making’ Saints—The Canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II”

  1. S Honora says:

    Good point; glad you mentioned the married couple. Parents are sof the most unsung saints of all times.

  2. Lou caruso says:

    Chuck how can you remember something.that happened almost 50 years ago.
    Thanks for the mention

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