Pope Francis broke new records on Sunday by creating saints out of 813 citizens of Otranto, in southern Italy, who refused the demand of their Ottoman conquerors in 1480 to convert to Islam and were therefore beheaded.
There seems to have been a lot of saint making of late- John Paul II made 483 of them for instance- and there are now around 10.000- one per 100,000 Catholics.
‘What makes for a saint?’ you might ask- particularly those who are not of a religious persuasion. The rules are straightforward – check out Saints for dummies – basically you have to be responsible for two miracles from beyond the grave, and these have to be investigated and ‘proved’ before the Pope gives you the nod.
The recent batch where given their halos after the cure of Sister Francesca Levote from ovarian cancer after her fellow nuns prayed to them. The fact that she was also given chemotherapy and radiotherapy confuses things a bit however.
I confess I have always struggled a bit with all this sainting. I think there are some aspects of the reformation that still hold me, and one of these is the freedom from complicated formulaic means of accessing God through mediators, be they earthly or ghostly figures. However, in the way of remaining open and respectful of religious traditions that are not my own, I wondered what all these saints may bring to us that is of use in our own faith stories.
I suppose the most useful thing about all these saints is what they can teach us as examples of good people who lived out their faith.
Although to be fair, some of the saints are a bit, shall we say, suspect? Nobody is perfect (not even a saint) but we have people like St Ambrose, who inspired us to hate Jews. There were also a few that were a bit too liberal with the scarification, rolling in nettles and thorns a bit too much for my liking.
Some of them were great fun though. This from here;
In the third century, St. Lawrence, who was burned to death on a grill, over hot coals, called out to his executioners, “This side is done. Turn me over and have a bite.” In the fourth century, St. Augustine of Hippo, puckishly prayed, “Lord, give me chastity … but not yet.”
Some saints were known specifically for their rich sense of humor. St. Philip Neri, a 16th-century Italian priest, for example, was called “The Humorous Saint.” Over his door he posted a small sign that read, “The House of Christian Mirth.” En route to a ceremony in his honor, he once shaved off half his beard, as a way of poking fun at himself. “Christian joy is a gift from God, flowing from a good conscience,” he said. And “A heart filled with joy is more easily made perfect than one that is sad.”
St. Francis de Sales, the 17th-century bishop of Geneva and renowned spiritual master, espoused what you might call a sensible, cheerful and gentle spirituality. “When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time,” he once wrote. His humane approach to spiritual matters stood in contrast to some of the rigidities of his day. So did his desire to help lay people live a life of deep spirituality — when “real” spirituality was thought to be the province of clerics. His classic text Introduction to the Devout Life was written specifically to help laypeople on their path to God.
Francis de Sales also knew how to use a joke to good effect. He was, for example, a great friend of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, a French noblewoman, and together, in 1610, they founded a religious order for women, the Visitation sisters. After Jane had initially decided to follow a strict religious life and remain unmarried after being widowed, she continued to wear low-cut dresses showing off her décolletage. On the night of their first meeting, Francis de Sales took a look at her dress quipped, “Madame, those who do not mean to entertain guests should take down their signboard.”
My kind of saints these.
Gentleness and time- I like that.
Anyone else got a favourite saint?