Sunday, 20 December 2009

Miracles and heroic virtues

A series of recent decrees of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints caught media headlines because they included the recognition of the herioc virtues of Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II. A report of the approval of the decrees by Pope Benedict XVI can be found here, and the Vatican news service report in Italian here.

But there are some other interesting decrees among the "small print", so to speak. Of interest to Catholics in England is the recognition of the heroic virtues of Sr Mary Ward, foundress of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and institute now known as the Congregation of Jesus. Corrections in the comments box if my memory is wrong, but this is, I think, an order whose spiritual roots are alongside those of the Society of Jesus.

Also among the decrees is the recognition of the martyrdom of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko. This absolves Fr Jerzy from the miracle needed for beatification; but, given the dimensions of his murder that might be considered political, it is significant to see that he has been recognised as a martyr. Archbishop Oscar Romero can be thought of as a martyr in very much the same way as Fr Popieluszko, though he acted in the context of a regime that would be considered "on the right" where Fr Popieluszko acted in the context of a regime "of the left".

Another decree recognises a miracle attributed to the intercession of Chiara "Luce" Badano, a young member of the Focolare. This opens the way to her beatification only twenty years after her death.

I would like, however, to reflect on the idea of "heroic virtue". The careful enquiry into the life and work of a candidate for sainthood is what one might call a necessary, but not sufficient, step to canonisation. If this enquiry does not result in a positive outcome, the cause is not pursued further. If it idoes achieve a positive outcome, due study is then made to verify a miracle due to the intercession of the person concerned. All of this is to demonstrate that the person is in heaven, and able to intercede effectively before the Father on our behalf.

I sometimes wonder whether those who are subsequently canonised really felt that they were doing anything heroic, or whether they just felt they were doing simply what would have been expected of anyone in their situation. One thinks in comparison of this interview with Able Seaman Kate Nesbitt, who recently was awarded the Military Cross for bravery. There are people who will almost certainly never be canonised but who nevertheless carry out acts of human charity that are heroic, they themselves though thinking of them as something quite ordinary and what anyone else would do in their situation.

Like the gentleman of about 80 years who, every day almost without exception, and for two or three hours, visits his wife in a nursing home. His wife has been seriously disabled by strokes, and does not communicate.

And children who spend time looking after and being with their parents as they grow older, particularly at times when their parents are ill.

Or those who remain faithful as a family member suffers from addiction.

These are people who are worth blogging about.

[See also Saint News at the Hermeneutic of Continuity.]

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