Two popes will be canonized on Sunday: some thoughts to ponder
Posted on April 25th, 2014

by Mario Perera, Kadawata

The pattern of canonizations has undergone a radical change. Probably the underlying reasoning is that of making it ‘relevant to modern times’. What we are witnessing is the elevation to the sainthood of persons who were public figures within our life time, persons whose lives were under public scrutiny at least since their elevation to the post they held until their deaths. That such persons were without sin in the sense of the Church’s catechism could perhaps be defended. However it would seem far fetched to judge them as being ‘perfect’ meaning ‘without fault’. In both cases we are concerned only with their public image.

‘Sin’ also comprises what transpires only within the conscience of these individuals and is a matter for them and their God. Sometimes even though they may feel guiltless in the sphere of their individual conscience, their public image definitely comes into play with regard to the issue of canonization. Such is the case of Pope Pius X11 who did not reveal for diplomatic reasons what he knew of the ongoing genocide of the Jews under the Nazis. He probably felt inculpable in his conscience due to his intention of safe guarding the Church, but his guilt in the public domain cannot be effaced and persists to this day. Many popes were seriously thinking of canonizing him but were afraid of bearing the brunt of the eventual public out cry. The conflict was between the primacy of the conscience and the public scandal such a canonization could unleash.

By canonizing an individual the Church proclaims before its believers that the person concerned is enjoying the bliss of heaven, which means that he is in the ‘bosom’ of his creator and savior. He had been invited into the Kingdom with the words: well done my good and faithful servant, enjoy the Kingdom which has been prepared for you since before the beginning of time. Such a person is conceived as being in full enjoyment of bliss that eyes have never seen, that ears have never heard, and which the human heart has never conceived. This is what believers are now made to accept as regards the two popes, John XX111 and John-Paul 11.

What is the radical difference between such ‘present day’ canonizations and the traditional canonizations? Until now, the bliss of paradise was thought of as being very difficult to attain being only for those ‘good’ in every sense of the world. Even Jesus remonstrated when he was called ‘good’. He replied: why do call me ‘good’. Only God is good. It is so difficult that in one context the reaction of the disciples is stated in unambiguous terms as follows: When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” That was when Jesus told them it was easier for a camel to creep through a needle hole than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.

Due to the Church holding the bar so high, canonization of a person had to wait until he/she had crossed the ‘lethe’ the river of oblivion, effacement from universal memory. In other words the personality of that individual had to reemerge from ‘the night of time’ clothed in divine light. Finally when such an individual was canonized the person raised to the altar was in every sense ‘a Catholic ideal’, an ideal which was re-clothed in flesh and blood. In this manner the purity of the Kingdom of God was strictly maintained: blessed are the pure for they shall see God. The historical individual had to be revalued by merging him with the highest Catholic ideals before being elevated to the altar for public worship. He/she was presented as being a flawless person, a pure image and likeness of God.

Now herein lies the discrepancy between the earlier outlook regarding canonization and the modern version of it. The two popes to be canonized ‘lived among us in our life times’. They fulfilled their tasks as popes to the best of their ability and in accordance with the needs of the times. As stated earlier they might even pass the test of having been sinless, i.e. to the public eye. But it can in no way be argued that they were flawless or bereft of imperfections. This is all the more applicable le to John-Paul 11 who was in the public limelight for twenty six years.

The question that arises is whether the popes concerned can be conceded the level of purity of thought, word and deed, demanded for entering into the Kingdom, at least in such short spaces of time. As we know the Catholic Church has also the doctrine of ‘purgatory’ where souls are purged of their imperfections before qualifying for enjoying eternal bliss with God. Recently when a cardinal was confronted with this argument, he replied that sainthood does not mean that the person concerned was not imperfect. This answer would seem to be a deviation from perennial Catholic belief. This apparently new trend does pose questions to thinking Catholics. Catholics are normal human beings. Now presented as they are with ‘saints’ whose lives were surely tainted with imperfections, they could reassess the significance of ‘sainthood’. The ‘imperfections’ that beset persons could now be considered as compatible with sainthood. This and bring the focus nearer home.

In this new perspective why should people pray to a Pole and to an Italian and eventually to persons from lesser known or even unheard of countries when others within our own households would seem as worthy? Indeed people could more easily connect with persons of the family circle who led exemplary lives though manifesting faults or imperfections common to all. Such would be one’s own parents. They would also serve better as intercessors on our behalf with God.

Indeed we owe much more to our parents than to an Italian or Polish pope reigning over the Catholic world from within the heart of the Vatican. Strictly speaking what have they done for us individually? How can they compare with our parents whose entire lives were centered on us and our well being? If a pope could be proclaimed as being in heaven in spite of his human imperfections, why can we not think as much of those nearest and dearest to us for whose lives we can vouch for through being personal witnesses?

The difference between the saints ‘of old’ and the ‘latest ones’, is that the former were brought down from heaven as being the incorporation of Catholic ideals. Indeed that reminds us of Plato’s ideal world populated with ideas that are true, good and beautiful of which earthly figures are but ‘shadows’. Now the saints of old were of that mold, their personal traits washed from living memory through the passage through the waters of time. Such shadow saints received their physical form through the artist’s brush or the sculptor’s tools. As for the latest ones, they are devoid of the ‘mystery’ that characterized the former. Devoid of the sense of mystery even saints are subject to devaluation. It will be remembered what the Jews said of Jesus, the living saint. They said ‘is this not the carpenter, the son of Joseph?” The former saints were not subject to such devaluation. Thinking of the ‘latest saints’ it would seem that ‘going to heaven’ has been revalued and is now easier than what we thought it was.

Whatever that be there is a very positive outcome of this new development. The domain of sacredness could well shift from basilicas, cathedrals and churches right into Catholic households. The word ‘saint’ will no more be restricted to canonization ceremonies and rituals but could be made applicable to family ancestors especially parents. Their photos and tombs could well be transformed into shrines for worship by the family members concerned with the knowledge that in spite of their known imperfections they would be enjoying the bliss of being with God. The focus of religion could well shift considerably from churches to the household. Indeed as Jesus said: there will come a time when God will no more be worshiped in temples but in Spirit and in Truth. The Truth now is that heaven is open also for the imperfect.


Mario Perera, Kadawata

5 Responses to “Two popes will be canonized on Sunday: some thoughts to ponder”

  1. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    ” it was easier for a camel to creep through a needle hole than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Very true and one cannot imagine more wealthier people than the Pope. The Vatican is one of the few major religious centers of the ancient world that has not been plundered, vandalized, or destroyed. In her archives, her galleries and her museums lie hidden treasures that reach into the oldest antiquity. From treasures to religious icons to ancient documents are held in them outside of the public view. Collected through the centuries, patronized by both Emperors and kings the Vatican is the seat and repository of a great deal of the ancient world. The Vatican is also the largest recipient of donations in the world. The Tirumala and the Tirupathi temples of India come second.

    As for Sainthood it is required that anyone considered for sainthood proof of two miracles have to be given. Mother Theresa who set up her order in Calcutta and was known to the common man as a “living saint” never got that title since she failed to prove that she performed two verifiable miracles. In that light I wonder what miracles these Popes performed for them to be canonized as saints.?

  2. gdesilva Says:

    Now, how can a group of people who have not attained ‘sainthood’ declare that another person who lived some years ago was a saint? Just thinking out loud……

  3. Ratanapala Says:

    However one may couch the language the Roman Catholic Church remains the successor to the Bloody Roman Empire. Its agenda, targets and the victims remain the same; only the methodology has changed with time. Today it is the hydra headed monster that hides among the poor and kill with the rich. It is the glue that binds and keep the Western Christian agenda in place.

    The monster who wanted Asia evangelised in the 21st Century, regardless of its consequences, who continued to hide and give succour and asylum to pedophile priests, headed a money laundering establishment and other too numerous to name crimes, is to be made into a saint.

    It certainly is not a happy day for humanity!

  4. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Crucifix tragedy casts shadow on pope canonisation (Courtesy-The Times UK) A young disabled man was crushed to death by the collapse of a giant crucifix dedicated to John Paul II. The freak death of a disabled man who was crushed by the collapse of a giant crucifix dedicated to John Paul II has cast a pall over tomorrow’s canonisation of the Polish Pope.Marco Gusmini, 20, had gone to visit the 100ft leaning cross at Cevo in northern Italy with a group of young Catholics on Thursday because they would not be able to make it to the Vatican for the ceremony declaring him a saint.As Father Claudio yelled “run away!” ,the other youths fled, but Mr Gusmini’s disability prevented him from moving out of the way. He was killed when the 600kg structure crashed down on top of him.
    Coming so close to John Paul II’s canonisation, the accident provoked some speculation that it was a bad omen.

    Several Catholics read extra signficance into the fact that Mr Gusmini lived in a road that is named after Pope John XXIII, who will also be declared a saint tomorrow in an unprecedented double canonisation of two popes. Mr Gusmini’s death took place on the same day that the Vatican hosted a press conference by a Costa Rican woman, Floribeth Mora Díaz, 50, whose sudden recovery from a brain aneurysm has been recognised as a “miracle” that qualifies John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyla, for sainthood.
    Some saw the accident as a sign of God’s displeasure at the canonisation of John Paul II, who has been criticised for not doing enough to prevent child abuse by priests during his 27-year reign.

  5. dingiri bandara Says:

    All the priests or clergy in any religion are just ordinary people like the rest of us. It is just a job and some of them conduct them worse than lay people.The only difference is that they may be more qualified than the rest of us in their religious teachings.Where do they get powers to elevate anyone to sainthood. A woman, is claimed to have been cured by on of them. What about all the other sick people who need to be cured. Very sick people get cured without any possible explanation which may be due to the power of the mind or may be some super power. It is deceiving to say it is by one person who is not among us. people are cured by placebos all the time.
    Is it possible that these massive event is to divert the attention of the people away fro the scandals the church is facing due to corruption and sex abuse.
    If I remember correct , there was a pope after squandering Vatican treasury who issued bonds and claimed that people will go heaven if they buy them including for the already dead.

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