Does God Really Speak?

mountain bounty by jeremy cram

Photo credit to Jeremy Cram

 


It is only meaningful to listen to the Holy Spirit and obey him if he speaks.


Does God really speak to us? Are there not many people who, instead of hearing God speak, feel they are encountering absolute silence? And among those who do hear him speak, are there not a good many who are merely hearing themselves, their own thoughts and fantasies?

There are people who, no matter what they do, feel affirmed by God. If they have success, it is clear that God is with them and blessing their plans. If they have opposition, it is even more clear that they are doing right. Everything that comes from God should be marked by the Cross, they say. Did not Jesus himself fail . . . ?

Are you hearing your own voice or the voice of God? Is it you who are speaking to yourself, or are you listening to God speaking to you? Perhaps the question is not nuanced enough. It need not be a question of either/or. God can speak through your own self. And that is usually what he does, provided that you stand before him in all honesty and live from the basic attitude of wanting to do his will. As soon as you want to listen to the Holy Spirit, he becomes active in you, for no one can begin to listen to God on his own initiative. The will to listen is already a work of the Holy Spirit. “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16), so the Spirit speaks together with our spirit about what God’s will is. The Spirit uses our deep, true self to make understand what God wills.

I am often asked the question: “Does God want me to enter a monastery?” My immediate reply is: Do you want it? Do you have the desire to enter a monastery, not only with a theoretical, abstract desire, but are you drawn there, do you believe you will be happy and find your home there? If you truly want it, it is likely that God wants it also, that he wills it through you. Then it remains to be seen if you have the necessary qualities of physical and psychological health, common sense, and a certain spiritual maturity, and if the religious community to which you are drawn wishes to accept you. A vocation consists mainly of these three elements:
(1) a personal desire; (2) the capacity to live the life; (3) a religious community that opens its doors to you.

God seldom speaks directly with audible, perceptible words. He speaks, for the most part, indirectly, via your own deep, truth-seeking will. I say “deep” will. For alongside the deep will there are many superficial “wills” , namely, all the small opposing desires that often drown out the deep will.

God also speaks through events, circumstances, encounters with other people, and through books. Much of what is happening around you contains a secret message from God. It is a question of deciphering and interpreting it. In everything that happens, you can gradually learn to recognize a You. The impersonal becomes personal. Apparently random events become personal messages from God.

God speaks uninterruptedly. He instructs, encourages, challenges, and comforts. He truly walks in our garden of Eden (cf. Gen 3:8). Yes, our life becomes again something of a paradise when we continually meet God.

If we read the Bible, it is, among other things, to learn this fact: that God is constantly speaking to us. “And God spoke to Moses and said. . . ” How often we read that phrase! It does not mean, of course, that Moses constantly heard God’s voice. But he was so in harmony with God, so completely on the same wave-length, that he thought the same thoughts as God. For the most part, we deserve this mild reproach from God: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts” (Is 55:8). But that can change! We can come to the point where we think God’s thoughts, where God thinks with our understanding and loves with our heart.

We can eventually receive “the mind of Christ” (see Phil 2:5) and, like him, encounter the Father in all things. When he admired the lilies of the field and saw how the birds were fed without sowing or reaping, he saw in this the Father’s love and care (Mt 6:26-29).
When he heard talk of the collapse of the Tower of Siloam (Lk 13:4-5), he saw it as a call to conversion. In everything he met a You.

It would be wise to take few minutes each day to examine one’s conscience and ask oneself: What has God wanted to teach me today? Where have I encountered him, or where should I have encountered him?

If you object that one should consider one’s sins during the examination of conscience, I can answer that this is one of our greatest sins: that we do not recognize God, who walks in our garden.

~ A Reflection by Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.

 

 

Your Spiritual Director

 


Many complain and lament that they have not succeeded in finding a spiritual director. But it is the Holy Spirit who is our spiritual director, and apart from him no one else is.


 

Holy Spirit art by Ladislav Zaborsky

The Paraclete, art by Ladislav Záborský

 

Director and “Companion”

These directors {says Saint John of the Cross} should reflect that they themselves are not the chief agent, guide, and mover of souls in this matter, but that the principal guide is the Holy Spirit, Who is never neglectful of souls, and that they are instruments for directing them to perfection through faith and the law of God, according to the spirit God gives each one.

Thus the director’s whole concern should not be to accommodate souls to his own method and condition, but he should observe the road along which God is leading them, and if he does not recognize it, he should leave them alone and not bother them.
It would be more correct to speak of a spiritual “companion”. His task is not to lead—that is the work of the Holy Spirit—but rather to accompany the person who has confided in him and help him listen to the Spirit and recognize his impulses. It is truly a difficult task, and it demands much self-denial on the part of the spiritual “companion”. It is tempting to think that one’s won path will be suitable for others and that the methods that have been helpful on one’s own life will also be helpful to others. But this is not so. What is helpful for one may be harmful to another.

For this reason, the “companion” finds himself in a very delicate position and can feel extremely poor. There are no ready-made ideas or recipes on which to fall back. When  he goes to the confessional or the visiting room, he ought to be completely empty. He knows nothing except this: that now it is a question of listening attentively to what the Spirit wants with just this person.

True Freedom: To Be Bound by the Spirit

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God”, writes Saint Paul (Rom 8:14). One is not living as a child of God if he does not allow himself to be led by the Spirit.

Perhaps this is difficult  to understand in our day when freedom and liberty are spoken of so ardently. And rightly so! Even the Second Vatican Council speaks enthusiastically about man’s freedom:

For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man. For God has willed that man remain “under the control of his own decisions,” so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him. Hence man’s dignity demands that he act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure.

True freedom does not exclude the fact that one is led by another. The decisive question is: By whom or by what are we led? Are we led by blind impulses, or are we led from within, from a level that lies even deeper than what we usually call the unconscious? “The soul’s center is God”, writes Saint John of the Cross. No one is so truly himself, no one lives so authentically, genuinely, and freely as the one who lets himself be led by God, who lives in the center of the soul. To live from one’s center is the greatest freedom.

A Wholehearted Yes

If the Holy Spirit is your director, then it is up to you to let yourself be led, to say Yes to his inspirations.
In connection with this Yes, I would like to point out three things.

1. It is important that your Yes be wholehearted. If every time you say Yes, you add many “Buts’ , and if you have many reservations, you cannot expect the Spirit to lead you where he wills. Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) speaks of a “great and very resolute determination” not to stop before one has reached the goal. In the Bible this is called a “pure” heart. Pure honey is honey that is not mixed with anything else. In the same way, the heart is pure when it does only what it was made to do, namely, love.
Experience teaches us that life becomes easier and simpler when we say a wholehearted Yes to God. We have a need for what is clear and unambiguous and are content with this. To know what one wants and to want what one knows gives rise to a special joy. The opposite gives a particular weariness and repugnance. We all know how it feels when we cannot make a decision, when we continually waver back and forth, and when, after finally deciding, we immediately question what we have decided. Indecision consumes an unbelievable amount of energy.

2. It is good to remember that your actions have a tendency to release a chain reaction, for good or for ill. If you say a wholehearted Yes to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it will be easier to say Yes to him the next moment. If you say No to him now, it will be more difficult to say Yes tomorrow. That is why it is so urgent to come over the threshold and break through the barrier that has been built up by a bad habit. When the first step is taken, everything goes more smoothly.

3. We live more or less in cycles. We are all a bit “cyclothymic”. We often have mild mood swings, also in the spiritual realm. When we discover a new way, such as the way of confidence and trust shown by Saint Thérèse, for example, we become very enthusiastic. We may sail forward for a few days or weeks, but later on the feelings cool down, and we become weary and tired and drag ourselves along. A machine works always in the same way. One can estimate exactly how much it will produce. But a living being has its seasons, its summer and its winter. God does not expect the same from us in the winter as in the summer.
It is extremely liberating to know that God never demands more of us than we can give him. He is always content when we do what we can. The only important thing is that we never give up, that with a holy stubbornness we do what we can.
In practice, our spiritual journey will probably be like the famous procession in Echternach (Luxembourg), where after every third step, one takes a step backward. It goes more slowly, but, nevertheless, one arrives.

~ A Reflection by Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.

 

 

 

 

Sainte Bernadette de Lourdes

 

Bernadette de Lourdes

Bernadette in Ecstasy


“The artist affirmed that this portrait was drawn during one of Bernadette’s ecstasies. While the drawing bears little resemblance to the photographs of Bernadette, the expression is clearly one of rapture. Indeed, it might have been the rapture itself that made capturing the details of Bernadette’s face difficult. The drawing bears no signature but only these words of dedication: “To the Countess of Geoffre, Lecomte du Noüy.” It was given to the Museum of Bernadette at Nevers, by the Count de Certaines.” *
* An excerpt from the book: Lourdes, Font of Faith, Hope and Charity by Elizabeth Ficocelli.


Today the Church commemorates the feast of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, visionary of Lourdes, whose visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1858 paved the way for the worldwide devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes. A devotion that is very close to my heart.
St. Bernadette was canonized in 1933 by Pope Pius XI. The little town of Lourdes became the site of pilgrimages, attracting millions of faithful Catholics every year. Astonishing healings began almost immediately in the miraculous water at the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

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Relics of St. Bernadette, Crypt Church, Lourdes, France ~ Photo taken by me

Last summer I travelled to Lourdes, France and visited the Sanctuary of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes. It was on my bucket list for a very long time. I’m so grateful that the opportunity came my way and I took it without thinking much. It was a trip filled with so many graces.
For us Carmelites, Lourdes is a very important place in the history of the apparitions.

“The Carmelite Monastery in Lourdes occupies a spiritually significant site. The 18th and final apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Bernadette Soubirous took place on July 16th, 1858, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. At that time the civil authorities in Lourdes had prohibitted access to Massabielle Grotto, and so instead Bernadette saw Our Lady from ‘La Ribère’, the slope overlooking the cave from the other side of the River Gave.

Despite being physically far away, the encounter between Bernadette and Our Lady was more intimate than ever. Bernadette said that on this occasion Our Lady, who appeared in silence, smiled and looked “more beautiful than ever”. One of the ancient titles under which the Carmelite Order reveres Mary is “Beauty of Carmel”.

Since that day in 1858, the site of ‘La Ribère’ has been of particular significance, linking the ‘Message of Lourdes’ and the spirituality of Carmel.

The site where Bernadette prayed on her knees before Our Lady on July 16th is now in the garden of the Carmelite Monastery. The nuns consider it their vocation to continue Bernadette’s prayer, and to pray for the millions of pilgrims who come to Lourdes today. The Grotto of Massabielle which the Carmel overlooks is reminiscent of the cave where the prophet Saint Elijah, spiritual Father of Carmelites, burned with zeal for the Lord.

When considering her vocation to the religious life, Bernadette Soubirous had wanted to join the Carmelite Order, but was told that her poor health precluded this possibility. There was no Carmel in Lourdes at the time of the apparitions.

The Carmelite Monastery in Lourdes was founded 18 years after the apparitions on 16th July 1876 by nuns from the Carmel of Tulle in central France. The Mother Foundress, coming to Lourdes to find a suitable site for the future monastery, was very attracted by the land facing the Grotto on the other side of the River Gave. However, the terrain was on a narrow band of rock where any construction would be very difficult. Despite its proximity to the Grotto, previous visitors to the site had decided against anything being built there. The Mother Foundress had the idea of transporting soil to even out the level of the slope. This idea was accepted by the building contractors, and so the Monastery was built in a very privileged location overlooking the Grotto.

In the years following the foundation, the number of vocations grew considerably. The community swelled to such a size that in 1893 a number of sisters went to found a Carmel at Le Havre in northern France.” *

*Retrieved from The British Province of Carmelite Friars website: http://www.laycarmel.org/index.php?nuc=content&id=367

carmeldelourdes11

The final apparition of Our Lady to St. Bernadette, depicted in the ‘Gemmail’ style of layered stained glass typically found in Lourdes.


Prayer of St. Bernadette

Dearest Mother, how happy was my soul
those heavenly moments when I gaze upon you.
How I love to remember those sweet moments
spent in your presence,
your eyes filled with kindness and mercy for us!
Yes, dear Mother, your heart is so full of love for us
that you came down to earth to appear to a poor,
weak child
and conveyed certain things to her
despite her great unworthiness.
How humbled she is.
You, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, chose to use
what is weakest in the eyes of men.
O Mary, give the precious virtue of humility
to she who dares to call herself your child.
O Loving Mother, help your child resemble you
in everything and in every way.
In a word, grant that I may be a child
according to your heart and the heart of your dear Son.

~ Bernadette, 1866

Note: This prayer is from Bernadette’s journal, dedicated to the Queen of Heaven and written during her days as a member of the Sisters of Nevers. This is not the personal prayer that Bernadette received during the fifth apparition.”

 

lourdes6

The Statue in the niche where Bernadette first saw Our Lady, photo taken by me

 

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The Rosary Basilica and Rosary Square and the crowned statue of Mary in the Esplanade, photo taken by me during the candlelight procession.

 

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Votive candles burn continually in the grotto area…Praying for all the sick and suffering. Photo taken by me.

 

 Courage my soul, through prayer we can do all that is asked of us.
The heart of Jesus is there, let us knock!
~ St. Bernadette Soubirous

 

 

Grace Given

awakenedheart

Awakened Heart, art by Janice Van Cronkhite

You drench me in your blessedness—
pressed down, compacted, flowing over,
till here I am, a child caught in a storm of love,
saturated with these discarnate ecstasies.

Your ways are masterful. Your generosity,
now captive in my starveling heart, loads me
with luxurious garments, crown and jewels—
treasures gained by you in times long past,
and yet enduring into our eternal now.

You are willing captive to my abject,
but trustingly prosaic, homeliness.

Where do we go from here?
Into some fastness of delight and fortitude,
a refuge for those wanderers, besotted by your love?

I cannot conceive (nor do I try)
what you have in store for me, but rest
in faith’s patient hope, and love’s fierce faith.

It is you who taught me how to love—
assiduous, recklessly adventurous
and all the while imprisoned deep
within your mighty stronghold of a heart.

 

~ A poem by Barbara Dent, O.C.D.S.  

In Stillness You Receive New Eyes

 

Mark 6 31 #2

When Jesus tells the apostles: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mk 6:31), it is in a way a new call they receive. Not a call to work in the vineyard of the Lord, but a call to rest and a time to recover.

Jesus aims those words even at you. You need space to breathe, times of stillness to be alone with him. He calls you every day to a quiet period of prayer, every week to a day of rest that is also his day, and from time to time to a longer period of retreat. You withdraw from activities not only to gain new strength but also to see your life with new eyes.

Being still with God gives you a chance to ask the essential questions all over again: What is the meaning of my life? Am I walking next to the road God wants to lead me on? Am I walking in the wrong direction?

In the stillness, you gain some distance to what could otherwise swallow you. It becomes easier to see everything in its right perspective. You can see the truth more clearly and see through your illusions. There is a basic insight which can only mature in this stillness before God. If you regularly follow Jesus into solitude and rest, then this basic insight will carry you through all of life’s ups and downs.

~ A Reflection by Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.

Simplicity Serves Best

 

Nativity ~ By unknown artist

Nativity ~ By unknown artist

To a Christian it is very simple to come into contact with God. God is not just the goal at the end of a long and hard journey. In Jesus Christ, God is the way itself. As soon as we take the first stumbling steps on this way, we are together with God. 
No demanding exercises in concentrating are needed, no heroic asceticism. The only thing needed is to genuinely love Jesus. Love entrusts itself to the beloved, opens itself to him or her, trusts him or her. If such a genuine love of Jesus fills our hearts, then everything else will follow.
Jesus is Immanuel: God with us. We don’t need a telescope to scout for God. God is near; he is our traveling companion. We need only let him take us by the hand. Since God has shown himself on the earth and has pitched his tent among us, he is “grab-able” to all.
It is not through profound speculation that we grow in our relationship with God, but through the unsophisticated faith of the heart, and the trust in what transcends human understanding. When we bow before the mystery that has come so close to us in Jesus, then he reveals himself most clearly. 

 

~ A Christmas meditation by Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.

 

Christmas Within

a child stand by Jesus crib

A manger filled with Love ~ Art by unknown artist

The mystery of Christmas is not a reality outside of you. It is realized only if it becomes a reality within you.
Mary and Joseph sought shelter. And the King of Kings  was satisfied with a poor stable and manger meant for cattle. Is there a shelter for him within you—he doesn’t ask for much—or are you so preoccupied with your own that there is no room for him?
If you let Jesus be born in you, you become a messenger of love. Then you will no longer do anything just for your own sake. Everything will be inspired by Love. If you continually make a home for him in your heart, he will continually become visible in and through you. As he is ceaselessly born of the Father, he will ceaselessly be born in you.
Do not think that you must have something big and magnificent to offer him. It is his presence that makes your poverty shine with divine light. He is most comfortable in the simple and unassuming, if only the door is opened to him.

~ A Christmas meditation by Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.

Celebrating Advent In The Proper Way

Do you hear what I hear Art by Sandy Maudlin

‘Do you hear what I hear?’ Art by Sandy Maudlin

During Advent you may be looking forward to all the beautiful experiences of Christmas. But Advent is not meant as a waiting period for this. Rather, you are awaiting someone who will come closer to you than you are to yourself.
Advent is like a portal you have to walk through to enter the sanctuary of Christmas. The portal is flanked by two figures who guard the sanctuary and ask you why you want to enter, and at the same time teach you how to do it. Both figures are very dissimilar. One is big and strong, a man clothed in camels’ hair. But in spite of his size, this man wants only to be a voice calling out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
The other is a vulnerable woman expecting a child. She doesn’t cry out, she is silent, total attention to what is happening within her. The only thing she quietly whispers is: “I am the servant of the Lord.”
They both know who they are waiting for. They are not awaiting better times, or nicer experiences. They are waiting for God, and they know that nothing can hinder his arrival if they are open to receive him.
If you also know who you are waiting for, if you are sure about his arrival, then you are celebrating Advent in the proper way.

~ An Advent meditation By Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D. 

 

Saying “Yes” to God

Maria Immaculata ~ Art by Franz Ittenbach, 1879

Maria Immaculata ~ Art by Franz Ittenbach, 1879

When John writes about the wedding in Cana, he very briefly points out that “the mother of Jesus was there” (Jn 2:1). Where Jesus is, there is Mary as well. She is always there. When Jesus dies, Mary is still there. She is under the cross. Why is Mary always there? Not directly to help Jesus, but to help us.

“Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the waiters in Cana and to all of us. She exhorts us to listen to her Son and to do what he asks. She not only says it: She is, in all of her life, a model of listening and obedience.

The fact that Mary wholeheartedly followed God’s will made it possible for him to save humankind. In and through Mary, the whole creation says “yes” to God and receives his gift. Through Mary, God’s request receives a perfect answer. Without her “yes,” the dialogue between God and humankind wouldn’t have progressed.

At the same time as her “yes” gives God opportunity to save you, it also gives you occasion to follow her. She teaches you to say the same “yes” to God as she did, so that the salvation of the world can be your personal salvation as well.

~ A meditation by Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D

Wishing you all a very blessed feast day of The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary! 

The Divine In The Human, The Eternal In Time  

 A Reflection by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, C.M.F.
Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints

Solemnity of All Saints’ Day is November 1st

 

Icon of Saints John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux and Teresa of Avila, Author Unknown

Icon of Saints John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux and Teresa of Avila, Author Unknown

The lives of the saints show the world “the divine in the human, the eternal in time”

1. “All it takes to make a man a saint is Grace. Anyone who doubts this knows neither what makes a saint nor a man”, Pascal observes in Pensées with his characteristic trenchant style. I start with this observation to point out the dual perspective of these reflections:  in the saint the celebration of God (indeed, of his Grace) combines with the celebration of man, with his potential and his limitations, his aspirations and his achievements.
The many objections today to the concepts of “holiness” and “saint” are well known. Much criticism is also levelled at the Church for her traditional and uninterrupted practice of recognizing and proclaiming some of her most outstanding children as “saints”. Some have insinuated that the special importance John Paul II has given to beatifications and canonizations and the great number of them during his pontificate might mask an expansionist policy of the Catholic Church. Others consider that the proposal of new blesseds and saints from such different backgrounds, nationalities and cultures is merely a ploy to market holiness, to assure the leadership of the papacy in contemporary society. Lastly, some see canonizations and the devotion to saints as an anachronism left over from religious triumphalism, foreign or even contrary to the spirit and dictates of the Second Vatican Council, which placed so great an emphasis on the vocation to holiness of all Christians.
It is obvious that an exclusively sociological interpretation of this subject would risk not only being reductive but also misleading for an understanding of the phenomenon, which is so much a feature of the Catholic Church.

Holiness, a living reflection of the face of Christ

2. In the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte which the Pope presented to the Church at the end of Jubilee Year 2000, he places profound emphasis on the topic of holiness. Among the “great host of saints and martyrs” which includes “Popes well-known to history or to humble lay and religious figures, from one continent to another of the globe”, “Holiness”, John Paul II notes in his Letter, “has emerged more clearly as the dimension which expresses best the mystery of the Church. Holiness, a message that convinces without the need for words, is the living reflection of the face of Christ” (n. 7).
To understand the Church, we need to be acquainted with the saints who are her most eloquent sign, her sweetest fruit. To contemplate the face of Christ in the changing, diversified situations of the modern world we must look at the saints who are “the living reflection of the face of Christ”, as the Pope reminds us. The Church must proclaim the saints and she must do so in the name of that proclamation of holiness that fills her and makes her, precisely, a means of sanctification in the world.
“God shows to men, in a vivid way, his presence and his face in the lives of those companions of ours in the human condition who are more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ (cf. II Cor 3: 18). He speaks to us in them, and offers us a sign of his kingdom, to which we are powerfully attracted, so great a cloud of witnesses is there given (cf. Heb 12: 1) and such a witness to the truth of the Gospel” (Lumen Gentium, n. 50). In this passage from Lumen Gentium we discover the profound reason for the devotion to blesseds and saints.

Saints show that Life in Christ is possible for all

3. The Church carries out the mission the divine Teacher entrusted to her to be an instrument of holiness through evangelization, the sacraments and the practice of charity. This mission also receives a substantial contribution to its content and spiritual incentives from the proclamation of the blesseds and saints, for they show that holiness is accessible to the multitudes, that holiness can be imitated. Their personal and historical reality allows people to experience that the Gospel and new life in Christ are neither a utopia nor a mere system of values, but “leaven” and “salt” that can bring to life the Christian faith, within and from within the different cultures, geographical areas and historical epochs.
“The future of human beings” the late Cardinal Giuseppe Siri remarked, “is never clear, for all their sins corrode all the paths of history and lead to an intricate dialectic of cause and effect, error and nemesis, explosions and interruptions. The certainty that the saints will continue to accompany people is one of the few guarantees of the future” (Il Primato della Verità, 154).

Holiness knows no bounds and is alive and well in the Church

4. The phenomenon of the saints and of Christian holiness gives rise to a sense of wonder that has always existed in the Church and cannot but amaze even an attentive lay observer, especially today in a world continuously and rapidly changing, culturally fragmented in values as well as in customs. From wonder is born the question:  what makes faith incarnate in all the latitudes, in the different historical contexts, in the most varied categories and walks of life? How, without the dynamics of power, enforced or persuasive, can there be so many saints, so different yet so consonant with Christ and with the Church? What is it that impels people freely to accept the fertile seed of Christianity that subsequently develops into such diversity and beauty in the unity of holiness? What a difference there is between globalization, such a buzzword today, and the catholicity or universality of the Christian faith and of the Church which lives, preserves and spreads that faith!
The international scope of Catholicism, not sought for power but for service and salvation, is confirmed by the saints, men and women who come from the most varied historical backgrounds.
This international dimension confirms that holiness knows no bounds and that in the Church it is far from dead; indeed, it continues to be vitally up to date. The world is changing, yet the saints, while changing with the changing world, always represent the same living face of Christ. Isn’t this an unmistakeable clue to the unique vitality, half cultural and half historical – “supernatural” is the right word for us Catholics – of the proclamation and of Christian Grace?

John Paul II has beatified 1,299 persons and canonized 464

5. In the context of these thoughts, a comment on how the Catholic Church recognizes and proclaims blesseds and saints will be of interest. I am referring specifically to the work of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, called to study and to recognize holiness and holy persons through a meticulous and prudent procedure, reinforced, renewed and renewable in time.
Saints and holiness are recognized in an upward movement from the bottom to the top. Still today, it is Christians themselves who, recognizing the “odour of holiness” by an intuition of faith, point out candidates for canonization to their Bishop – who is responsible for taking the first step in the process of canonization – and, subsequently, to the competent dicastery of the Holy See. Neither the Congregation for the Causes of Saints nor the Pope “invent” or “fabricate” saints. The Holy Spirit has already singled them out, as all believers know well. This same Spirit – as the Gospel says – “breathes wherever he wills”, an observation to which we have grown accustomed down through the centuries, especially today, since the Church has spread in every part of the world and to every social class.
This said, it should be recognized that Pope John Paul II has made the proclamation of new blesseds and saints an authentic and constant means of evangelization and teaching. He has wished to accompany the preaching of truth and of the Gospel values with the presentation of saints who lived those truths and values in an exemplary way. In the course of his pontificate, from 1978 until today, John Paul II has beatified 1,299 persons, 1,029 of whom were martyrs, while he has canonized 464, of whom 401 were martyrs. The numbers of lay people he has raised to the honour of the altars are far more numerous than one would think:  in fact, 268 blesseds and 246 saints, 514 lay persons in all.

Some people consider this to be many, for others, it is few.

With regard to the number of saints, John Paul II does not ignore the opinion of those who think these are too many. Indeed, the Pope mentions this explicitly. This is his response:  “It is sometimes said that there are too many beatifications today. However, in addition to reflecting reality, which by God’s grace is what it is, it also responds to the desire expressed by the Council. The Gospel is so widespread in the world and its message has sunk such deep roots that the great number of beatifications vividly reflects the action of the Holy Spirit and the vitality flowing from Him in the Church’s most essential sphere, that of holiness. Indeed, it was the Council that put particular emphasis on the universal call to holiness” (Opening Address to the Extraordinary Consistory in Preparation for Jubilee Year 2000, 13-14 June 1994; ORE, 22 June 1994, p. 8, n. 10).
In Tertio Millennio Adveniente, John Paul II wrote:  “In recent years the number of canonizations and beatifications has increased. These show the vitality of the local Churches, which are much more numerous today than in the first centuries and in the first millennium. The greatest homage which all the Churches can give to Christ on the threshold of the third millennium will be to manifest the Redeemer’s all-powerful presence through the fruits of faith, hope and charity, present in men and women of many different tongues and races who have followed Christ in the various forms of the Christian vocation” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, n. 37).
In the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, the Pope also notes:  “The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay peole who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 31).
Of course, all these beatifications and canonizations are also a sign of the capacity for inculturation in the life of the Christian faith and of the Church.

Historical truth sparks wider interest in the lives of saints

6. I would like, lastly, to reflect on the cultural contribution made by the saints, by the devotions to them, and by the fervent and serious examination that precedes and accompanies their canonization.
The Second Vatican Council asked that a “careful investigation – theological, historical, and pastoral” – should always be made concerning the proposal of the devotion to saints (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 23). This instruction found the Congregation for the Causes of Saints already prepared, and today it has been fully tested.
The concern for historical truth was always a feature of the work of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Already a “Decree” of Pius X of 26 August 1913, later set forth in the Code of Canon law of 1917, required the collection and examination of all the historical documents concerning the causes. But the fundamental innovation was contributed by the Motu Proprio “Già da Qualche Tempo” (“Already for Some Time”) of 6 February 1930, with which Pius XI established the “Historical Section” for the Congregation of Rites, with the role of making an effective contribution to the treatment of “historical” causes, that is, those without contemporary testimonies of the facts in question. The service rendered later by the “Historical Section”, known from 1969 as the “Historical-Hagiographical Office”, was extended to all the causes, even “recent” ones, increasing historical-critical sensitivity at all levels and in all the stages of the process. Lastly, the Apostolic Constitution “Divinus Perfectionis Magister” of 25 January 1983, followed by “Normae Servandae” of 7 February 1983, definitively sanctioned the specific contribution of method and historical quality in the treatment of the causes of saints.
The historical truth, so diligently sought for theological and pastoral motives, was also helpful in the cultural presentation of the saints. The new blesseds and saints “have come out into the limelight” to be examined and presented also as historically significant personages, a very integral part of the life of their Church, their society and their time. Interest in them is therefore no longer restricted to the Church and believers, but now extends to all who are interested in history, culture, civil life, politics, pedagogy, etc. In this way, the mission of these extraordinary people of God continues in a different yet effective way for the good of the whole of society. It is significant in this regard that it is no longer only “authorized ecclesiastics” who consult the archives of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, but also lay scholars who do research there for their doctoral theses, for historical, pedagogical, sociological studies, etc., because they find a wealth of historically reliable material.

‘The divine in the human, the eternal in time’

7. Therefore holiness, with its own special quality, also affects culture. The saints have made it possible to create new cultural models, new responses to the problems and great challenges of peoples, new developments for humanity on its way through history. On various occasions the Holy Father has stressed that the heritage of the saints “must not be lost; we should always be thankful for it and we should renew our resolve to imitate it” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 7).
The saints are like beacons; they show men and women the possibilities open to human beings. They are therefore also culturally interesting, independently of the cultural, religious or investigatory approach to them. A great 19th-century French philosopher, Henri Bergson, observed that “the greatest historical figures are not the conquerors but the saints”. Whereas Jean Delumeau, a historian specializing in 16th-century Catholicism, invited his readers to note that the great revivals of Christian history were marked by a return to the sources, that is, to the holiness of the Gospel, brought about by the saints and by movements of holiness in the Church.
In recent times, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger quite correctly asserted that:  “It is not the sporadic majorities which form in the Church here and there that determine the path she and we will take. The saints are the true, crucial majority, and it is from them that we take our bearings. Let us stick to them! They express the divine in the human, the eternal in time”.

In the Church everything is at the service of holiness

8. In a changing world, not only are the saints not historically or culturally displaced, but – I think I must conclude – they are becoming an even more interesting and reliable subject. In an age of the collapse of collective utopias, in an age of indifference and the lack of appetite for all that is theoretical and ideological, new attention is being paid to the saints, unique figures in whom is found not a theory nor even merely a moral, but a plan of life to be recounted, to be discovered through study, to be loved with devotion, to be put into practice with imitation.
We cannot but be delighted at the revival of attention to the saints, because the saints belong to everyone; they are a heritage of humanity that has outdone itself in a development which, while honouring man, also gives glory to God, because “the glory of God is man alive” (St Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, IV, 20: 7).
I would like to interpret everything reflected on here in the light of a truly engaging message of the Holy Father John Paul II. In my opinion, this message can give those who are reflecting on the subject at least an idea of the Supreme Pontiff’s vision of holiness, inseparably linked to the baptismal dignity of every Christian. Thus, it can also explain better the role of the beatifications and canonizations in the pastoral journey of the Church during the 25 years of Karol Wojtyła’s pontificate. It is the Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in 2002:  “The main task of the Church is to lead Christians along the path of holiness…. The Church is the “home of holiness’, and the charity of Christ, poured out by the Holy Spirit, is her soul” (Message for the 39th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 21 April 2002, nn. 1 and 2; ORE, 5 December 2001, p. 3).

In the Church, therefore, everything and particularly every vocation, is at the service of holiness! It is undoubtedly in this sense that when we look at the Church we must never forget to see in her the face of the “mother of saints”, who brings forth a fruitful and magnanimous superabundance of holiness.

~ Taken from:
L’Osservatore Romano (newspaper of the Holy See)
Weekly Edition in English
16 April 2003