On September 4 2016, thousands watched as Mother Theresa was 'made a saint' by the Catholic Church. Was it just because she was a 'good person'? What is the purpose of a saint anyway?
Who are Saints?
St Paul sent one of his letters (now part of the New Testament) to 'to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus' Ephesians 1:1. They were still alive. In that way, all believers in Christ Jesus who are faithful to Him, are 'saints'. We are all called to be 'saints' even though most of us won't be formally and publically recognized as Saints. Still, there are many Saints canonized every year; the general and non-Catholic public only hears about those who are already well-known (such as Mother Theresa and John Paul II).
The Church does not 'make' a Saint but recognizes the person as a Saint. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, 'But by canonizing some of the faithful, i.e. by solemnly 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 him or her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the Saints as models and intercessors." Catechism of the Catholic Church 828.
God's Friends and Servants
The Saints are considered God’s friends and servants and they are believed to reign with God in heaven. Their supernatural gifts have been given to them only by God and therefore they are honoured and given reverence (Latin, dulia). The Virgin Mary is given a higher form of reverence (Latin, hyperdulia) because she is the mother of Jesus.
The Catholic Church believes that worship (Latin, latria) should be given to God alone. Of course, Jesus is believed to be God, in the Nicene Creed, “true God and true man”, and therefore he is also worshipped. The saints, martyrs and even the Virgin Mary are not worshipped as they are not divine beings.
There is of course, “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5) but the Saints are intercessors (prayer partners) and advocates (Rev 5:8, Rev 8:3,4). The Church does teach that you can pray directly to Jesus for healing. It does not teach that Mary and the Saints will convince Jesus to answer your prayer when He doesn't really want to! (Although some Catholics seem to think this, misreading the story of Jesus' first miracle at Cana.)
The Saints also serve as models for those of us who are still alive. Some Saints won't mean much to us personally, but some of their stories will touch our hearts.
Every Sunday, Catholics say the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed during the Mass. They say, "I believe in the communion of saints'. The Church teaches that the Mystical Church includes: 1. The Church Militant (Christians on earth) 2. The Church Suffering (Christians in purgatory) and 3. The Church Triumphant (those in heaven).
Beatification and Canonization
A beatified person is known as ‘Blessed......” and a canonized person is known as “Saint......”. Usually, someone is beatified first and later if the further conditions are met (two miracles), that person is canonized..
The words used in the actual canonization are: “In honour of ... we decree and define that Blessed .... is a Saint, and we inscribe his/her name in the catalogue of saints, and order that his memory be devoutly and piously celebrated on the ... day ..., his feast.” The feast day of a saint is commonly celebrated on the anniversary of his or her death.
Procedure for Beatification and Canonization
There are strict regulations about the investigation into the person's life for the cause of sainthood. The person’s life is examined for reputation, for sanctity and for miracles that have occurred after his or her death. If the person has written diaries or books, these are examined to see if there is anything contrary to faith and morals in the writings.
Mother Theresa's journey to canonization was very fast (some said she was 'fast-tracked' because so many asked for her to be made a Saint). And yet, it was 19 years after she died that her canonization took place! All her writings, including many private letters, were examined during that time.
The miracles attributed to the intercession of Mother Theresa were the curing of cancer in a Christian Indian woman and the curing of brain abscesses in a Brazilian man. The Brazilian man and his wife were present in Rome for Mother Theresa's canonization.
Miracles must be substantiated, for example, healing of a disease must be shown to have no natural cause and are investigated by medical doctors and scientists, not necessarily Catholic. If there are eyewitnesses to the miracles, they are examined. In the case of martyrs, there must be proof of the martyrdom.
When the Church was investigating miracles attributed to the intercession of Margaret D'Youville they contacted Dr Jacalyn Duffin, a haematologist at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. She told them she was an atheist, and those from the Vatican working with the investigation were fine with that. She was asked to look at some bone marrow slides and without being told any background, was asked for a diagnosis. It turned out that her reading of the slides verified that a miracle had occurred. Margaret D'Youville, a French nun, who started the Grey Nuns of Montreal in 1737 became Canada's first Saint in 1990.
Dr Duffin was intrigued with the material she found in the Vatican Archives that she investigated hundreds of other stories of miracles. "To admit that as a nonbeliever, you don't have to claim that it was a supernatural entity that did it," Duffin said, "You have to admit some humility and accept that there are other things that science cannot explain." (quoted in an article by Tom Gjelten, www.npr.org)
I pray that Dr Duffin will one day find that miracles are indeed from God who does exist and that everyone will get to know the Saints better.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York and Toronto: Doubleday Publishing Group Inc. 1995.
Duffin, Jacalyn Pondering Miracles - Medical and Religious. On NY Times website. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/06/opinion/pondering-miracles-medical-and-religious.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fhealth&_r=0
Website of the Catholic Encyclopedia/New Advent accessed January 15, 2011.
Gjelten, Tom. How the Catholic Church Documented Mother Teresa's Two Miracles. http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/08/31/491937448/how-the-catholic-church-documented-mother-teresas-two-miracles accessed September 6, 2016.
 Purgatory is another topic, Suffice it to say that it is a place of cleansing (or purging) and everyone in purgatory will eventually be in heaven. It is not hell where those who do not believe in God or in Jesus have chosen to go.
 Gjelten, Tom. www.npr.org "How the Catholic Church Documented Mother Teresa's Two Miracles. August 31, 2016.