Tuesday, December 15, 2009

the making of a saint

Jacinta: Now for some light relief. Apparently the Vatican is on the verge of turning Mary Mackillop into Australia's first saint. It's only a matter of days, folks.
Canto: Isn't she a South Aussie?
Jacinta: Born in Melbourne, she moved to Penola as a teenager, taking up a job as governess at a farm of her relatives. That's where she came into contact with the parish priest of the region, Tenison Woods, and they began to collaborate on providing education, meaning Catholic education, to country towns throughout South Australia, and elsewhere in Australia. They founded a religious order, the Sisters of St Joseph, and Mary travelled throughout the country founding schools and making friends and enemies in the Catholic hierarchy. Much of the time, especially in the early years, she was based in South Australia, and naturally our state claims her as its own, but anyway she seems to have been a formidable figure, and she certainly deserves respect for her education push, especially among the disadvantaged.
Canto: Right, so a good sort, and worthy of remembrance. The Jesus of the gospels would've warmed to her much more than to the pope [I mean the papacy in general]. But what we're really interested in of course is the Vatican and ts sainthood shenanigans.
Jacinta: You bet. MacKillop was beatified in 1995...
Canto: And what, pray tell my love, does that entail?
Jacinta: Well, it's a step toward canonization, and out of it you get to be called Blessed Mary Mackillop.
Canto: In fact, as Wikipedia tells us, it's the third of four steps toward canonization. Apparently beatification became something of a commonplace under the last Pope, John Paul II. He beatified more people than all the other Popes of the past 400 years put together, and our Mary was one of them. But please, what does it entail?
Jacinta: There was a reform of Canon law in 1983, and since then one miracle has to be proven to have taken place through the intercession of the one to be beatified. I think the last step requires another miracle, something like that.
Canto: No, no, I want precise details Jacinta - give us the whole four-step process, then I want the dope on our Mary's rocky road to sainthood.
Jacinta: Okay well originally there was no formal process for becoming a saint of course, but even in the early days it became clear that a process had to be set in place. This process has been knocked into different shapes over the years, but we'll focus on the current situation, pertaining since 1983. It starts at the local level, naturally. What they call the diocesan level. The local bishop gives the OK for a heroine of the congregation like Mary M - actually ex of the congregation, for she has to be dead at least five years - to be investigated as to her virtues, her worthiness and so forth.
Canto: Actually the five-year dead/waiting period was waived in the case of Mother Teresa.
Jacinta: Blessed Mother Teresa, though she hasn't been canonized as yet either. Anyway, while this process is underway, the candidate is given the title 'Servant of God'. Her writings, her activities, her connections are exhaustively analysed. Often a guild of sorts is set up to gather all the info - basically an advocacy group. Next, when sufficient info is gathered it's sent to the Roman Curia, the Papal Court. More specifically, it's sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, The candidate, I mean the Servant of God, is assigned a postulator, basically an official advocate. Mary M's postulator was Father Paul Gardiner, now it's Maria Casey. Now, get this for a next step:
"Declaration 'Non Cultus'" At some point, permission is then granted for the body of the Servant of God to be exhumed and examined, a certification ("non cultus") that no superstitious or heretical worship or improper cult has grown up around the servant or his or her tomb is made, and relics are taken.
 Canto: Yes, yes, you'll notice how so much of this is about orthodoxy, emphasizing and re-emphasizing the central role and power of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. Anything else is surely the devil's work. Read, for example, 'The mirage of theological correctness', in Chapter 8 of Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained. It helps us understand the established hierarchy's obsession with heresy, and its ruthlessness in the suppression of same. For trained, orthodox  priests, unlike, say, trained medicos, are no more efficacious than 'alternative priests' in the making of good citizens or the saving of souls, whatever it is priests are supposed to do. The more precarious the 'special knowledge' of the orthodox, the more obsessed they will be in patrolling the boundaries of their territory and defending their privileged position.
Jacinta: All true, Canto, but I'm just wondering who's been rummaging around in Mary M's bones.Anyway we won't go there. The congregation, if it's happy with the Servant of God's qualities, makes a recommendation to the pope that he proclaim her 'heroic virtue'. From this point forward, our Servant of God becomes Venerable. Then a miracle has to be shown to have occurred through the intercession of the Venerable one, in order her for to be beatified. and then another miracle, and she's a saint.
Canto: Right, so to summarize the four-step process, she becomes a Servant of God, then she becomes Venerable, then she becomes Blessed, then she becomes a Saint.
Jacinta: You got it. Except that, really she isn't made a saint, or any of the other things leading up to it, according to the doctrine. She's always been a saint. The hierarchy have merely discovered her saintliness, or proved it. Just like white folks discovered the great southern land centuries ago, or proved its existence, as great, and southern.
Canto: Well thanks for the general summary. Now what about Mary Mackillop's road to sainthood, and her miracles?
Jacinta: Next time, my love.

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