Pope Francis has opened a fourth path toward canonization! The Church has traditionally recognized three paths to canonization: martyrdom, a life of heroic Christian virtue, and “equivalent canonization,” that is, the Church recognizing ancient or long-held reverence for an individual as a saint. In a motu proprio dated July 11, Pope Francis based this initiative on the Scripture from the Gospel According to John, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). This newly recognized path to canonization recognizes those who offer their lives for the sake of others, knowing that their sacrifice will mean certain death. It is the greatest act of love, to give one’s life for the sake of another. Of course, canonization will still depend on a life of Christian virtue, but ordinary virtue rather than heroic virtue, and a miracle will be required also.
But this is good news! The Church has long celebrated those who, leaving all care for their own safety or regard aside, have jumped into the breach in the service of others. I think immediately of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who offered his own life to be executed by the Nazis in substitute for that of a family man who had been targeted. I also think of our own diocese’s Servant of God, Fr. Patrick Ryan, who gave of himself for sufferers of the yellow fever epidemic that struck Chattanooga in 1878 and who subsequently contracted the disease and died.
What is different about this new path, it seems to me, is that it opens a door for ordinary Christians, those who haven’t necessarily given their entire lives in service to the Church and the gospel, but who have struggled to live Christian virtue in the ordinary circumstances of life but who, when push came to shove, found the courage and stamina to face certain death in the effort to save the lives of others. That could be any ordinary Catholic who is confronted circumstances that put before him or her the stark choice of sparing themselves or giving themselves for the sake of another, and who choose to sacrifice his or her own life for the sake of another.
There is cause for rejoicing here!
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.