Did you watch the Beatification ceremonies a few weeks ago for Fr. Michael J. McGivney? Fr. McGivney lived in the late 1800s. He was born in Waterbury, CT, and served churches in the Naugatuck Valley and New Haven. He founded the Knights of Columbus, and by all accounts he was a faithful and dedicated priest who focused all his energies on serving the people in his parishes. Sadly, he died at age 38 when a pandemic swept the area. (Sound familiar?)
The Beatification Mass was broadcast on TV, not only on local stations here in Connecticut, but worldwide on EWTN. During the ceremony, one of the commentators mentioned that Fr. McGivney is the first native of Connecticut to be beatified, that is, declared by the Church to be a saint in Heaven.
This caused a good friend of mine to exclaim, “You mean there’s only been one person from Connecticut during the past 350 years who made it into Heaven?!”
No no, that’s not what it means at all, although based on the way people have been behaving in recent years, you might think so. A person does not need to be beatified by the Church in order to make it into Heaven. In other words, it’s not only the folks on the Church’s official list of saints who are in Heaven. Yes, there are a lot of people who have been named saints by the Church over the years; right now the number is well over 10,000. But compared to the number of people who have put their faith in God during the past 20 centuries, 10,000 is a drop in the bucket. Just because the Church did not officially declare these countless millions to be saints Certainly doesn’t mean they all were condemned to Hell.
The Church beatifies someone only when there is a wealth of evidence that particular person lived a holy life of faith. It can be a very long and drawn out process. Here are the four basic steps to sainthood:
- A Cause for Beatification and Canonization begins and the candidate is called Servant of God.
- The Positio (or case) is created to document the person’s Heroic Virtue and they are voted to become Venerable.
- Evidence of a first miracle is investigated and verified, and they are declared Blessed.
- After a second miracle is proven, the person is named a Saint and is canonized by the Pope.
Right now, Fr. McGivney’s cause has reached the third step, and one additional miracle is required for him to be canonized by the Pope. If you’ve followed the process for Fr. McGivney, as many here in Connecticut have done, you know it’s been going on for years and years.
So, being declared an official saint by the Church is the final result of a grueling and detailed process. This is why most of the saints were not just holy and faithful, but spectacularly so. They often were brilliant and powerful and influential, with a lot of historical records chronicling their lives and achievements.
The primary reason the Church goes through this long process to declare that certain people are saints is fairly simple: it’s to give the rest of us examples to follow. The lives of the saints are powerful witnesses of how to live faithful and fruitful lives. The more we know about these holy people, the more we can be inspired by them and strive to live our lives in a similar fashion.
Here is a point that must not be overlooked: we are all called to be saints. We do not need to be canonized and officially declared a saint by the Church to make it to Heaven. In case you’ve forgotten how, here’s the formula for getting into Heaven: put your faith in God through Christ, and love your neighbor as yourself.
It’s wonderful that someone from Connecticut is well on his way to official Sainthood. Fr. McGivney’s selfless love for his neighbors is a shining example for us. But we are all called to join him in Heaven, even if there won’t be a TV broadcast letting the world know about us.