On October 14, 2018, Pope Francis canonized seven new saints, including one of my favorites, Oscar Romero. Romero was one of the first Catholic figures that truly inspired me, playing a significant role in my growth as a young Catholic, and I, like the people of El Salvador, had considered him a saint long before Pope Francis made it official. His life was exemplary in the way he heard the cry of the poor, allowed their pain to change his life, and turned around to be a prophetic voice for justice, leaving his own life behind. Like Dorothy Day a few decades earlier, I did not have to wait for the Church to tell me of his holiness; his commitment to the life of Jesus spoke for itself.
But it does raise an interesting question: how does someone go from being a holy person venerated by a small community to a universally recognized saint? In the early Church, saints were canonized by popular devotion—if their cult of following was great enough and their reputation endured, the Church accepted it. Naturally, this could not last forever, and in the 6th century, the Church began to require the investigation of the local bishop to approve devotion. By the 10th century, eyewitness testimonies began to be required, biographies were written, and a more formal process of canonization began. In 1588, with the reorganization of the Roman Curia, an administrative body was established to oversee, among other things, the recommendations for canonization to the pope. The process continued to grow in strictness, with the 1917 Code of Canon Law compiling 145 separate canons on the causes for canonization, only to simplified in 1983 with the current code, leaving us with what we have today.
A five (or so) step process including death, investigations, voting, and numerous titles, all of which is outlined in this week’s Catholicism In Focus.
And while this is all very interesting and no doubt important, I do want to leave it with one final thought. As beneficial as it is to have an official list of saints, verified and assured by our leaders, we mustn’t diminish sainthood to those canonized. Each and every one of us is called to be a saint, for a saint is merely one who resides for eternity in heaven. The Church may have 10,000 or more who are officially recognized, the actually number of people in the presence of God is astronomically higher. Regardless of whether or not we are every universally recognized, it should be our goal, each and every day, to grow in holiness like those we call “saint,” and to one day reach their level of holiness in Christ.