Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Canonizations -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

This past Sunday Pope Francis and the Roman Catholic Church canonized two beloved Popes, but you probably already know that. What might interest some is the seeming universal wide embrace of the event -- even among Protestants who have in the past taken a more judgmental perspective toward saint-making and saint invoking. Martin Marty speaks to the reasons why this is so. I invite you to reflect on the recent canonizations in light of the changes laid out by Dr. Marty.

Monday | Apr 28 2014
St. John Paul II                                                                                  Photo Credit: Paval Hadzinski / flickr
Yesterday, the Roman Catholic world and many other worlds celebrated the canonization of two new saints, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Non-comatose readers ofSightings need no further attention to be paid to the details and the drama of the event: weekend newspapers gave attention to it on pages devoted to news, features, editorials, and more. And TV!

What had to be striking to anyone who pays close attention to the media was the almost total absence of criticism of the idea of canonizing saints or of approaching the two new saints directly as “intercessors”—mediators between believers and God.

This silence or positive press about “double-new-saints” day may be taken for granted around much of the world today, but such responses contrast with attitudes from at least the time of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) when official Roman Catholicism fought back against the first Protestants, who engaged in heated polemics about most saints-talk.

Those of us with memories that go back to pre-Pope John XXIII or who consult church histories will find that the Protestant Reformers focused very much on what they saw as abuses in the practice of prayer invoking saints. (The Orthodox Christians looked on, devoted to saints but un-devoted to Roman Catholic canonization processes.)

Why the change today? Let us count the ways. First, non-Roman Catholics have other ways to define themselves than as the anti-saints people. Second, much internal reform within Catholicism has reduced the excesses of saint-worship, which had meant “intercession gone wild” and which critics thought corrupted faith in the Gospel. These reforms have increased the focus on the singular redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

More reasons for friendliness and interest: the Anti-Catholicism that fueled the old flaming critiques has cooled, no matter what professional complainers about “anti-Catholicism” may say. Why fight over such a generally benign and friendly thing as honoring saints as exemplars, though not as “patrons?”

Add the fact that it is hard not to be in the cheering section when, in a century of cynicism and terrors, people of peace are celebrated in distinctive ways. Try this: if there is criticism of one or two of the current new saints in the Catholic register, count on spokespersons for several Roman Catholic factions or causes to bring it forth; they are better at it than sniping Protestants and Orthodox and others in the Christian fold could ever be. Check this: such critics did have their half of the inning during the debates over the career of Pope John Paul II.

We bystanders can greet with good humor the adventure of seeking a second miracle worked after prayerful appeal to Pope John Paul II. He was elevated with only one, though John XXIII could boast—if he were a boaster—of the canonically requisite two. Plenty of Roman Catholics also have reservations about that “miraculous” detail on the road to sainthood. One pictures John XXIII, the “peasant pope” (his self-description) smiling and chiding the sticklers: “why fuss about something like that?”

In my Lutheran parish, April's wall calendar honors Martin Luther King, Jr. (4th), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (9th), St. Mark (28th), and others. Episcopalians list a few more (Anselm of Canterbury (21st)) among them. If we do not canonically Venerate (capital letter) them, they and plenty of non-Christians can and do venerate them (lower case “v”) and find them to be exemplars, alongside Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II.


Yardley, Jim. “On Historic Day, John XXIII and John Paul II Become Saints.” International New York Times, April 27, 2014, Europe.

Martin, James. “Two Very Different Saints Come Marching In: Resist the urge to see Pope John XXIII as a liberal and John Paul II as a conservative.” Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2014, Essay.

CBS News. “Pope Francis makes John Paul II, John XXIII saints in unprecedented dual canonization ceremony at Vatican.” April 27, 2014.

Winfield, Nicole. “Pope Francis makes John XXIII, John Paul II saints.” AP, April 27, 2014.

Image Credit: Paval Hadzinski / flickr

To read previous issues of Sightings, visit
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at

Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She was a 2012-13 Junior Fellow in the Marty Center.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Journey to a Revelatory Meal -- A Lectionary Reflection for Easter 3A

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem,14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[b] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[c] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[d] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[e] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.


            It is the third Sunday that we consider the appearances of Jesus.  Easter isn’t just a one and off event.  Jesus takes every opportunity to make himself known to his followers, empowering them to share their testimony to the glory and power of God who raised Jesus from the dead.  Each of the Gospels has their own set of stories.  There are differences and there are overlaps.  One of the most memorable of stories is the appearance to the two disciples making their way to Emmaus.  Luke gives us one name, which appears nowhere else, so one would assume that the recipient has some knowledge of Cleopas.  As for the other disciple – we’re not told who that person is.  Whoever these two are, they know Jesus, have heard all kinds of stories, but they’re heading away from Jerusalem.  As to where, Luke tells us they’re heading for Emmaus, wherever that is.  In his new book Jesus:  A Pilgrimage, Fr. James Martin, S.J., tries to find the town, following every lead he could find, and ultimately gives up.  So, maybe the destination doesn’t matter – maybe it’s the journey.  

            By this time in the story, Jesus has appeared to a group of women and Peter has discovered the Empty Tomb.  Isn’t it extraordinary that Jesus chooses to appear to women, when culturally-speaking their witness wasn’t considered reliable.   Isn’t it like Jesus to turn things on their head?  There are stories, but are they believable.  Maybe they’re just imagining things – yes, they all had a warm fuzzy experience of the memory of Jesus, and now they’re “fired up, and ready to go!”  But Luke, isn’t satisfied with warm fuzzy experiences.  He has some other stories that seem to affirm the message of resurrection. 

            The Gospels make a number of claims – even if at times made implicitly.  First, the risen Jesus is not a ghost.  He’s not a hallucination either.  He has a physical body (he eats bread and fish), and yet there is something different about this body.  It’s different enough that his disciples have trouble recognizing him, and it can appear and disappear in ways that normal human bodies cannot. 

            With this in the background we come to the focus of the story – Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  I was reminded recently that in Luke-Acts God is portrayed as the one who takes the initiative.  And so it is with this story.  The two disciples aren’t seeking Jesus or seeking after God.  They’re heading away from where Jesus had been spotted.  Maybe they were giving up – resigning from the group, and making their way to a new life?  They thought that Jesus was the way, but apparently not.  And so, like Jonah, they’re heading in the opposite direction!

            But Jesus goes looking for them, and he finds them heading down the road toward the mysterious village of Emmaus.  He invites himself to join them on the road.  While the two disciples don’t seem to recognize Jesus, he doesn’t seem to look too dangerous, and so they welcome him to walk with them.  And as they walk on, they have a conversation about the death of Jesus – and the reports of his resurrection, which they find difficult to believe.  Ironically, even though Jesus doesn’t seem to know about the events of Good Friday or Easter, he does know a bit about the biblical teachings on the Messiah, which he understands to point toward him.  And so, moving from the beginning of the Hebrew Bible (or the Septuagint), he interprets the biblical story as pointing to him.  They take in the teaching, but they don’t seem to get it. 

            Maybe they need something more to clinch the deal.  And the moment comes during a meal.  When they neared the village, Jesus appears to be continuing on beyond the village, but they prevail upon him to stay and share a meal with them.  It’s evening – the day is nearly over – it would be better to stop for the evening.  So Jesus goes in to where they are staying – it could be an inn or it could be the home of one of the two people.  In fact, I’m wondering if this isn’t a married couple who decided to head home after the events of Good Friday. 

            In any case, they sit down for dinner, and Jesus takes on the role of host.  They had invited him, but he changes roles with them.  And in a manner that mirrors what we saw in the story of the Last Supper.  Jesus takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it to them.  And as he does this, Luke records that “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight” (vs. 31).  This is truly a sacramental moment.  As theologian Molly Marshall puts it:  “Surely Luke 24 offers an emerging Eucharistic theology. The promise of this text is that Jesus will meet his beloved ‘in the breaking of the bread.’”   And rooted in this Eucharistic theology is the importance of hospitality, and thus here we see that “Eucharistic hospitality should emulate the expansive welcome portrayed in this text.” [Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2:  422].

            This is a Eucharistic theology that welcomes the stranger, and where it is possible that the Stranger becomes the host.  That is, as Molly Marshall suggests, a risky move.  It is a reminder also that the Eucharistic experience is a communal one.  We can also see in this passage a liturgical connection between Word and Sacrament.  Jesus first interprets the Word and then is revealed in the Breaking of the Bread.  The two disciples seem to have caught this reality; for they remember how their hearts were warmed as Jesus had taught them.  Now, after the revelation at the Table, his teachings become clear to them.  It is as Cynthia Jarvis puts it:
By word and sacrament, Christ opens the eyes of them who rejoice that they have reached their destination in him.  Christ’s church has been making diligent use of his given means of grace since the evening of the first day of the week, in hopes that, on the way home, perhaps two in the crowd might even say, one to the other, “Did not our hearts burn this morning as the scriptures were opened to us.”  [Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2:  423]. 

Indeed, may some among us have our hearts opened to God, even as the Scriptures are opened and the bread is broken in our midst.         

Monday, April 28, 2014

Making Sense of the Bible (Adam Hamilton) -- A Review

MAKING SENSE OF THE BIBLE: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture TodayBy Adam Hamilton.  San Francisco:  Harper One, 2014.  324 pages.

                Years ago – before I arrived at Fuller Theological Seminary – a battle was underway.  It was a “Battle for the Bible,” that focused on the inspiration and authority of Scripture.  The issue was whether or not the Bible was inerrant, and if so what did that mean?  Did it mean, for instance, that we must take the creation story in Genesis 1-2 as historically and scientifically accurate portrayals?  What about questions of cultural context – should we replicate views of women and even slavery that we find in the Scriptures (at the time homosexuality wasn’t front and center).  Then there was the question of what actually should be considered inerrant – the current texts or the “original autographs.”  Even defenders of inerrancy weren’t sure how to answer the questions.  At Fuller, they hedged a bit by embracing infallibility, a softer way of defending the divinely given authority of Scripture.  Along the way, I found defenses of inerrancy and even infallibility problematic, and even a deterrent to interpreting the Bible and affirming its authority in the present day.  The question then is – what does a high view of Scripture look like – in practice?

                Making Sense of the Bible is Adam Hamilton’s attempt at answering that question.  Hamilton is the pastor of United Methodist megachurch – Church of the Resurrection in metro-Kansas City.  The author has evangelical roots, affirms a high view of scripture, but believes that appeals to inerrancy and literalism not only undermine the witness of the church, but undermine our ability to hear the voice of God emanating from Scripture.  In this book, he hopes to clear away the clutter and help the reader engage with Scripture in all its complexity and wonder.

                In the course of thirty-two relatively brief, fast-reading chapters divided into two sections, Hamilton takes us on a tour of the Bible, addresses questions of inspiration, authority, and interpretation, and then addresses some of the reigning questions of the day, ranging from bible and science to homosexuality.  He begins with pointing out what Scripture is not – a theological text book, owner’s manual, science book, or even a “Magic 8 Ball” that will give answers to our most personal questions.  As for what the Bible is – well that’s the question addressed by the rest of the book.  Before we get to the modern questions, Hamilton spends time with biblical geography and timeline.  It’s just a reminder that the Bible is an ancient book that emerges out of a particular context.  From there, he moves to chapters exploring the Old Testament and the New Testament.  He offers an overview of both, addresses questions of authorship and canonicity as well.  From these basic treatments of the two Testaments he moves on to inspiration and authority, addressing questions of how God might speak through Scripture and whether it is inerrant.  The fact that he addresses inerrancy is important because it signals a significant audience – those wondering whether the Bible is in fact somehow an error free text, and what that means.  He believes that the Bible is God-breathed (inspired), that God does speak through Scripture (it is the Word of God – but in a way that is secondary to Christ), but rejects claims of inerrancy as undermining Scripture’s voice.  He also notes that the way in which inerrancy often gets defined – especially when connected to non-existent original autographs -- it is a concept devoid of meaning.  Rather than trying to prove that the Bible is inerrant, he is content to affirm the Anglican and Methodist confession that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation” (p. 169).  Instead of trying to define inspiration, this statement focuses on its utility for helping lead humanity into reconciliation.  In a helpful move, Hamilton reminds us that Scripture is a living witness.  The texts are ancient, but with the aid of Tradition, Experience, and Reason, we can hear a word that is relevant for today.  So if a high view of Scripture doesn’t rest on inerrancy or even infallibility, what does it rest upon?  Hamilton answers:
Someone who holds a high view of scripture approaches scripture with a deep appreciation for its history and the way God has spoken and continues to speak through it.  That person recognizes both the Bible’s humanity and its divine inspiration, and seeks to study it carefully in order to be shaped and guided by it.  Someone with a high view of scripture actually reads the Bible, listens for God to speak through it, seeks to be shaped by its words, and tries to follow its commands (p. 182).
It is not merely a theological construct – it is a decision to engage thoughtfully with an ancient document recognized to be a source of words from God. 

                With the foundations set, Hamilton is read to “mak[e] sense of the Bible’s challenging passages.”  Chapters nineteen through thirty explore topics ranging from science and the Bible’s creation stories to homosexuality in the Bible.  He addresses questions that might be on many people’s minds – homosexuality, science, and women, and ones that might be less pressing (the presence or lack thereof of dinosaurs on the Ark.  On matters of science, Hamilton doesn’t believe that evolution will diminish the glory of God.  We can, he asserts, learn truth from both science and the Bible.  If you embrace evolutionary theory then you needn’t worry about a historical Adam and Eve or whether dinosaurs made it onto the Ark, but some might have questions.  One area of deep concern is related to the question of divinely authorized or initiated violence, especially within the Hebrew Bible.  He notes a number of solutions and in the end recognizes that the lesson of these passages might be the ease with which “we might still be led to invoke God’s name as a justification of violence in our world” (p. 217).  For Christians, viewing God through the person and message of Jesus will help us reject such views.   He also deals with questions about women (not all Scripture passages offer a modern or just view of women) and tattoos (again context is important).     

                In the current cultural context the true litmus test, for many people, centers on how he understands the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality.  He does address the question, noting the changing cultural attitudes toward homosexuality.  He gives brief responses to the usual texts – Sodom and Gomorrah, Leviticus, and Romans 1.  The discussion of this issue leads him to detail three categories or buckets in which we can place texts like these.  There is the “timeless will of God” bucket, “God’s particular will,” and texts that reflect a particular culture.  In offering these categories, he notes how difficult it is put these texts in a “times will of God bucket.”  Not even most conservatives are willing to follow the command to execute men who lie with men, or women with women.  As for his own views, they have evolved over the years.  And like many, it was experience (pastoral experience in his case) with gays and lesbians that began to push him in a new direction.  And so he writes:
The Bible informs my relationship with my wife, and it should inform how two homosexuals share their life and love.  And just as heterosexuals are called to fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness as the highest ideal, so too are homosexual Christians called to such ideals.  One doesn’t get a pass for immoral behavior by being homosexual, but most homosexuals I’ve met are not looking for a pass to be immoral; they are looking for a blessing to share their life with another person as “companion and helper” (p. 276).    
Thus the issue isn’t homosexuality or heterosexuality – it is teaching what healthy sexual and romantic relationships should look like.  His own views on the subject have changed as his views of scripture have changed.  By coming to appreciate the humanity of the Bible, he has been better able to hear within its words a Word from God. 

                What does Adam Hamilton desire from us?  He desires that we embrace an honest and reverent view of Scripture.  He wants us to recognize both the humanity and the divine inspiration of Scripture.  He seeks a balance that will allow us to hear that Word from God.  How shall we do this?  Hamilton closes the book with eight ways in which we can “read the Bible for all its worth.”  We do this by putting ourselves into the story;  discover the context; ask about its teaching on humanity, ourselves, and about God;  pray the Scriptures; memorize them; study them with others, bring the text into our own lives (this may involve some allegorizing, but it has usefulness), and finally imagine what might have been.  In regard the last point he invites us to consider the witness that Judas might have had, had he waited three days before taking his life – being forgiven of betrayal would have been powerful. 

                Why did Hamilton write the book?  He wrote it as an encouragement to read it.  While the Bible is the story of Israel, the church, and God, it is also our story.”  Thus, “when we read with ears and hearts open to hear, God speaks and the scriptures convey to us ‘wonderful words of life’” (p. 309).  If this book can help persons, especially Christians, read and engage the Scriptures with a reverent and inquisitive posture, then Hamilton will have achieved much.   It would be an excellent study text for churches, Bible study groups, anyone who wishes to hear the voice of God anew.  That there is a leader's guide available from the publisher makes this even more accessible for study groups [Making Sense of the Bible Leader Guide].  

Take and read – not only Hamilton’s book, but the Bible as well.  For, in reading the Bible with newly opened eyes, one might rediscover its power today!


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Guards’ report (Matthew 28:11-15)

Matthew 28:11-15  Common English Bible (CEB)
11 Now as the women were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 They met with the elders and decided to give a large sum of money to the soldiers. 13 They told them, “Say that Jesus’ disciples came at night and stole his body while you were sleeping. 14 And if the governor hears about this, we will take care of it with him so you will have nothing to worry about.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were told. And this report has spread throughout all Judea to this very day.
It is the Sunday after Easter.  Jesus is risen.  We've proclaimed the good news.  But not everyone is happy.  As is often the case, there are those who have a vested interest in a different version of things.  We see this in politics all the time.  We call this spin.  Well, the religious leaders have a vested interest in Jesus being dead.  If he's dead, he'll be out of their hair.  One more pretender to messianic glory will have been dispatched.  So, when the news comes that Jesus is risen -- or at least that his body was missing, the leaders must buy off the guards they had placed at the tomb.  These guards were Roman soldiers, whom the religious leaders had requested from Pontius Pilate to "guard against" such an eventuality (Matthew 27:62-66)

So, they concoct a story.  What is the story?  Well, you may have heard that Jesus is risen.  Not true!  No, the disciples came and stole the body while the guards were sleeping.  There are lots of reasons why this doesn't work, but the story got out -- as hoped.  Disinformation will undermine the message.  Seeds of doubt are sown.  

So the question for us today -- do you buy the disinformation?  Do you take the word of the guards who are bought off, even though this requires them to admit that they were derelict in their duty (something Roman soldiers would have been reluctant to do -- but not in this case)?  Or do you believe the lives of of a group of people who had watched their leader die on a cross? 

The choice is ours!

As William Willimon puts it:  

Whenever confronted by this text in preaching or teaching, the church does not have to work up enthusiasm for some personal, inner, heightened spiritual experience.  We must simply have the courage joyfully to what we have seen.  Christ is risen!  We cannot explain that, need not attempt laboriously to argue that.  We must simply stand and deliver that which we have seen, tell the truth of our collective surprise that, although the death-dealing world has done its worst in torturing Jesus to death, God refused to be defeated by death and defiantly vindicated Jesus' way as God's way by raising him from the dead.  [Feasting on the Gospels--Matthew, Volume 2pp. 364, 366] 
It may not be popular.  It may not fit with modern expectations -- but it is the message given to us.  Will we receive it?

  •  Note on this passage, which is not in the Revised Common Lectionary but appears in David Ackerman's  Beyond the Lectionary:  you will notice in the final verse of the passage, that Matthew metnions that this story has spread among and is believed by the Jews.  Although this is a unique usage in Matthew, we must always be aware of anti-Jewish readings of the New Testament.  Remember -- Jesus and his early disciples were Jews!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Suburban Poverty -- Is it the coming trend?

It was buried on page four of yesterday's Detroit Free Press, but a recent report based on census data suggests that Oakland County, one of America's most affluent county's has seen a 77% increase in poverty.  

Living in the Metro-Detroit area, I know that the city of Detroit faces the extremes of poverty.  The same is true of former industrial centers like Flint and Saginaw,but could it happen in the midst of what so many perceive to be affluent suburbs?  It s true that Pontiac, another former industrial hub, has been hit hard by urban poverty, but what needs to be heard here is that poverty in Oakland County isn't just centered in Pontiac -- it's spread across the county (even in a city like Troy).   In my mind a report like that is front page news!

The story in the Free Press highlights the story of someone you wouldn't have expected to end up in poverty. In the story we learn about Bridget Agnello -- divorced, mother of one young son, college educated, former marketing director for fortune 500 companies.  She once made $74,000 a year, but lost that job and has not been able to find a replacement.  She's now a resident of a low-income housing project (for two years) after losing her home in Ferndale, MI.  

The economy has been improving and jobs are coming back, but not for everyone.  And the jobs emerging often are at a level below what was once offered.  Moving from a Fortune 500 marketing director position to a sale's clerk position at a department store will result in a very different standard of living.  

As the President of a faith-rooted community organizing effort that is focusing on suburban issues, I find this report to be on the one hand disturbing, but also a reminder that there is work to do in the suburbs.  We are focusing at the Metro Coalition of Congregations on issues like Regional Transit (transit is key to helping low-income people, seniors, and young adults get to available jobs) and health care (the Medicare expansion is key to helping low-income workers have access to affordable health care).  The gun violence initiative focuses in on an issue that we often don't think is important in the suburbs, but could be.  As for human trafficking -- how many people find themselves lured into trafficking situation due to the despair created by poverty.

Heeding this report doesn't take away from the urban centered poverty that affects Detroit and Flint, but it is important to open our eyes to the situation faced by our neighbors -- many close at hand, living on the edge. It is important to remember that we are in this together -- urban, suburban, and rural.  

As we consider the situations those around us face, we need to take into consideration that the safety nets are being stretched to the limit, even as funding gets cut back (food stamps, etc.).  Ironically, this is occurring at the very same time that poverty is touching what was once considered the home of affluence.  Perhaps that is no longer true.   

Heeding the call to love one' neighbor and care for the stranger -- biblical imperatives -- don't require long drives to faraway places.  We just need to look around.  And then, we need to act.  I have chosen to participate in this work by helping found the MCC -- but there are many ways we can engage in this kind of justice work.     

Friday, April 25, 2014

Habemus Sanctum: Catholic Church Recognizes Two Former Popes as Saints -- Sightings

As a Protestant I don't have any vested interest or influence on matters of Roman Catholic sainthood. I watch from a distance, approving or disapproving as I desire. But with the impending canonization of two former Popes, one who represents the opening of the Church to new possibilities (John XXIII) and one who despite his personal popularilty seemed to close down the new direction, offers us an intriguing look into the life of the Catholic Church. The process opens us up the question of what makes a saint? Is it popularity Is it heroic effort? And for some of us, we're waiting for Oscar Romero to be so honored! Could it be that John XXIII was elevated as a counter-balance to John Pall II? This essay by Matthew Petrusek helps us sort out some of these questions.  I would be interested in what others of you feel about this event come Sunday.

Habemus Sanctum: Catholic Church Recognizes Two Former Popes as Saints
Thursday | April 24 2014
Pope John Paul II, Vatican City, Dec 31, 2004           Photo Credit: Giulio Napolitano / Shutterstock 
On April 27th, Pope Francis will canonize two new saints, both former popes: Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. The event will likely draw millions of the faithful (and the curious) to Rome to witness the ceremony.

To formally recognize someone as a “saint,” for Roman Catholics, is to acknowledge, with certainty, that the canonized is in heaven because of the distinctively holy way in which s/he lived her or his earthly life. The Church thus does not create saints. It recognizes them.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.”

To become canonized, a candidate must pass through four stages after death, a typically long process overseen by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints: 1) being identified as a “Servant of God” (an initiative that often emerges from the popular piety of communities where the potential saint lived and worked), 2) being identified as “venerable,” which means that the candidate has demonstrated a life of heroic virtue in both deed and thought, 3) being declared as “blessed,” which means that the Church has determined after careful examination that at least one miracle can be attributed to her/his intercession, and 4) being canonized, which is the same as being declared a saint (being canonized also usually requires the confirmation of an additional miracle, which constitutes proof that the canonized is in heaven). Both Popes John XXIII and Pope John Paul II are on the verge of this final step.

What to make of the two men who will soon become the newest saints? Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe in a poor village in northern Italy, is best known for surprising the Church—and the world—by convening Vatican II, a monumental event that forever changed the Church’s liturgy, worship, and engagement with the contemporary world. Dubbed “The Good Pope” for his kind spirit and remarkable capacity to bring deeply divergent factions together.

John XXIII’s sainthood has been in the works for a long time (he died in 1963) and has not generated any significant controversy along the way, except, perhaps, for the fact that Pope Francis reduced the “two miracle requirement” to one so that he could canonize John XXIII and John Paul II in the same ceremony.

John Paul II, on the other hand, has had a remarkably fast assent to canonization since his death in 2005. While there continues to be broad and passionate support for him both inside and outside of the Church—many point to his pivotal role in defeating Communism, tireless travel schedule even after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, indefatigable defense of the dignity of all human life, especially in its most vulnerable forms (a value he distinctively embodied by never hiding the ravages of his disease from the public), and his profound personal piety as confirmation of his heroic virtue—his canonization is not without controversy.

A recent article in the Daily Beast, for example, identifies several groups of Catholics and non-Catholics who argue that Church should slow the process of ascertaining the former pope’s sainthood. Many Catholics, according to the article, do not object to the canonization of John Paul II on principle, but believe that the Church, an institution otherwise known for moving at a deliberately glacial pace, should not rush to judgment in the recognition of new saints.

Others object on principle. Groups like the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in the United States and several similar international organizations contend that John Paul II did not do enough to prevent and respond to sexual abuse crises as these unfolded in many dioceses across the globe, particularly in the case of the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, the high profile founder of the order of the Legion of Christ who was credibly accused of sexually abusing seminarians and fathering numerous children during John Paul II’s papacy.

Degollado had a close relationship with the pope—a relationship, critics argue, that allowed him to avoid investigation and subsequent punishment until after John Paul II’s death. Whether or not John Paul knew about the charges of abuse brought against Degollado is still unclear, and perhaps always will be. (The Church has firmly denied that John Paul had any knowledge of these, or any other, incidents of abuse.)

What is certain is that there will be two new saints come April 27th, joining the ranks of thousands of others. It will be a grand, celebratory event. And though he will certainly eschew it, at least some of the attention will also be on the canonizer, Pope Francis—to many, a likely future saint himself.

Works Cited:

Latza Nadeau, Barbie. “The Seedy Side of Sainthood: Was Pope John II Canonized Too Fast?” The Daily Beast, April 17, 2014.

Beccari, Camillo. "Beatification and Canonization." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Accessed April 22, 2014.

The Holy See. Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Photo Credit: Giulio Napolitano / Shutterstock

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Author, Matthew Petrusek, (Ph.D. Religious Ethics, 2013, University of Chicago Divinity School) is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He was a 2012-13 Junior Fellow in the Marty Center.

Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She was a 2012-13 Junior Fellow in the Marty Center.
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