Pope John Paul II

Transform the world from within

1. "All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Rom 8,14). These words of the Apostle Paul, which we have just heard, help us understand better the significant message of today's canonization of Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer. With docility he allowed himself to be led by the Spirit, convinced that only in this way can one fully accomplish God's will.

This fundamental Christian truth was a constant theme in his preaching. Indeed, he never stopped inviting his spiritual children to invoke the Holy Spirit to ensure that their interior life, namely, their life of relationship with God and their family, professional and social life, totally made up of small earthly realities, would not be separated but would form only one life that was "holy and full of God". He wrote, "We find the invisible God in the most visible and material things" (Conversations with Josemaría Escrivá, n. 114).

This teaching of his is still timely and urgent today. In virtue of the Baptism that incorporates him into Christ, the believer is called to establish with the Lord an uninterrupted and vital relationship. He is called to be holy and to collaborate in the salvation of humanity.

God is at work in the daily life of men and women; we can cooperate with him

2. "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it" (Gn 2,15). The Book of Genesis, as we heard in the first reading, reminds us that the Creator has entrusted the earth to man, to "till" it and "keep" it. Believers acting in the various realities of this world contribute to realize this divine universal plan. Work and any other activity, carried out with the help of grace, is converted into a means of daily sanctification.

"The ordinary life of a Christian who has faith", Josemaría Escrivá used to say, "when he works or rests, when he prays or sleeps, at all times, is a life in which God is always present" (Meditations, 3 March 1954). This supernatural vision of life unfolds an extraordinarily rich horizon of salvific perspectives, because, even in the only apparently monotonous flow of normal earthly events, God comes close to us and we can cooperate with his plan of salvation. So it is easier to understand what the Second Vatican Council affirmed: "there is no question, then, of the Christian message inhibiting men from building up the world ... on the contrary it is an incentive to do these very things" (Gaudium et spes, n. 34).

We are called to change the world from within by becoming saints in the world

3. To elevate the world to God and transform it from within: this is the ideal the holy founder points out to you, dear brothers and sisters, who rejoice today to see him raised to the glory of the altars. He continues to remind you Of the need not to let yourselves be frightened by a materialist culture that threatens to dissolve the genuine identity of Christ's disciples. He liked to repeat forcefully that the Christian faith is opposed to conformism and interior inertia.

Following in his footsteps, spread in society the consciousness that we are all called to holiness whatever our race class society or age. In the first place, struggle to be saints yourselves, cultivating an evangelical style of humility arid service, abandonment to Providence and of constant listening to the voice of the Spirit. In this way, you will be the "salt of the earth" (cf. Mt 5,13) and "your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (ibid., 5,16).

The Cross moulds every human reality

4. Those who want to serve the cause of the Gospel faithfully will certainly encounter misunderstandings and difficulties. The Lord purifies and shapes all those he calls to follow him with the mysterious power of the Cross; but "in the Cross", the new saint repeated, "we find light, peace and joy: Lux in Cruce, requies in Cruce, gaudium in Cruce!"

Ever since 7 August 1931 when, during the celebration of holy Mass, the words of Jesus echoed in his soul: "when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself" (Jn 12,32), Josemaría Escrivá understood more clearly that the mission of the baptized consists in raising the Cross of Christ above all human reality and he felt burning within him the impassioned vocation to evangelize every human setting. Then, without hesitation, he accepted Jesus' invitation to the Apostle Peter, which we just heard in this square: "Due in altum!" (Put out into the deep). He transmitted it to his entire spiritual family so that they might offer the Church a valid contribution of communion and apostolic service. Today this invitation is extended to all of us: "Put out into the deep", the divine Teacher says to us, "and let down your nets for a catch" (Lk 5,4).

Secret of the saints: prayer, expiation, sacramental life

5. To fulfil such a rigorous mission, one needs constant interior growth nourished by prayer. St Josemaría was a master in the practice of prayer, which he considered to be an extraordinary "weapon" to redeem the world. He always recommended: "in the first place prayer; then expiation; in the third place, but very much in third place, action" (The Way, n. 82). It is not a paradox but a perennial truth: the fruitfulness of' the apostolate lies above all in prayer and in intense and constant sacramental life. This, in essence, is the secret of the holiness and the true success of the saints.

May the Lord help you, dear brothers and Sisters, to accept this challenging ascetical and missionary instruction. May Mary sustain you, whom the holy founder invoked as "Spes nostra, Sedes Sapientiae, Ancilla Domini!" (Our Hope, Seat of Wisdom, Handmaid of the Lord).

May Our Lady make everyone an authentic witness of the Gospel, ready everywhere to make a generous contribution to building the Kingdom of Christ! May the example and teaching of St Josemaría be an incentive to us so that at the end of the earthly pilgrimage, we too may be able to share in the blessed inheritance of heaven! There, together with the angels and all the saints, we will contemplate the face of God and sing his glory for all eternity.

What Does It Means To Be Canonized?

For many, even in the Church, the Catholic practice of beatifying and canonizing is an enigma. Why does the Church do it? How does the Church do it? What are the implications of being beatified, or, as is now the case of Josemaría Escrivá, canonized?

General History.

First it should be noted that according to the testimony of Sacred Scripture every Christian is a saint. The Greek New Testament speaks in many places of the hagios (Acts 9:32; Rom 15:25, 31; Eph 1:1; Col. 1:2; Jude 1:3 and others). The Latin Vulgate speaks of the sancti, which is rendered in some English translations as the saints and in others as the holy ones. As St. Peter tells Christians, "you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." The saints are set apart by God through baptism, filled with His divine life (the Kingdom of God within), and called to announce that Kingdom's presence in the world to the whole human race. Thus it is that in the Scriptural usage all of those baptized into Christ and in the state of grace can rightly be called saints.

In another sense, stricter and more technical, the saints are those in whom Christ's victory over sin, the devil and death has not just begun, as it has in us, but has been completed. This is the case when the wayfaring state of earthy life is concluded and the holiness of life attained in the pilgrim's state is realized perfectly in heaven. Even while saying that no one is truly good but God (Mt 19:17), Christ called us to the perfection of goodness, of holiness, "be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48, Mt 19:21; Col. 4:12, James 1:4), since nothing imperfect will enter into heaven (Rev 21:27).

The early Church understood that only the Christian who followed Christ perfectly would go immediately into the heavenly Jerusalem. Others would enter the purifying fires of purgatory "to be made perfect," from which they would not depart until they had "paid the last penny" (Mt 5:26, 1 Cor 3:13, 15). Since perfection was conformity to Christ in His death, a process begun at baptism, the martyr (literally, witness) for Christ was seen to have achieved the goal. Thus, during the age of persecution (from Pentecost to 311 AD) esteem for those Christians who had been killed in hatred of the faith (in odium fidei) lead Christians to extol their example of heroic witness to Christ, to guard and preserve their relics (the trophies of victory over death), and to celebrate the anniversary of their birthday into eternal life. The Circular Letter of the Church of Smyrna on the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp (155 AD) illustrates this esteem perfectly.

We have at last gathered his bones, which are dearer to us than priceless gems and purer than gold, and laid them to rest where it was befitting they should lie. And if it be possible for us to assemble again, may God grant us to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom with gladness, thus to recall the memory of those who fought in the glorious combat, and to teach and strengthen by his example, those who shall come after us.

Finally, the greatest tribute of honor that could be rendered to the martyr was to have his or her name mentioned in the Canon (or Eucharistic Prayer) of the Mass, accompanying the Lord in His Redemptive Sacrifice. This was done on their feast day, the day of their entry into eternal life. The Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer 1) retains the eloquent testimony of the Roman Church for the Mother of the Lord, for the apostles, and the most significant martyrs of Rome and Italy.

"In union with the whole Church ...we honor Mary ... Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude; we honor Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian." (Communicates)

"For ourselves, too, we ask some share in the fellowship of your apostles and martyrs, with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia and all the saints." (Nobis quoque peccatoribus)

Thus, in the early centuries of the Church the popular acclaim of sanctity in the martyrs, the veneration of their relics, the honoring of their names in private and liturgical prayer (with the consent of the local bishop) canonized important witnesses to Christ in the universal, and the local, Church, as examples of the perfect fidelity to which all Christians are called.

Although the age of martyrs has never truly ended, the relative peace that existed after the Edict of Milan in 311 meant that martyrdom was a rarer example of perfection than it had been. The Church began to look for other models of holiness, other ways in which conformity to Christ could be a witness to the faithful and the world, the living out in daily Christian life of the dying to self and living for Christ undertaken in baptism. This witness was found in those whose white martyrdom of heroic virtue confessed to the world the triumph of light over darkness, of grace over sin, of the new man over the old man (Eph 4:17-24), and thus of Christ over Satan. Thus, such Confessors, the witness of whose life had the fame of holiness, began to enter the roles of the canonized.

This cultus* (religious veneration) was generally of a single diocese, but as the fame of the person spread it could encompass several dioceses, and in the case of Mary, the apostles and other significant figures, be universal. Although the records of early Church Councils shows occasional interventions to correct abuses in the naming of saints and to establish criteria for their acclamation, the process continued to be a local one with some few examples of Popes declaring saints of universal veneration.

The first canonical process seems to be that of Pope Urban II (1089-99), in the "Cause" of Nicholas of Trani. The Bishop of Trani was ordered to conduct a local investigation into his alleged sanctity and miracles, which then would be submitted to the Pope for judgment. This first "Cause" dragged on over several pontificates, and seems not to have been concluded favorably. It also seems to have occasioned developments in the legal procedures themselves, Callistus II (1119-24) requiring all causes to include a critical biography of the Servant of God. As often happens in the Church, abuses brought about major developments in Church practice. In 1170 Pope Alexander III decreed that no one could be declared a saint without the permission of the Supreme Pontiff. This was precipitated by the acclamation as saint of a Swedish "martyr" who was killed while drunk, and thus could not be truly said to be a willing witness for Christ. This regulation was formally incorporated into Church law by Pope Gregory IX in 1234.

The centralization of the canonization process in Rome was an inevitable development of the Church's theological and canonical Tradition. While the acclamation of the faithful and the acceptance of the bishop is in most cases an adequate witness to the holiness of the person, it only provides a moral certainty, a reasonable credibility, that the person is in heaven. In order to give universal witness to the sanctity of someone a higher standard needed to be invoked, that of the charism of the infallibility of the Church. According to Catholic teaching the Church, the Mystical Christ, cannot err in matters of faith and morals (Jn 16:13). The practical exercise of this infallibility falls to the apostolic office, which in the name and by the authority of Christ the Head of the Church intends to bind the faithful in a matter of faith or morals. This can be done either by the college of bishops as a whole, as in a Council (Acts 15:28 15:28), or by the Successor of St. Peter (Lk 22:32, Acts 15:7-12). By the grace of the Holy Spirit Christ protects such judgments of universal import for the Church from error. The common opinion of theologians historically, therefore, is that papal Canonization is an exercise of the charism of infallibility, protecting the Church from raising an unworthy individual to the universal veneration of the faithful. As in the case of a dogmatic definition, the declaration of a saint inserts that person into the heart of the Church's life, into the central mystery of the faith, the Eucharist, and must by its nature be free from error.

Cause for Beatification/Cause for Canonization.

According to an ancient theological axiom grace builds on nature. For this reason the Church is very careful to exhaust the human and reasonable means of determining the sanctity of a person before relying on supernatural ones. As noted earlier the papal canonization process quickly developed certain procedures which had to be followed in the diocese and in Rome, such as the collecting of evidence, of testimonies of witnesses and the writing of a critical biography. By the fourteenth century two regular processes were in place, the Cause for Beatification and the Cause for Canonization. The first, when successfully concluded, allowed some measure of veneration of the now Blessed by the faithful, in his or her diocese, by a religious order, by a nation. The second process, canonization, permitted universal veneration of the now Saint by the entire Church. The concluding stage of each was conducted in the form of a trial, with sides for or against. The office of the Promoter of the Faith or Devil's Advocate, who argued against the Servant of God, dates from this era.

The Processes have gone through several revisions and refinements over the centuries, including two recent ones, under Pope Paul VI in 1969 and under Pope John Paul II in 1983. Included in Pope Paul's reforms were the consolidation of the processes into a single Cause for Canonization. Notable in the reform of Pope John Paul II was the elimination of the Devil's Advocate, as well as many procedural changes.

The Cause for Canonization of Josemaría Escrivá.

I. Documentation of the life and virtues of Mons. Escriva began after his death, 26 June 1976, with the collection, over a five-year period, of testimonies to his sanctity. These testimonies were collected into two volumes (428 and 390 pages), to which were added another volume of 1500 favors attributed to his intercession, and postulatory letters from 69 Cardinals, 1228 Bishops, 41 General Superiors of religions orders and congregations, and even heads of state.

II. These testimonies were submitted to the Congregations for Doctrine of the Faith and Causes of Saints, which granted the Nihil Obstat (nothing stands in the way), as confirmed by the Holy Father. As a result, the Process for the Cause of the Servant of God Josemaría Escrivá began on 19 February 1981.

III. Beginning in May 1981, and continuing six and a half years, two simultaneous inquiries, one in Rome, the other in Madrid, were conducted into his life. Criticisms of those opposed to his Cause were also received. In 980 sessions, 92 witnesses were heard, and documents from 390 archives were collected in 11 volumes. Four theological censors examined his writings and concluded that "Escriva possesses the strength of the classics: the character of a Church Father."

IV. The decree of the validity of the Processes was issued 3 April 1987, after which a positio (position statement) was drawn up, giving a "sure evaluation of the Servant of God’s heroic practice of virtue," and handed over to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in June 1988.

V. At the conclusion of the Informative Process, the Cause was submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. On 3 April 1987, the Congregation recognized the validity of the Process (what had been done to date). At that point a theological commission of the Congregation began its work. A Positio summarizing the Servant of God's life and virtues was prepared and, in March 1989, was passed to theological Consultors appointed by the Secretary of the Congregation. In the same period, two processes were initiated to examine alleged miracles ascribed to the Servant of God’s intercession.

VI. The Consultors reached a conclusion strongly favoring Josemaría’s Cause. They passed their recommendation to the Cardinals and Bishops of the Congregation, which, on 20 March 1990, gave its unanimous judgment on the "heroic nature of his virtues." On 9 April 1990, Pope John Paul confirmed this judgment, and approved the Decree on the Heroic Virtues of the Servant of God Josemaría Escrivá, thereby declaring him a Venerable Servant of God, or simply Venerable.

VII. The remaining step before beatification is the approval of a miracle, evidence of the intercessory power of the Servant of God and thus of his union after death with God. Those who propose a miracle do so in the diocese where it occurred, not in the diocese of the Cause. The diocese of the miracle then conducts its own Tribunals, scientific and theological, to determine whether a miracle can be said to have occurred. The results are then submitted to the Congregation for its evaluation. On 6 July 1991, Pope John Paul affirmed by decree the miraculous nature of a cure attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God Josemaría Escrivá. This miracle, together with the Decree on Heroic Virtues, provided the basis for beatification on 17 May 1992.

VIII. Finally after beatification a further miracle is needed before canonization can occur. The investigation of this miracle follows the same course as noted above with regard to beatification. Approved in the diocese of Madrid, a second miraculous cure attributed to Blessed Josemaría received a unanimous judgment by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 21 September 2001. The decree on this miracle was approved by Pope John Paul on 20 December, and on 26 February 2002 the Holy Father established that the ceremony for the Canonization of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá should take place on 6 October 2002.

What it means to be a Blessed or a Saint.

Up until the beatification of a Servant of God Catholics must observe a strict rule of non cultus, meaning that while they may privately pray to and venerate an individual whom they believe to be in heaven there may not be any public acts of religious veneration. Thus, the rule which the Cause for Josemaría Escrivá had been so insistent upon prior to beatification - no display of Josemaría’s picture in places of worship, no hymns to him and no public prayer directly to him - conforms to the strict norms of the Church in this matter. In fact, the presence of a cultus before the approval of the Church is given can end the candidacy of a Servant of God.

With Beatification a number of marks of veneration can be given to a person. The most important one is that a feast day, with its proper Mass and Office (Liturgy of the Hours), can be granted to particular dioceses and religious orders and congregations. For example, Blessed Takeri Tekawitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, is celebrated on the liturgical calendars of the U.S. and Canada, but could not be lawfully celebrated, for example, in Japan. Likewise, Blessed Josemaría could be celebrated by members of Opus Dei and in his home diocese. Other religious and diocesan communities would have needed the Indult (permission) of the Holy See to lawfully celebrate his feast day with public veneration. By analogy, beatification is somewhat akin to the practice of "local canonization" earlier in history, except that a bishop instead of "canonizing" someone himself manifests to the Holy Father the person's fame of holiness and his flock's desire to venerate the person. After sufficient investigation the Pope grants local veneration, that is, beatifies the individual. With beatification comes the restricted right to venerate the relics of the blessed, to have public prayers to him and to honor his images in places of worship, where this is granted by the Holy See.

Finally, the fame of holiness may suggest the fittingness of universal veneration for someone who is beatified. This is granted through canonization. The Holy Father confirms through the discernment of reason and the exercise of the Petrine charism that the person is in heaven and may be honored throughout the Church.

*Cultus. A certain negativity has attached itself to the English term cult (a false, exaggerated religious system) which should not be applied to the older, properly understood, Latin term cultus. The Latin term in the ancient world had the meaning of religious worship of God or a god. It could be applied to the True God (which would be legitimate) or to a pagan god among gods (which would be idolatry). In using the term, but with specific theological meaning, the Church distinguishes between the forms of worship appropriate to God, Trinity, Christ and the Blessed Sacrament (called latria, worship or adoration, in the strict sense), and the forms of veneration and honor appropriate to the Blessed Virgin, the angels and the saints (called hyperdulia or the greatest measure of veneration in the case of Mary and dulia or simple veneration in the case of the angels and other saints). It is a principle of justice that we must honor, respect and show gratitude in proper measure to those who are part of God's plan for our natural and supernatural life. God commands it in the Fourth Commandment. This includes our natural parents who gave us life, but also those to whom we owe a debt for their role in the redemption (1 Cor 4:14-16, Heb. 13:7), first among whom is the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk 1:48).But without the fidelity of the angels, who served as God's messengers, of the prophets, of the apostles, the evangelists, the Fathers and the great and holy men and women of all ages, we today would not have the faith. That is the foundation of our individual and collective gratitude for the working of God's grace in their lives and thus of their cultus (in the way understood by the Church). Return to text