Saints For Dummies
Saints were basically normal people. They just lived extraordinary lives or endured extraordinary circumstances. The Catholic Church honors them because of the miraculous impact their lives had on others, and people pray for a saint’s intercession in all kinds of circumstances.
What Are the Requirements for Sainthood?
To become canonized as a saint, a perfect track record isn’t required (or possible). Hence, being sinless isn’t on the list. So, what is required for sainthood?
Two verifiable postmortem miracles
Note: Canonization (sainthood) requires two miracles, whereas beatification (blessed) requires only one.
Evidence of having led an exemplary life of goodness and virtue worthy of imitation, having died a heroic death (martyrdom), or having undergone a major conversion of heart where a previous immoral life is abandoned and replaced by one of outstanding holiness
Formally declared saints are chosen ultimately by the pope, but only after a thorough investigation of the life, writings, and legacy of the saint candidate. No stone is left unturned. Testimony from witnesses and experts, physical evidence, and the entire life of the person is examined with fine detail. Every skeleton in the closet is taken out, and all dirty laundry looked at — if any exists, that is.
The Canonization Process for Sainthood
The process for being canonized as a saint is quite a lengthy one. Almost a grass roots movement, the path to canonization involves local interest and support. The faithful decide to invoke the intercession of a potential saint whom they consider is probably in heaven and carries a little clout after living an exemplary and holy life. Once a bona fide miracle occurs, then the matter goes to Phase I, the Diocesan Level. If successful, it moves to Phase II, Congregation for the Causes of Saints. When that is finished, the final decision is the Pope’s and his alone.
In former times, the process was adversarial and resembled a trial where evidence was presented and examined but also along with any possible evidence to the contrary. The term Devil’s Advocate was a metaphor for the person whose job it was to be like the prosecuting attorney in a secular law trial. He dug up any dirt to discredit the "saint-candidate" to make sure an objective and fair decision was made on all evidence available.
Pope John Paul II streamlined and changed the canonization process and made it a documentary process rather than adversarial. Hence, evidence, pro and con, is still examined painstakingly but it is no longer a lengthy and contested enterprise. The evidence speaks for itself, and yet doctors of all and even of no faith weigh in on assessing the alleged miracles. A miracle demands empirical proof that a healing phenomenon occurred without any credible scientific explanation.
Phase I: Diocesan Level (local)
Five years must pass after a person’s death before he or she can be considered for declaration of formal sainthood, unless the Pope grants a special dispensation. This waiting period is to ensure some objectivity and avoid a purely emotional response to a popular person. The local bishop of the local diocese where the hopeful saint is buried is the starting place where the case begins. He convenes a diocesan tribunal to investigate the person.
Witnesses are called before the tribunal to verify if the person lived a virtuous and holy life, and all writings and speeches that person made are also examined to see if they conform to church doctrine. If any scandalous or bad behavior is found, evidence of a conversion of heart must also be found to demonstrate the person abandoned his or her former evil ways and then embraced a life of heroic virtue and sanctity.
Phase II: Congregation for the Causes of Saints (Rome)
Once the diocesan investigation is completed, the candidate is called a Servant of God, and the documents are sent to the Vatican in Rome for the Congregation of Saints to examine. Nine theologians judge whether the case has merit, and if so, they offer it to the Bishops and Cardinals who work in the Congregation. If the Bishops and Cardinals approve, the case is given to the Pope for his personal decision.
If one verified miracle has occurred since the death of the person, then he or she can be beatified (and then called "Blessed"). If two postmortem miracles occurred, then they can be canonized (and called "Saint"). The miracle usually is an immediate, complete and spontaneous cure of a serious and pathological disease or condition which medical science cannot explain or refute.
Little-Known Facts about Saints
Everyone has a story, and saints are no exception. There’s a reason people call on different saints to help them through various circumstances. Their lives — or deaths — mean something. Here are a few of the most interesting little-known facts about some of the saints:
Catholics get their throats blessed every year on the Feast of St. Blaise (February 2) because he miraculously cured a young boy who was choking on a fish bone.
St. Lucy is the patron saint for those suffering from any ailment of the eye because she was martyred by the Romans, who plucked out her eyeballs as part of her martyrdom.
St. Agatha is the patron saint for women suffering from breast cancer because the Romans cruelly cut off her breasts as part of her martyr’s death.
St. Lawrence the Deacon told his executioners, You can turn me over. I’m done on this side, as they roasted him alive on a huge hot gridiron.
Pope Blessed John XXIII was asked, How many people work at the Vatican? to which he instantly replied, About half of them.
St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint for lost items. Catholics say this prayer to find them: St. Anthony, please look around; something is lost and must be found.
St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was not Irish himself. He was born in Scotland and was captured by Irish pirates; after he escaped he eventually returned as a missionary.
St. Jerome (who translated the first one-volume Bible from Hebrew and Greek into his native Latin) removed a thorn from a lion’s paw and it immediately became his pet.
During Lent, Catholics give up eating sweets and treats except on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), when special pastries called zeppole are served, and bread is blessed in his honor.
Patron Saints for the Modern World
Television and airplanes didn’t exist when most saints were alive, but saints are invoked for them nonetheless. Why? Saints often experienced things while they were alive that relate to events or items of today’s world. Here are some examples of saints from hundreds of years ago who experienced tragedies and miracles that are applicable to the modern world:
TV: St. Clare of Assisi (13th century) was sick in bed and saw images of Mass from the chapel on her cell wall, similar to today’s video, although it was 700 years before TV was invented.
Air travel: St. Joseph Cupertino (17th century) would levitate anytime church bells rang or organ music was played. His fellow friars used to tie a string to his leg so he would not float away.
Internet: St. Isidore of Seville (sixth century) compiled the first written database, a 20-volume encyclopedia on everything known at the time, from A to Z.
Radio: St. Gabriel the Archangel broadcast the important news about the Savior when he announced to the Virgin Mary that she was to become the Mother of God’s Son.
Toothaches: St. Apollonia (third century) had all her teeth smashed and removed as part of her martyrdom, so she’s the patron saint of dentists and those who suffer toothaches.
Beer: St. Arnold (seventh century) was an Austrian bishop who served in France and spoke often to his people on the benefits of drinking beer. The local drinking water was filled with lots of contaminants and could make people deathly sick, whereas the beer was prepared in such a way as to kill all harmful bacteria.