Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Extraordinary in the Ordinary

In my bedroom hangs a portrait of a parish priest – Fr. Michael McGivney. For those who might not be familiar with Fr. McGivney, he is responsible for founding the Knights of Columbus in 1885, and his cause for beatification is under review. The postulator for his cause, Fr. Gabriel O’Donnell, was recently a guest on Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s Wednesday evening EWTN Live program, where they discussed the Church’s canonization process and two causes that Fr. O’Donnell is involved with, that of Fr. Michael McGivney and that of Rose Hawthorne. Fr. O’Donnell currently serves as the Academic Dean at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC.

Fr. O’Donnell on why the Church canonizes saints:

The Church chooses certain individuals to canonize so that the ideal for holiness can be enshrined in flesh and blood, we have examples, and the glory of God is manifested in people in their ordinary lives. In fact, I think some theologians today would say that modern saints are often saints of ordinary life. The classic example would be Therese of Liseux, someone who did nothing extraordinary. She was a simple Carmelite nun, but she was extraordinary in the quality of her life – the way she loved, the way she lived with her sisters, etc. And in a way, that’s true of Fr. McGivney. He’s one of those people who lived the ordinary life of a parish priest in an extraordinary way.

Fr. O’Donnell on the canonization process:

The primary issue is, can the Church see in this individual the qualities of what is called heroic virtue. In other words, this person isn’t just a good Christian, but goes above and beyond and is virtuous to such an extent that it’s a kind of martyrdom. They endure all things for Christ. And so the Church’s judgment is always, “Does this candidate have the quality of heroic virtue?” And the whole canonization process is unearthing the proof of whether that’s true, also unearthing the things that might say that it’s not true. So the long process from beginning to canonization is really all about constantly looking at this individual, his life or her life, writings, activities, what they did, what they didn’t do, and always trying to probe, “Can we see the heroism of Jesus Christ in this person?” … Today the process is long, and it’s very complex. There are norms from the Church that govern every step along the way, and the main thrust of the canonization process is really, almost more scientific. You’re gathering a tremendous amount of information through research and then interviewing people who may have known the person or, if the person is long dead, people who know the reputation for holiness. The point of it all is that the norms are only meant to legitimate the ultimate conclusion that this indeed is someone in whom we can see Christ clearly through their life of virtue. And both Fr. McGivney and, I think, Rose Hawthorne qualify for that, even though they’re not yet canonized.

During the question and answer period, a viewer asks whether a Protestant can be canonized. Fr. O’Donnell’s answer:

No, they can’t, because canonization is an act whereby the Church takes a member of the Church and brings him or her forward as an example of heroic virtue. The Church would have no right to investigate or lay claim to that person’s life. I mean, ti would be an invasion, you might say. You can imagine how a family or a church body would be terribly upset if you ever tried to coopt one of their members as a Catholic martyr or saint. So no, the church only beatifies and canonizes baptized Catholics.

As with most EWTN programs, a podcast of the program is available in the archives (I really love those archives). For more information on Fr. McGivney and his cause, visit the website of the Father Michael J. McGivney Guild.

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