BECOMING A SAINT
by Rev.Fr. Paul Nwaeze
In Catholic tradition, November 1 each year is observed as “All Saints’ Day”. It is a solemn, holy day in which the Church commemorates all the saints – canonized and uncanonized. Who is a saint we might ask? Is it possible to become a saint especially in today’s sophisticated and materialistic society? How does one become a saint? Are there as many Black saints as there are White saints? These are some of the questions we hope to discuss in this article.
In the strict sense of the word, saints are those men and women who lived a life of exceptional holiness while on earth and now are with God in heaven. They are those brothers and sisters and friends of ours who followed Jesus the Master faithfully, who lived out the Beatitudes and the entire gospel values in a remarkable way, endured all forms of suffering and persecution and even death on account of Christ and His gospel. They are those who have come out of the great ordeal and have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). It is this great multitude from every tribe and people and nation and languages that the Church commemorates on November 1.
No one is born a saint; saints are made. Many a time we hear people refer to someone as “a living saint” simply because they see in such people a reflection of the goodness and love of God. Such individuals carry Jesus in their hearts and take the gospel to others in the way they live their lives, care for others and witness to others. This was how the world saw the likes of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, both of whom, incidentally, have recently been canonized saints. Both are perhaps the greatest modern saints known, admired and loved by thousands of people around the world, Christians and non-Christians alike. The lives of these two spiritual giants are a powerful reminder that sainthood and saintliness are not just for people of the ancient past. No! Sainthood is for us NOW and we are ALL called to be saints!
We have saints from different backgrounds and all walks of life e.g., popes, bishops, priests, deacons, religious men and women, young and old people, married, single, medical doctors, journalists, lawyers, nurses, teachers, accountants and builders. It is also believed that there was even a prostitute who became a saint! How true, therefore, the saying: every saint has a past! There was also a thief who became a saint. Remember the good thief who was crucified beside Jesus? We have a husband and wife who are saints; a mother and son and twin brothers who are saints. This goes to show that sainthood is not a prerogative of any particular group of people, culture or race. Though the majority of known saints are Whites, yet we have a vast array of African and Caribbean saints as well. Prominent among them are St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Irenaeus, St Hippolytus, St Martin De Porres, St. Anthony Mary Claret, the Martyrs of Uganda and the Martyrs of Africa, to name but a few. We Nigerians have not yet got our own Nigerian saint, but Michael Iwene Tansi has already been beatified and is, therefore, on the road to canonisation.
In the Catholic Church, a person is made a saint through a process known as canonization. This is basically an official declaration that a person who has died lived an extraordinary Christian life. It involves a rigorous scrutiny, which could last from five years up to several centuries. There are four rungs which the person must climb before the Church acknowledges his or her sainthood or sanctity. Usually, this process is initiated by the bishop of the diocese where the person in question died. Once this is done, the individual assumes the title “Servant of God”. Next the candidate’s life is investigated thoroughly by a Vatican committee called the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The findings of this committee are presented to the Pope. Once it is recognized by the Pope, the candidate will be called “Venerable”. The next step is the beatification. Once the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has “ensured that there is a substantial reason in the life of the candidate that he or she might be a saint, a miracle attributed to the candidate must be observed.” He or she is then beatified and assumes the name “Blessed”. To get to the final stage – canonization – a second miracle must be associated with the candidate. At this time, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt that this individual is in heaven with God and is an example of following Christ worthy of imitation by others. In 2015, Pope Francis cleared the way for Mother Teresa’s canonization after recognizing a second miracle. Her canonization took place at the Vatican on September 4, only a few weeks ago. As a saint, and like any other saint, she will be venerated throughout the universal Church.
We are called to be saints, to be with God in heaven. As St. Paul reminds us: our homeland is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). We become saints through personal efforts and by making judicious use of our gifts and abilities. Becoming a saint does not necessarily entail doing extraordinary things, rather, as St. Theresa of the Little Way puts it, doing ordinary things such as offering a helping hand, a gentle smile, a listening ear, a little kindness and so on, in an extraordinary manner in such a way that people can feel the presence of Christ in their lives. It is by no means an easy road, but doing the will of God and trusting in Him every step of the way is the sure way to become a saint!
About the writer
Rev. Fr. Paul Nwaeze is a Nigerian-born priest and pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal parish, Russell, Ontario, Canada.