The Sainthood Sale
Allow me to start by saying two things: what I am going to describe is not specifically Francis', but rather the problem of the V II Church, and by “saints” and “sainthood” it is meant here – as Francis on this occasion also clearly does – those who at death go straight to Paradise. Of course, everyone who eventually enters Paradise is a saint, but this post – and Francis' sermon – is not about that.
I have been always told, and have always believed, that whilst we are all sinners only those who develop heroic virtue are allowed to avoid the painful purgation of… Purgatory. But this heroic virtue must obviously be – I was always told – heroic; which is, by definition, limited to the very small number of heroes rather than the vast majority – or even a sizeable minority – of us common foot soldiers.
Many years ago, in a beautiful homily, the concept was described in a way more relevant to the modern peaceful times: everyone knows people mad of video games, or stamp collecting, or chess, or photography, or whatever clearly takes their mind and shapes their person in a way rarely found in others. Well, the living saint is the one who is as mad in his fight against sin as the video game nutcase is mad about video games, etc. I found the simile particularly striking, because with so many people mad of video games, or environmental issues, or guitar-playing, or whatever else, it seems utterly reasonable that God would require, in order to avoid purgatory, the same single-minded, life-shaping passion for… fighting one's own sinfulness.
Not so, of course, in the Church of V II, when the deceased is very often canonised by acclamation immediately after death, and the priest says much less than the bare minimum to let the relatives remain in this very dangerous illusion.
Francis is – and how could it be otherwise – not different. When he speaks of the great saints of the past and says that sainthood is for all, he merely avoids the mention of the heroic virtue so common in traditional Catholic teaching. He certainly knows why. Asked if they are heroic in their virtue, most people would obviously answer “I wish”; but asked if they have a good heart and love Jesus, all Catholics will answer “well, yes” without hesitation, both concerning themselves and all their friends and relatives.
If you read Francis' sermon, you will notice the barriers to entry are singularly low, very fluffy, and limited to virtues pretty much everyone is sure to possess. The saints are the “friends of God”, and you won't find many who say they aren't. The negative examples he makes are, as always, so vague and undetermined that everyone can easily say “oh, it's not me”. For example, take the “posing conditions to God” thingy (can't find the article anymore, alas…). Heavens, not even a child prays to God saying “I will love you if you give me a new bicycle”. God is such that by its very concept, love cannot be conditioned. Again, it must be a very stupid child who does not grasp it.
The same concept goes through the entire sermon: Francis seems to say: “what is necessary to be like the great saints is what you, my dear fans, pretty much already have, or can easily acquire”.
All heroes, these “joyful” troops of Francis? I don't think so.
Still, by reading the sermon is clear very many of the V II, “church of joy” recipients of the message will draw the conclusion that both they and all their loved ones are either clearly on the way to sainthood, or rather near to attain it. Not many of them – the typical V II type being rather superficial – will have any desire to question the message, and see whether things are perhaps rather less pleasant. But then again why should they? If an atheist can escape hell by merely following his conscience, why should a decent Catholic be burdened with something so un-joyful as Purgatory?
Obviously, the papal sermon is everywhere on the Internet. Hell is, predictably, not even mentioned once, at least not that I know of.
The shallow V II “church of nice” offers sainthood at sale price.