It is Sunday morning and as far as I know Francis is still alive and kicking. Every man of faith knows the Holy Ghost can take him down in an instant.
The Church has traditionally thought canonisations are infallible, and I remain – until a valid argument to the contrary – of the opinion that where 2000 years of Christian convictions lead, Mundabor should bloody well follow. I have still not found any argument explaining to me why God would have allowed the formation of such a strong and diffused belief concerning things that cannot be verified, unless it be to teach us to trust God’s work in those things that cannot be verified.
This does not mean that these canonisations are not a disgrace. Of course they are.A canonisation often has a political element in it. It was always so. Kings were made saints, and founders of religious orders. The economic and political implications were immense. But we have never thought, because of that, that King Louis IX (canonised very meager 27 years after his death) or St Francis (less than two years) were not in heaven.
Look at it this way: St Dismas and countless other sinners managed to get to paradise not because of, but notwithstanding their shortcomings. We are not required to believe in heroic virtue as infallible corollary of canonisations, though it is very obvious the faithful should have the right to expect that heroic virtue be considered a requirement so that devotion to the saint be made more natural, and the canonisation better understood. In both today’s cases, it is very difficult to say that this was the case if we consider the public work of both Popes. I agree with that. But you see, pontificates are not canonised. People are.
At the end of all discussions, Francis is still breathing as I write this. I am absolutely sure the Holy Ghost is never late. Therefore, if he wants to have Francis taken out of circulation I am sure he will not, so to speak, arrive to the station when the train has already left.
No. The Holy Ghost is in control. If he allows Francis to say to the planet what the Christian has generally believed infallible these two thousand years, then in my humble mind it means he has not waited until 2014 in order to suddenly teach us to properly understand infallibility; on the contrary, he is asking us to continue to believe what has been generally believed in these two thousand years. Oh what a man of little faith, the one who doubts what the Church has encouraged the faithful to believe, has implicitly given for granted for these 2000 years, merely because the seal of formal infallibility has not been given. What sixty of generations of Christians have believed is good enough for me. I trust God would not allow a mistake of such magnitude.
Still, this is a day of infamy, in which not only V II is factually extolled as the way to go, but Francis himself is actively pushing toward his own beatification, because it is clear by now no V II pope should be considered below at least that.
Of course, these canonisations will be used to push all kind of nonsense. Of course, none of the nonsense will make sense, after the canonisations as well as before. Yes, there can be no doubt a tambourine offensive is upon us, and it will be fueled – among many other things – by these canonisations. But in my eyes the most important thing now is that we do not lose faith in the minimum meaning of canonisation, and my greatest fear is not that thinking people may be swayed toward acceptance of V II because of the canonisations (thinking and properly instructed people would find the thought hilarious), but that they may be tempted by Sedevacantism.
As to the attempt to “canonise V II”, I will fight this battle with relish, and I am sure you will do the same. The battle would be upon us anyway, seeing the kind of man we have as Pope.
The day of infamy has come. The Church still stands. The Holy Ghost sees everything.
The right way to react to this is to intensify criticism of V II. And of the two new Saints. because it’s not that saints are ipso facto infallible, and if you make someone who has made huge mistakes a saint you will have to be reminded of the mistakes every time you mention he is a canonised Saint.
A lot of people go to paradise. Only very few are canonised. There was no need to add these two disastrous pontiffs to the list.
Thanks to the stupidity of our not-so-beloved V II clergy, Catholics the world over are going to be put to a hard test in four days' time.
I have already written on the matter, and have since not found any evidence to the contrary that the infallibility of the canonisations concerns merely the fact that the canonised person is in Heaven. In other words, neither the heroic virtues nor being, say, a halfway acceptable Pope are infallible requirements for the purpose.
Which makes a lot of sense. If Joan of Arc is canonised, must the English become supporters of France? Does the canonisation make of Celestine V a good Pope? And where exactly would the heroic virtue to be seen in St. Dismas for pretty much the entire duration of his life, and his chosen, ahem, profession, bar those hours on the Golgotha? Did Christ ask him to pass a decade-long trial, and prove a life of heroic virtue? No, he made Dismas santo subito instead.
Or let us look at the other side and let us say canonisations are not, and have never been, infallible. What are they then: pious suggestions? Strong hints that someone might be in heaven? “Oh dear Padre Pio, unless the Pope was wrong, please intercede for me!” Hhmmm, doesn't sound like much to me…
“Oh, but you must pick one about whom you are persuaded! Then it will be all fine!” some of you might say. But come on, if it comes to that then it is our personal opinion that really counts, and the entire concept of canonisations crumbles. Say: I do not need any Pope to be practically persuaded that Pius XII is in heaven. Padre Pio had a mystical vision of him in heaven, and Padre Pio's conviction is good enough for me every day of the week. But there is no need for canonisation for that. Barring the obvious concept that in the end only God decides, people didn't need to wait for St Francis' canonisation in order to have an extremely strong degree of confidence that he was in heaven, either.
No. If you ask me, Canonisations can only reasonably mean, if we want to give them the sense most Catholics have always given to them, that in this matter God will not allow mistakes. Because if He did, then there would never be any additional security given by the canonisation, and we would all go back to the “servant of God” scenario: the dearly departed was a very saintly man because of abundant and widely proved examples, and it is therefore very probable that he is in heaven. Unless we are mistaken. Which we could be. Always. Even if he is canonised. Does this make sense? Is this reasonable? Are we of such little faith that we start to doubt God's work whenever things happen we do not like?
Or look at it from the other side: if JP II is not in heaven, why would God allow a canonisation that is, has always been and will always be considered by most Catholics a most solemn, infallible assurance of beatific vision, and company with God? Would God not protect this pious belief, or prevent it from taking such solid roots in the Christian thinking? How can it be that the belief in the infallibility of canonisation – though not, properly speaking, dogmatically declared – could spread in such a way and be so strong after 2000 years? Why would, for example, God have allowed that the canonisation be extended beyond, so to speak, historically safe, “certified” martyrs?
It does not make sense to me. It is like stating that God has allowed the Church to believe what is wrong for 2,000 years. At this point, everything that has not been dogmatically and infallibly declared could be questioned, too, because hey: if it's not officially infallible, then it's everyone's guess.
I rather think this: that if either John or John Paul are not in heaven, the Holy Ghost has inspired Francis not to proceed with the canonisations, but Francis has, with typical stubborn rebellion, decided it was all merely a chimaera of his fantasy, a bad mood of an impressionable old man. And then in the next very few days he will have to die, or will be put in the impossibility of proceeding to the canonisations; because God allows Francis to fool men; but He Himself, He will not be fooled.
Rejoice, therefore. If these disgraceful – because of the message they send, and the V II propaganda they are meant to encourage – canonisations are a lie, the lie will not come to pass, and we might get rid of a disastrous Pope to boot. If they come to pass, they aren't a lie, and we will do what we as Catholics do: believe, obey, and be glad for other people's blessings.
Which does not mean you have to approve this or that Pontificate.
No one ever asked you to approve of highway robbery because of St. Dismas, either.
Difficult times are in store for Catholics. Besides the already questionable canonisation of JP II, the even more questionable “miracle” attributed to Paul VI, and still called “miracle”, opens even more disquieting questions about what is happening with the canonisations, and how a Catholic is to react to such news.
To me, the question is very simple: either canonisations are infallible, or they aren't.
It is my understanding that canonisations are infallible. That is, that God will not allow canonisations of people who are not in Paradise. If you read attentively the relevant entry in the Catholic encyclopedia, you will see that this opinion is so dominant as to allow us to consider it what the Church has generally believed: not because it is a self-evident truth, but because it appears a rather logical consequence of the cult of the Saints, and it is not given to see – to me at least – how the first can be crushed without very gravely damaging the second. I do not need to tell you that with a decree of canonisation the Pope orders (not allows) to believe that such and such is in heaven.
This is, mind, not dependent on the actual ways or procedures which led to the proclamation of someone as a saint. The highly structured process we know today – and which remained structurally unchanged until JPII raped it with the abolition of the advocatus diaboli – was not followed until many centuries after the first martyrs; and whilst we know in the earlier times martyrs had a kind of monopoly on the canonisations, I can't imagine we can get certainty of rigorous procedures for several centuries of Church history. Again, the Catholic encyclopedia has interesting words about the confessors and the gradual evolution of the process.
What shall we do, then: divide the saints into those with the “quality seal” of a rigorous procedure, and the others? Does everything come down to picking a “safe bet?” Is a martyr a “safer bet” than a confessor? As far as I know, many are the Saints who were acclaimed such by the Christians in Rome. Were they all martyrs? Are we so sure? And what about those believed saints in force of strong conviction of the Catholic world?
Does not the entire concept of the culto dei Santi repose on the concept of infallibility? Who of you, on buying a book about the Saints, questions the legitimacy of some of them? “Hhhmmmm… Saint such and such. Canonised in 931. A period of great Church corruption. Hhhmmm… No, I don't really trust this one”.
I am at a loss to understand how it can work this way. If the Church tells me that Saint Quisque is in Heaven, and She orders me to believe it, either she says it infallibly or the statement makes no sense, because there is no way to verify the entrance of the saint in Heaven with the measure of Church doctrine. When Francis tells me this or that rubbish about, say, the Blessed Virgin, I can check whether it is conform to tradition or not. When he tells me that Paul VI is in heaven, I must believe that God does not allow him to cheat me on that.
And in fact, it seems to me that to be a “doubter” implies the belief in a rather timid God, who would allow a Pope to cheat us in such a way that we cannot see that he is cheating, whilst allowing him to order us that we believe him without proof, and merely on faith.
Or you can say it in this way: no one can, without committing a mortal sin, allow himself an authoritative statement that, say, Paul VI is not in heaven. If, therefore, we cannot demonstrate that he is not, we must believe that God did not deceive us when He allowed the Church to believe for 2,000 years that a Pope can tell us that someone is.
I have more confidence in God's work than to doubt a canonisation, unsavoury or seemingly absurd as it may seem. I think that God stays behind the deal He has given us, and will crush Francis like a mosquito, or otherwise impede the canonisations, if JP II and John XXIII are not in heaven on the day appointed. This is what our forefathers have always believed, and this is what I will continue to believe, in the confidence that what was held sacred by all generations before me applies to this wretched generation, too.
“Ah, but this time is different!”, some will say.
Look: a lot of times were “different” already. Nihil sub sole novi. We have gone, in the history of the Church, through astonishingly corrupt times, and with Popes to match; but still, our forefathers trusted God not to allow a Pope to cheat them in such matters; not ever, irrespective of the deficiencies of the Pope, the canonisation process, or the mistakes made in life by the canonised person. Nor do we divide the Popes in Popes of First, Second and Third Class concerning canonisations.
Will I, then, erect myself as judge of another's acceptance in Heaven, when God does not give me a way to make a judgment, nay, he explicitly forbids me to make it? Will I die with such a sin of presumption on my conscience when I know, absolutely know, that this is just the thing concerning which it is part of the Divine Plan that I should not be allowed to judge for myself?
How can I know what tests Paul VI had to pass? How do I know with what virulence he was attacked? How do I know he did not get a valid plenary indulgence, dying – after all his mistakes – perfectly contrite for them, absolved of everything, and with nothing more to pay? How can I know that, if he did go to purgatory, he is still there?
“But Mundabor! He had no heroic virtue! He was an appeaser to his last breath!” It might well be so; it was very probably so; but whilst heroic virtue is a frequent appearance by canonised saints, it is not a requirement. The canonisation decree does not require you to believe in one's heroic virtue, merely that he is in heaven.
I am, as you might or might not have noticed, unhesitatingly critical of the Bishop of Rome when I think he is way out of line. I do it whenever I can see – through the comparison of his own behaviour and statement with objectively recognisable Church doctrine, basic decency, or common sense – that he is behaving in strident contrast to what is required of him. I do so persuaded that as God gives us a clearly recognisable set of rules, He also puts on us the duty to verify their observance, and to make us heard if this is not the case. If God has allowed you to see, you have no right to make yourself blind.
If, however, it is not given to me to verify that what the Pope states is in accordance with God's rules, but the rules of the Church tell me I have to believe it anyway and God will take care the Pope does not mess around, then I will do the only thing I am able to do, and the only thing that is left to do: submit, believe, and obey.
How can God allow that there be officially canonised bogus Saints? Would this not be an offence to all the true ones, a mockery of their sainthood, and a bomb put under the devotion of the Church Militant? How can this be squared with what your grand-grandmother has always believed, and believed because this is what the Church has constantly taught? What kind of Traditionalism is that?
Now, I am absolutely sure in the next weeks and months all kind of theories will emerge. Minority positions held once upon a time by the one or the other. Strange theories about the Church not really saying what everyone has always believed the Church was saying. Outlandish snippets of Saints of the past taken out of context.
I promise you, I will read whatever comes from worthy sources – like the SSPX, of course – with great attention; but frankly, the obstacle as we write the 5 March 2014 seems insurmountable to me, because against it is the huge wall of an infallibility I cannot but see as generally believed these last 2,000 years.
When it is not given to understand, then, I think, is the moment to obey. I cannot understand everything, but – sinner as I am – I will strive to obey in everything I can. Christ will not ask me, on that fateful day, if I was the smartest of the bunch, or had not come to the conclusion that the Church He found was wrong in what I can't prove wrong. I hope He will, at least in this matter, be satisfied enough that having been given no instruments to understand which is which, I have trusted what He said I have to believe in the matter.
Terrible times are awaiting us. We have apparently arrived to the mockery of the miracle – just to be logical: the “cure” of a feared malformation, or disease, is no cure at all -. But even a miracle is no necessary component of God calling one to heaven; and it is merely a procedural – and again: not obligatory – step of the current or even the old canonisation process. Let the proclamations of “miracles” become as stupid as they want. God will not be fooled by them.
I will therefore believe – until sensible evidence to the contrary – in the infallibility of canonisations.
If Francis is playing fast and loose with God even on this, I trust God will rid us of the canonisation, and possibly of the Pope himself; because whilst God will allow him to say he slaps people on the wrist at the most – which every Christian can see is rubbish – God will not allow him to make a mockery of Sainthood.
Put your trust in the Lord. Faith is the evidence of things not seen.
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.
“I fear the Greeks, even when they bear gifts” is the literal translation of the brilliant Virgil’s verse.
In our case, the Trojan Horse we must pay attention to is the allegedly ventilated canonisation of Pope Pius XII.
Having read about Padre Pio’s hours-long vision of our beloved Pastor Angelicus in heaven the day that great Pope died, I would not be among those who cry scandal and heresy if such a decision were to be taken. Canonisations are infallible anyway, so one has to either believe the Sea is vacant or believe they are true.
I would, in fact, be overjoyed; not because of the news that Pius XII is in heaven – Padre Pio had no doubts, and this is good enough for me every day of the week – but because of the obvious repercussions within the Church. At first sight, this appears a great gift made to conservative Catholics and, clearly, to us Traditionalists.
On the other hand, I offer the following reflections:
I fear an homosexuality-condoning, liturgy-massacring, heresy-flirting, sodomite-buddying, humbleness-professing, canon-law trampling Jesuit even when he bears gifts. Actually, I fear him particularly when he bears gift.
You can call it mistrust if you want to. I call it life experience, and sound reasoning.
I also wonder whether this rumour has not been started – by the Bishop of Rome, or someone near to him – to persuade the growing phalanx of well awake Catholics to tone done the criticism a bit. If you behave, Uncle Jorge will give you a chocolate cookie. If not… He will have to get rid of Summorum Pontificum, and it will be all your fault, you naughty boys…
Thirdly, I wonder whether this might not be the novocaine the dentist gives to the patient before he starts to get to work in earnest. Imagine a total or substantial killing of Summorum Pontificum coupled with the announcement of the canonisation.
What now, skipper?
Anyway, relata refero. It might be all rubbish, or it might be the Bishop is thinking of a Beatification.
We will have to wait and see how this pans out.
In the meantime, I will continue to fear the Greeks.
Every now and then, some idiot will come out in search of easy notoriety, and will question the one or other feat of the extraordinary life of Padre Pio.
This is not surprising. Satan is as terrified of Padre Pio now that he is dead, as he was when the great Saint was alive. More so, arguably, now that he is dead and in Paradise, able to help so much more.
To us Catholics, the resurgence of the one or other rumour, of the one or other slander is the source of mild amusement at best. Those who know something of Padre Pio’s life – whoever wants, can find a wealth of unbiased information – know that he was slandered for a great part of his life, and that it is a great sign of a saint’s holiness that he be slandered after death.
To non-Catholics, Padre Pio will always remain an enigma. An enigma they will refuse to examine in detail, because they know that to delve deep into Padre Pio’s life means to discover the depth of Truth, and they are scared.
But the most stupid of them all are those who on the one hand tell themselves Catholics, and on the other can ever conceive that one of the greatest Saints not of our, but of all times might have thought about committing a fraud, about abusing of the public credulity for – let me count – fifty years or so. I do not know whether this is more blasphemous, or more stupid. More blasphemous, I think. No, more stupid. Hhmm, no… more blasphemous for sure! No, wait…..
This, whilst half of the Catholic world – and the most influential one at that: Gemelli didn’t like him; Gemelli’s friend Pope Pius XI wasn’t a great fan, either – didn’t believe in him and tried everything to “expose” him, the astonishing combination of his graces being, in fact, too much to be believed at once even by undoubtedly smart people, or smart Popes; whilst others, like Pope Pius XII, always supported him with astonishing firmness, and no little courage.
So, we are now asked – and please don’t laugh – to even contemplate the possibility this great Saint might have been a fraud. Worse still, that a great Saint might have been a fraud, and still be a great Saint. Make no mistake, dear reader: this is the work of ignorant, perverted minds.
To the Catholics among you, I do not need to tell anything. You all know that one can’t be a great saint and a massive, fifty-year fraud more than Martha could have been a transsexual, or Judas the good man in the story.
To the non-Catholics among you, some words of instruction:
There has been – before padre Pio – only one male stigmatist: St. Francis. Some other saints have been known to spread around them flavours of roses or other flowers, without being aware of this – this is the origin of the saying “to be in odour of sanctity”, by the way -. Others more have been known to be able to read other people’s mind, particularly in the confessional. Others still have been known to have received – on rare occasions – the gift of bilocation. Finally, some of them have been known to talk to angels on a regular basis, and to be harassed by the devil because of their holy lives.
There is only one Saint known in the entire Christianity for having shown not one, or two, but all of these graces. This is the same man who – ad majorem Dei gloriam – is still slandered today. May this long last, I am tempted to say: the more the slandering goes on, the more intelligent and inquisitive people will be attracted to the Church through this great, great son of Hers.
Padre Pio didn’t live in some obscure middle-age time, his feats lost in the fog of time, and embellished by the charm of legends. He lived in an age of advanced technology, of radio and television, of spread atheism, and of accomplished medicine. His stigmata were witnessed by atheist doctors, who couldn’t explain their origin – not many know this, but the Church also uses avowed atheist doctors for this sort of exams, as it keeps everyone honest – and his other miracles and graces and signs were witnessed by so many, that it would be utterly un-Catholic to question the sainthood of the man and thus, by definition, his not being a fraud.
Most importantly of all, the man has been canonised. If there is one thing that canonisation means, only one, is that the saint was not a fraudster. This is not difficult to get. Not for a non-Catholic, much less for a Catholic. Canonisation is not like beatification, after which event one can still legitimately question the sainthood of the person beatified. Canonisation is matter of infallibility. When someone has been canonised a Catholic shuts up, period.
There. I had to say it.
Beware of the wolves in sheep’s clothes.
Following a very interesting intervention of Schmenz in reply to a former post, I spent some time looking for some credible description of how a Catholic is to react to a decree of canonisation or beatification. This particularly in view of the upcoming beatification (and one day, perhaps, canonisation) of the late Pope JP II, an event which will clearly excite both an oceanic wave of enthusiasm and a smaller, but noticeable one of dismay.
I have already made clear that in my eyes the worth as a Blessed of John Paul II is to be seen in his saintly character, not in his working as a Pope. This is nothing new or wrong as a beatification or canonisation isn’t, nor could it ever be, a seal of approval of political action.
Now let us see what the Catholic Encyclopedia says on the matter of canonisation.
1) There are two types of canonisation, formal and equivalent.
Formal canonization occurs when the cultus is prescribed as an explicit and definitive decision, after due judicial process and the ceremonies usual in such cases. Equivalent canonization occurs when the pope, omitting the judicial process and the ceremonies, orders some servant of God to be venerated in the Universal Church; this happens when such a saint has been from a remote period the object of veneration, when his heroic virtues (or martyrdom) and miracles are related by reliable historians, and the fame of his miraculous intercession is uninterrupted
2) It is evident that modern canonisations are all formal ones; that they are the object of a prescription; that the decision is explicit and definitive. That they, as such, bind every Catholic. In matters of canonisation, “ours is not to reason why“. This is only logical, as the nature itself of the canonisation is to give the faithful certainty, not hope, that the canonised person is in Heaven.
3) Whether the decree of canonisation is an expression of Papal Infallibility (as, says the Catholic encyclopedia, most theologians think) or not, the result of the canonisation is evidently not less binding, and this is what interests us here. When the Church formally decrees that Titius or Caius are Saint Titius and Saint Caius, every Catholic is bound to accept this as part and parcel of his Catholic belief. Still, this mandatory belief does not stretch to the man in question having done everything right and not even to his having had heroic virtue; what every catholic is bound to believe is merely that the canonised person is in heaven.
Very different is the case of Beatification. The Catholic Encyclopedia again:
This general agreement of theologians as to papal infallibility in canonization must not be extended to beatification, not withstanding the contrary teaching of the canonical commentary known as “Glossa” […] Canonists and theologians generally deny the infallible character of decrees of beatification, whether formal or equivalent, since it is always a permission, not a command;
Clearly, here the Church is not saying “you have to believe”, but “you are allowed to believe”. You can therefore – as long as no canonisation intervenes – refuse to believe that the one or other person declared Blessed is in heaven in the same way as you can, say, not believe in the Fatima apparitions.There can be no question of infallibility, because there is no question of prescription in the first place.
In practical terms, this means that a Catholic is allowed to question the prevalent opinion that, say, John Paul II is in heaven but is not allowed to question the prescriptive decree that, say, Padre Pio is.
The impending beatification of John Paul II will no doubt cause many questions among non-Catholics as to what this beatification is, and might reinforce many of them in their errors and misconceptions about this beautiful Catholic institution of beatification and canonisation.
I’d like here to give some very short explanations in bullet points, in the hope that in the coming months some non-Catholics may end up here and get some benefit from them and that Catholics may get some points to give explanations if and when required.
1) Everyone who is in paradise is a saint. Everyone. Angels are saints, the Holy Innocents are saints, etc.
2) Normally we cannot know whether someone is in Paradise. When the neighbour dies we know that he is either in hell, or in purgatory, or in paradise. Purgatory is widely believed to be the most frequent occurrence at death, but no one really knows. In Catholicism, individual certainty of someone’s destination is a sin of presumption, unless one believes one’s own private revelation (say: an apparition); indirectly, he can draw a big amount of confidence from the truth of a credible revelation to someone else (say: Saint Padre Pio’s well-known hours-long mystical vision of Pope Pius XII in Heaven on the day of his death). ” I believe that John Lennon is in Paradise because he wrote such beautiful music” does not qualify.
3) Catholic theology says that those in purgatory cannot effect intercessory prayer for those on earth, but those on earth can do the same for the souls in purgatory; on the other hand the saints can pray and intercede for those on earth, but not for those in purgatory. Notice the “circle” of prayer here, with saints being able only to help those on earth, who themselves are the only ones who can help those in purgatory. In this way there is a beautiful solidarity, a chain of love or if you prefer a “prayer cooperative”. This common destiny and common purpose uniting every good Catholic (souls in hell aren’t catholic, and can’t be helped) is called by the Church “communion of saints”.
4) As a consequence, a Catholic will need some clues to know those to whom he can pray for intercession knowing that they will actually hear their prayer and be able to intercede for them. He can obviously ask Christ or the Blessed Virgin directly, but the beauty of the communion of saints is in the mutual giving and receiving help like members of a loving family. Therefore, one may prefer to ask a person particularly dear to him to help him and to intercede for him by Christ. In order to do so, he’d be helped if he knew, instead of hoped, that the relevant person is really a saint, that is, is really in heaven. Mind, though, that no Catholic is forbidden to ask for the intercession of someone of whom he thinks that he is very probably in heaven.
5) God helps this system of “prayer cooperative” by making known that the one or the other actually is in heaven. He does so by linking a miracle to this person. With one miracle one can be declared Blessed, with two he can be declared a Saint. Notice that here the “s” is capitalised. Whether the miracle has occurred is decided – after an always careful and generally lengthy process – by a Vatican “ministry”, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
6) Whilst the miracle is God’s choice, the decision whether to declare the beatification or sainthood is the Pope’s choice and it is an eminently political one. A Pope might think a canonisation dangerous or politically not convenient (eg. because it could spark a wave of persecutions, as in Thomas More’s case; or a wave of slandering, as it is probably the case by Pope Pius XII), or he might not be persuaded himself that the work of the congregation was really good, that is: that the person is really in paradise. He cannot “kill” the process though, merely let things rest.
7) One day, a Pope decides that the moment has come and a man or woman is ready to be declared Saint. His decision is inspired in the sense that God takes care that a Pope does not make mistakes in this matter*. In the last centuries, this process was very slow and people canonised were people who had lived a couple of centuries before, but there always were exceptions. The late Pope John Paul II was himself of the opinion that canonisations (and beatifications, comes to that) of recently deceased people were the best choice, because their memory is still well alive among the faithful. This was the thinking followed in the first thirteen centuries or so, with some canonisations being really, really fast (think of St. Francis: death on the 3 October 1226; canonisation on the 16th July 1228).
8) Coming back to 6), the beatifications or canonisations of particularly popular people have always been relatively uncomplicated, whilst those pertaining to politically sensitive people have been, or are being, slower. But be assured that Thomas More and Pope Pius XII do not care in the least for that. There is no race to be canonised first and the speed of canonisation is no indication whatsoever of the “ranking” among saints. This is important in order to understand that calls of “santo subito”, particularly when angry or expressing a demand rather than a wish, are not really Catholic and are more suitable to football stadiums.
9) Once a Pope has taken his decision about a canonisation, every Catholic is bound by it*. A Catholic rejoices for every canonisation not only because of the happy news, but because he knows that many people will be drawn to Christ through the canonisation of the person they love.
The reasons for a fast-track for John Paul II are now evident. The sainthood of the man is uncontroversial among everyone except the most severe sedevacantists; his popularity makes of such a beatification a great weapon in the Church’s hands; his beatification helps to shift the accent from the political aspects of his pontificate (which many don’t like, yours truly included) to the towering spiritual dimension of the person.
It is not – and it can never be – about “giving precedence to celebrities”; it is about recognising that:
a) The Pope seems to believe that God wants hom to know that the man is in Paradise, and
b) the Pope doesn’t see any political obstacle to his declaring so in front of all Christianity.
This is as simple as that. It doesn’t mean that one only becomes blessed if he is a celebrity. It doesn’t mean that only famous people are said to go to heaven. It doesn’t mean that “Church celebrities” get special favours compared to those whose beatification has not been declared and emphatically it does not mean that, between two saints, the one is “more of a saint” that has been canonised or beatified.
* the matter is slightly different with the beatification. With it, the Church merely declares that it is “worthy of belief” that the person in question is in heaven. There is, though, no obligation for every Catholic to feel bound by this.