Vatican City, Apr. 27, 2006 (CNA) - As the world watches the Catholic Church in its process for the beatification of John Paul II, the Vatican has released a message from Pope Benedict to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which just finished its plenary assembly. In it, the Pope clarifies the Church’s stance and means for assessing sainthood.
The Pope went on, saying that "It is clear that a cause of beatification or canonization cannot be initiated in the absence of a proven reputation for holiness, even when dealing with people who have been distinguished for their evangelical coherence and for particular ecclesial or social merits."
He then addressed the second theme of the plenary session--"the miracle in the causes of saints"--explaining that "miracles constitute divine confirmation of a judgment expressed by the ecclesial authorities on [a person's] virtuous life.”
“It should also be clearly borne in mind”, he wrote, “that unbroken Church practice establishes the need for a physical miracle, a moral miracle is not enough."
Moving to the subject of martyrdom, the Pope said that in its truest sense, the source and motive of martyrdom must be modeled in Christ, not done for what he called “fake different reasons” like “political or social ones.”
“It is of course necessary”, he said, “to find incontrovertible proof of willingness to suffer martyrdom, ... and of the victim's acceptance thereof. But it is equally necessary that, directly or indirectly but always in a morally certain fashion, the 'odium Fidei' of the persecutor should be apparent.”
“If this element is lacking,” Benedict explained, “there is no real martyrdom in accordance with the perennial theological and juridical doctrine of the Church."
Dr. Peters offers his own take on the Holy Father's letter at his blog.
John Paul II, both legally and by force of his personality, improved the Church's ability to recognize contemporary examples of holiness. But, by canonizing over 450 saints (more than all the popes since Trent combined) and by beatifying more than 1,300 men and women besides, John Paul's vital message that the "universal call to holiness" (Lumen gentium V) could be lived in modern times was (in the opinion of many) being steadily diluted by an avalanche of names that, with few exceptions, would never be recognized beyond small circles of compatriots.
The bolded comment pretty much sums up exactly my thoughts about the saints of John Paul. Over the two millennia of the Catholic Church, we have seen saints whose lives and examples have propelled them to fame down through the centuries. Catholics name their kids after saints like Francis, Anthony, Monica and Clara. But how many people outside of those who make it their business to follow the business of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints really have any idea who the vast majority the 450 saints really are?
Here's a new book idea for writers out there: The Lives of John Paul's Saints.