There has been much celebration in the past few days as Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square in Rome canonized Sister Mary MacKillop. Saint Mary MacKillop of the Cross is Australia’s first Roman Catholic Saint. I’m thrilled for Australian Catholics as they have something to celebrate as members of a church that has received much bad press in recent years – especially because of paedophile priests and accusations of child sexual abuse and it’s cover-up by some church officials. Interestingly, Sister Mary was excommunicated for a period five months in 1871 for exposing an Irish paedophile priest’s abuse of a child.
There is no doubt that Mary MacKillop had a genuine relationship with God and her faith was the springboard for a life of service to God and people in need. The Australian Catholics website has this to say:“Mary’s deep interior union with God is the key to her greatness. She believed that God knew her intimately and loved her. She responded by giving all her love and her whole life to God. She felt sustained by God’s love, and the courage and strength she drew from God helped her to pursue Christ’s mission of bringing hope to the marginalized, particularly the young.”
I’m not a Roman Catholic, but I have no problem with a great saint of the past being honored by the church. The Bible is full of great men and women of faith being honored – read Hebrews chapter 11 for a large list of them. All four Gospel writers record the story of another Mary who anointed Jesus with oil just days before his death. Jesus said of her, “wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Matthew 26:13).
I do believe, however, that the Roman Catholic practice of sainthood in some respects goes too far and in other areas does not go far enough. I will explain …
I believe it goes too far in that Catholics pray to the saints. It is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church that Catholics do not pray TO saints or Mary, but rather that Catholics can ask saints or Mary to pray FOR them. The official position of the Roman Catholic Church is that asking saints for their prayers is no different than asking someone here on earth to pray for you. The challenge is that many Catholics do pray TO Saints and this practice is found nowhere in the Bible. Effective Biblical prayer is always addressed to God the Father in the name (authority) of Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit (See John 15:16; Romans 8:26-27).
Secondly, I believe the Roman Catholic practice of sainthood (canonization) does not go far enough in that it has strict qualifications of who is and is not a saint. In official Church procedures there are three steps to sainthood:
1. Venerable – a deceased person recognized as having lived heroic virtues.
2. Blessed – in addition to personal attributes of charity and heroic virtue, one miracle, acquired through the individual’s intercession, is required.
3. Saint – Canonization requires two miracles or Martyrdom.
While the Bible teaches strongly on the blessings of living a virtuous life – and death (martyrdom), nowhere does it specify these as qualities for sainthood. The Bible uses the word “saints” 69 times and it’s always plural. It refers to the company of people – living and dead – who have faith in God and have lived lives of mercy, goodness and holiness in community with other believers. In other words, there are millions of saints and YOU could well be one of them!
Praise God for Mary MacKillop. Let us rejoice in the honor that has been bestowed on her because of her life of faith and good deeds. But in the honoring of Mary MacKillop let us not think that sainthood is something that is not obtainable for us. If Jesus is your Savior and you’re living a life that truly reflects your faith in practical ways, and you’re doing this in community with other believers, you’re a saint too!