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Four questions on the Canonization

 

Br. Benito Arbués

WHY THE CHURCH CANONIZES

Every human or religious group needs models to refer to; leaders who are an expression of its ideals or goals. When we do not meet such people in real life we feel disoriented. I have no doubt that in the experience and in the mind of each of you there lingers the memory of persons who had a positive impact on your human and spiritual growth. Do you recall which persons were reference points as you steered your way through each stage of your life? Which “saints” influenced you?

The Church is a human/divine group which also needs leaders as an expression of its gospel ideals at each stage of history. It needs men and women whose lives clearly manifested a particular way of being disciples of Jesus. It always needs them, but especially so during times of transition. In those complex situations of change it needs intuitive persons, persons with charisma, prophets, persons who set before it utopias of hope and who lead it toward those goals. Something similar can be said for a religious institute or for society itself.

HOW SAINTS ARE MADE

In the normal course of things, the Church has set up various processes for authenticating the holiness of certain persons in order to present them to the ecclesial community and to the world as "holy" men or women, that is to say, as models of evangelical life, outstanding witnesses of the power of the Holy Spirit in the world.

The processes which end in canonization require in-depth study of a Christians life, the testimony of witnesses, and the spiritual radiation which he or she continues to emit after death.

Among the signs needed for a canonization is a miracle attributed to that persons intercession. This is normally a cure from some illness, which takes place in some inexplicable way, when the doctors have no solutions apart from the advances on which the medical profession relies at that specific moment in time. In the case of Fr. Champagnat the miracle occurred in 1976, in the case of Br. Heriberto Weber in Uruguay.

A number of persons are involved in preparing the necessary information and documentation for each canonization process. The one primarily responsible is called the "Postulator of the Cause". At the Vatican there are experts who study and authenticate the data presented, if need be. This group includes doctors who exercise their profession while also offering their services within their areas of competence.

At the present time, laypeople can serve as "Postulators". I know one who gave up his career as an attorney and opted for this service to the Church. He mentioned to me that his experience was proving very profitable for his Christian life, and then added with a smile, "My wife tells me that I make other people saints but Im not one myself".

WHAT GOOD ARE SAINTS?

What does it mean that a person is recognized by the Church as a "saint"? Does it mean that he or she was born a "saint" and lived in Christian perfection from then on without any limitations whatever?

When the Church canonizes someone and proposes him or her as a model of the Christian life, what it is saying to us is: let yourself be formed...let the love of God transform you, convert you...let your heart respond generously to that love of God. Love is stronger than death (and sin is death); love will triumph in you if you let it. This Marcellin Champagnat did.

I believe we need to situate the canonization within the normal growth-process of a Christian life that lets itself be guided by the Spirit of God. Anyone who, without ceasing to experience his or her own limits (sin included), opens up generously to grace and makes a firm decision to let the Spirit mold in his or her life the image of Jesus. "Put on Christ"..."Have the same attitudes as Christ Jesus" (cf. Col. 3,12-16).
People often identify "saints" with miracle-working. Saints are not supermen. They are not "extraterrestrials". Saints are people who make of their lives something that others do not ordinarily do. Many people are born, grow up, play, eat and drink, work, relax, love, betray, regret being so run-of-the-mill but keep on being so, think about themselves but ignore others...the memory of such a life fades quickly. No one is interested in them, because theirs was a life "without life".

Saints are persons who dedicated their lives, (not just a few years), to changing certain important things. In order to change what is evil they have no other technique than to change their own lives and place them at the service of the Kingdom of God. It is evident that it is not possible to "gain the whole world" without "losing ones life" (cf. Mt. 17,22-23), without giving it generously and out of love and without a determination to correct and overcome errors (conversion!). And this is the path of the saints. Every saint has his or her limitations. They recognize them that is precisely one good sign and that they are authentically living their conversion, purification and sanctification. A saint never says, "Lord, I am not like the rest of men" (cf. Lk 17, 11-13). They are aware of their real weakness. They have no false humility.

One day, someone asked an old monk what went on in the monastery, and he replied, "Well, we fall and we get up again, we fall and we get up again...." The fact that we have chosen to live our Christian faith in a consistent manner, or our vocation as consecrated Brothers, does not shield us from the difficulties inherent in becoming adults in Christ. Growth in maturity requires us to go through periods of crisis. And in those situations we need an environment in which we can fall and get up again as we totter and stumble along toward the Kingdom of God. Are our communities or Christian life groups giving us support at this moment?

I personally consider the canonization of Marcellin Champagnat as a gift of God and a gift from the Good Mother to the whole Marist Family. For the Brothers it is a grace which reaffirms us in our vocation as consecrated laymen who want to follow Jesus in the footsteps of Marcellin, evangelizing young people through education. For people in the world, and for young people above all, the canonization is the justification of the love and admiration they feel for Marcellin and the confirmation of the truth that in Marcellin they have a model to imitate for living the gospel.

HOW TO CELEBRATE MARCELLINS CANONIZATION

We Brothers on the General Council have shared our expectations of the canonization and the meaning it holds for us, in this concrete moment of the life of the Institute and of the Church, and taking into account children and young people, since they are at the center of the mission which Marcellin has handed on to us.

I will briefly indicate a few of our desires and hopes:

a) We believe that the canonization is a gift, a grace, and an opportunity to begin a new stage in the life of the Institute, in which the Brothers and "lay persons who feel themselves to be Marists" will make commitments within the framework of Champagnats charism and spirituality. It is a question of stirring ourselves up to look ahead in order to "be reborn", without tarrying in the joy of seeing what we have desired and asked for so many years finally becoming a reality.

b) We judge this event as a favorable time to deepen our spirituality, as our Constitutions express it: "The spirituality bequeathed to us by Marcellin Champagnat is marial and apostolic. It flows from Gods love for us, gains strength as we give ourselves to others, and leads us to the Father. In this way, our apostolic life, our life of prayer, and our community life are blended into harmony" (C7).

c) We want to live it as an ecclesial event which helps us to integrate ourselves still more in the local and diocesan Church. We can all meet in the canonization: Brothers and laypeople with whom we share a mission and a spirituality, the four Marist congregations, other religious families to whom we are very close in our mission and in a very similar consecrated lifestyle, as are the "Institutes of Brothers".

d) We would be happy to celebrate it with other congregations and institutions which, like our own, are waiting for the canonization of some of their "blesseds". We are also moved toward this by the desire to broaden our vision of the Church and to share the same happening with other religious families.

e) We feel impelled to situate ourselves, like Marcellin and with him, before a world which presents itself to us as an "abundant harvest" awaiting harvesters. A world of young people who are hoping to meet the "brother" friend, present and attuned to their reality, a traveling companion with whom to share the search for God, the "brother" who loves and who, like Marcellin, every time he "sees a child or a young person...wants to tell him how much God loves him". For that reason, we would like children and young people to be very much present, to be active participants, because they are Marcellins friends.

f) We want to be open to the Spirit, so as to let ourselves be challenged by world realities (injustice, poverty, marginalization...). It is a question of discovering and responding with Marcellins heart to the "Montagnes" of today. We harbor cherish the hope of "re-reading the Marist charism, of seeing with Champagnats eyes, of making his heart our own", so that the Marist Institute may make a more determined option for the poor, because they have a right to be preferred by us.

Br. Benito Arbués
Superior General

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