I was a bit surprised that there were four letters in The Age this morning regarding the canonisation of Blessed Mary of the Cross (aka Mary MacKillop) and each one of them negative.
David Seal, of Balwyn North, in “CONSERVATISM OF CHURCH ON SHOW”, complains that Mary’s case “brings into sharper relief the fast-tracking of John Paul II’s imminent beatification only a few years after his death”, and plays him off against Blessed John XXIII, of whom “there seems to be no such haste to precipitate his sainthood”.
Reverend Graham Nicholson, of Hawthorn, in “QUESTION OF DEFINITION” challenges the Catholic use of the term “saint” over “the simple New Testament reckoning” that accounts all men, women and children who seek to love, trust and obey Jesus Christ as their saviour” as “saints”.
Russell Miles, of Box Hill North, in “INSULT TO HER MEMORY”, says that Mary should be proclaimed a saint “for her wonderful work and personal sacrifices”, not for “a miracle”. “Does anyone imagine,” he asks, “that the spirit of MaryMacKillop is deciding which prayers are meritorious enough for divine intervention?” He says that this “is an insult to her memory”.
And finally, Nathan Stewart, of Endeavour Hills, wades in with “REAL SAINTS ARE ELSEWHERE”, saying that he is “ashamed that the recent reporting of the progress towards John Paul II’s beatification and Mary MacKillop’s sainthood has been expounded without comments by sceptics or scientists”, going on to state that no miracle has ever been scientifically proven.
Well, in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, Dick Gross (described on the SMH website as having “written and broadcast about living and dying without a god for over a decade”) has obviously heard Mr Stewart’s intercession and responded with this article: “The patron saint of quack cancer cures”.
Gross’s main argument, made toward the end of the piece, is simply this: “It is unbelievable that a relatively recent person’s cancer was cured merely because a long dead nun was associated by means of prayer.”
Well, unbelievable for an atheist, any way. There are many people who DO believe it – most of them Catholics. Which is surely the point here, isn’t it?
Okay, the press has gone a bit overboard with the “Australia’s First Saint” line. That angle has tended to imply that no other deceased Australian has attained the Beatific Vision (which is truly “unbelievable” and, on balance, probably untrue), and that Mary of the Cross is now a commodity “owned” by all ALL Australians individually and as a whole (whether they are Catholic Christians or not).
I think that is where all this negative reaction is coming from. Non-Catholic Christians, like the Reverend Mr Nicholson, reject the Catholic practice of canonisation because they reject the doctrine of the intercession of Saints which stands behind it. Incidentally, the Scriptures only use “saints” in the plural to describe either all members of the Church universal or all members of a local Church – eg. Corinth – collectively, they never refer to human being as a “saint” in the singular. The Catholic Church acknowledges that the whole Church is made up of both saints and sinners, but reserves (in accordance with a tradition immensely ancient and venerable) the specific title “Saint” to deceased believers whom it believes with certainty are in heaven and whom it recommends to the people of God as intercessors. We are probably not going to agree on this matter here and now, but remember that this canonisation thing is something Catholics do because of something Catholics believe – we are not proposing Mary MacKillop as “a saint” to our Protestant brethren and sistern, but to Catholics.
Atheists (such as Gross and Stewart) will, of course, have no truck with any of this. And they scoff that we could believe in anything as silly as miracles, let alone prayer (either to a deity or to a “long dead nun”). Their problem with miracles as answers to prayer has nothing to do with Blessed Mary’s upcoming canonisation, and everything to do with their rejection of religion full stop. But again, the Church is not proposing that atheists now call upon the intercession of Blessed Mary – well at least no more than we would generally propose that they change their hearts, repent and believe and turn to prayer.
And then you have those poorly infomed (like Russell Miles) who think that the Church canonises saints on the basis of the miracles that the Church requires as confirmation of the Saint’s presence in the heavenly courts. The Church canonises those who have lived lives of heroic virtue, not those who were famous or popular or known as miracle workers. The miracles are not the basis of their canonisation but are believed to be divine confirmation of the Church’s judgement that the heroically virtuous are indeed in heaven in the presence of God (and therefore able to hear prayers and to intercede “before the throne of God”). While the cause of saints in so far as reaching a judgement on the “heroic virtues” of a candidate can proceed faster or slower depending on the enthusiasm of the people behind the cause, in the final analysis (contra David Seal above) the timing of beatification and canonisation – that is, the end of the “waiting period” – is fully dependant upon the identification of confirming miracles. So, you can “fast track” someone to the point of being “Venerable” – as John Paul II now is – but from there on it is in the hands of God.
But of course all this will only make sense if you believe in God. If you think that the Church makes “saints”, rather than God, you will never understand this. It’s a Catholic thing, okay?