Friday, July 5, 2013
Façade of the saints
False authority in the Church. Yes, in the Church. I only acknowledge the possibility of one, though I accept the fact that people have sliced and diced it in numerous ways. Yes, the pope is a Christian, and so is (very possibly) the anonymous tract pusher whom I turned away at my front door last week with the request, ‘Please don’t litter.’ His paperwork fell out of my screen door handle to join fallen leaves in my window well. Thank God I am in no position to judge either. As the desert father says, ‘Who the sheep be, God knows, but the goats are such as I.’
I just learned of the second miracle that is needed to allow the canonization of Polish pope John Paul II. The miracle ‘passed’ and soon, he who was in the fast lane to official sainthood will join the ranks of thousands whose likenesses grace statues, icons and prayer cards. It’s never occured to me to pray to him, because I only ask people I know to pray for me. Just yesterday, after searching fruitlessly for some missing keys, I uttered, ‘Saint Phanourios, help me find those keys’ and, no joke, in less than three minutes what I couldn’t find for three days found my fingers on top of a stack of comic books!
As an Orthodox Christian, I’ve always felt that God reveals those who are His saints to ordinary believers, and the ‘saint next door’ whom I personally know while he or she is alive as well as later, after their repose, is every bit as much a saint as those that Holy Church glorifies by election and rites. The oil from a lampada in front of John Maximovitch’s ikon may cure me of an otherwise incurable headache, but so can the prayer of a brother or sister with whom I receive the Holy Mysteries in my local parish church. It’s all about faith, trust and love. None of these operate magically, but all may work miracles.
Why limit sainthood, canonically, to those with two verifiable miracles? I wonder if those who ‘process’ the candidates realize what they are doing to the faith of those whom holy apostle Paul writes are ‘called to be saints.’ You’d almost think that Paul writes like this just to tantalize us, knowing beforehand that only a very, very few make it to sainthood, the rest of us failing in our half-hearted attempts. To console ourselves for our spiritual inadequacies, we at least have ‘the saints’ (the ‘real ones’ of course) to resort to. Catholics have ‘the treasury of merit.’ Orthodox, well, Lord, have mercy!
Without taking away from the faith of those who, like the woman of the ‘second miracle’ for pope John Paul II, have testimonies of the miraculous, there is a generous diffusion of the miraculous universally and daily, as dependable as manna in the wilderness, surrounding us, believers and unbelievers, at all times. Not just the bodies and bones of saints, not just myrrh-gushing ikons, but invisible, unasked, and uncanonized, people in the body or out, as well as the bodiless powers and our own guardian angels, all are the vehicles of God’s grace, which is the only source of all good, available to all.
To this, I ask myself, what can canonization add? The divine economy, the plan of salvation, requires it, so we are told. Now, as always, it boils down to the reality of the Church, the mother of all, who nurtures the spiritual infant with religious pablum, enlightens the mature man with the uncreated light, and faithfully carries and cares for everyone in between. ‘Perhaps he would like to wear a cardinal’s hat,’ suggests the pope concerning Martin Luther. ‘He’d be ashamed to wear it,’ offers one who wears one already, and is still dissatisfied. Perhaps he was right, ‘Let the saints canonize themselves…’
at 3:03 PM