For those of you hoping for eventual sainthood, the way got a little bit easier this week when Pope Francis added a fourth pathway. All you have to do is die early in “an extreme act of charity.” You still need to perform a couple miracles after you are dead though, just to make it official, before you get to add the honorific St. in front of your name.
Francis approved the new guideline under his own authority yesterday in an apostolic letter, “Maiorem hac dilectionem.” For those of you who’s Latin is a little rusty, that means “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” from John 15:13.
Similar to the way President Trump issues executive orders directing government departments on how to enforce regulations, the document signed yesterday directs the Vatican Congregation for Saint’s Causes to consider those who “inspired by Christ’s example, freely and willingly offered and sacrificed their life” for others “in a supreme act of charity, which was the direct cause of death.”
The change will open up “new horizons and opportunities for the edification of the people of God, who, in their saints, see the face of Christ, the presence of God in history and the exemplary implementation of the Gospel.”
Many people get proposed for sainthood each year and the process is tangled and complicated. This change recognizes that some who did not live a life as “heroic” as Francis of Assisi or Mother Theresa but gave their lives over to the service of others, “in an extreme act of charity,” deserve veneration. If your death is not the the direct result of refusal to renounce faith, like Joan of Arc, you are not a “Martyr.” Martyrdom has the advantage that the requirement for a first miracle gets waived because the act itself is considered a miracle but you still need to suffer death for “advocating, renouncing, refusing to renounce, or refusing to advocate a belief,” which is a tough standard to meet.
The third way to become a saint is when your reputation of Holiness is so strong, your place in Heaven is totally guaranteed. “The path to sainthood for John Paul II was the fastest in modern history, raising eyebrows among traditionalists for packing a painstaking process that can sometimes take centuries into nine incredibly short years.” The process is called equipollent (or equivalent) canonization and the Pope waives all investigation.
The new fourth pathway, “offering of life,” requires you to offer your life freely and willingly, with a heroic acceptance out of love, of a certain and early death. The death and the act of charity must be connected. You also have to show you lived a life of Christian virtue, and be able to show evidence of “a reputation for holiness,” which can come after you die as a result of what people said about the event later.
The tricky part for any saint are the miracles. Unless you are considered a Martyr, you need at least one miracle attributed to you just to get the paperwork started. Once you get through the initial investigation and make it to the stage of “Beatification” you need to show a second miracle to get the final approval of canonization. “By canonization the Pope does not make the person a saint. Rather, he declares that the person is with God and is an example of following Christ worthy of imitation by the faithful. A Mass, Divine Office and other acts of veneration, may now be offered throughout the universal Church.”
In the process of elevating someone to Sainthood, a miracle means “proof” that the person is actually in Heaven and taking an active role in helping living mortals, usually medically. Considering the first part of that requires having an address in the universe’s most exclusive neighborhood, a miracle cannot happen until after the person is dead. Anything that seems like miracles while you are still alive don’t count.
Once a potential miracle is identified, the Vatican’s Scientific Commission “must determine by accepted scientific criteria that there is no natural explanation for the alleged miracle. While miracles could be of any type, those almost exclusively proposed for Causes are medical. These must be well-documented, both as regards the disease and the treatment, and as regard the healing and its persistence.”
Once the Scientific Commission gives an opinion that says no “natural” explanation can be found, the Theological Commission gives it a look over. To avoid controversy, the “theologians prefer “cures of diseases judged beyond hope by medicine, and which occur more or less instantaneously. The disappearance of a malignancy from one moment to another, or the instantaneous regeneration of diseased, even destroyed, tissue excludes natural processes, all of which take time. Such cases also exclude the operation of the angelic nature. While the enemy could provoke a disease by his oppression and simulate a cure by withdrawing his action, the cure could not be instantaneous, even one day to the next. Much less can he regenerate tissue from nothing. These are, therefore, the preferred kinds of cases since they unequivocally point to a divine cause.”
One last point to be nailed down is that the miracle can not be attributed to God alone, or just any supernatural intervention, it has to be tied to the proposed saint. “The theological commission must also determine whether the miracle resulted through the intercession of the Servant of God alone. If the family and friends have been praying without cease to the Servant of God exclusively, then the case is demonstrated. However, if they have been praying to the Servant of God, to the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and others, then the case is clouded, and probably cannot be demonstrated. Thus, the task of the theological commission is two-fold, judge whether the cure was a miracle, and judge whether this miracle is due to the intercession of the Servant of God.”