Canonizations, like flowers, sometimes come in bunches. For example, groups of martyrs.
On December 9, 1963, the day after the close of the opening session of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII canonized three saints, among them Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868), the Apostle of the Eucharist who founded two religious congregations dedicated to promoting knowledge and love of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Also canonized that day were two Italian saints: Antonio Maria Pucci (1819-1892), a devoted parish priest and Servite who had a special concern for the education of the young and the care of the sick, and Francis Mary of Camporosso (1804-1866), who collected donations to support the ministry of his Capuchin confreres while at the same time ministering among the workers and the poor of the port of Genoa. His final act was assisting victims of a cholera outbreak, of which he himself eventually died.
On Sunday, April 27, two popes of the twentieth century, John XIII and John Paul II, were declared saints at Saint Peter’s Basilica. The former is affectionately called “Good Pope John”; to the latter is applied the rarest of titles, “the Great.” Their lives,” Cardinal Angelo Amato says, “completely dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel, shine in the church and reverberate in the history of the world as examples of hope and light.” Heaven knows, our world needs hope and light!
Many have sought to answer the question “What is a saint?” A popular response that frequently shows up in homilies, particularly at Masses with children, is “Saints are like stained glass windows. They let the light of God shine through them.”
In a blog released in late October of last year, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia offers this definition: “The saints were men and women whom Jesus made his own.” And he adds, “Sanctity is about being passionately in love with Jesus Christ.” I like both of these statements because they emphasize that holiness results from staying close to the Lord Jesus and loving him deeply, passionately.
The bishops of Vatican II spoke of the universal call to holiness: “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (Lumen Gentium, 40), and in the same number went on to say:
In order to reach this perfection, the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that . . . doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the people of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the church through the lives of so many saints.
Doing the will of God is the key to holiness of life. Saint Peter Julian Eymard described it as the “great law” of holiness. In a letter penned just two months prior to his death, he wrote the following words of encouragement to a woman he was guiding: “We find our special grace of sanctification in this present and personal divine will, and this special grace is attached to every hour, every action.”
God gives each of us every necessary means to grow in holiness, especially the Eucharist. When we celebrate the eucharistic mystery in faith and receive the Lord’s gift of love in joy and openness of heart, we are transformed and grow more and more to resemble Christ.
Saints John XXIII and John Paul II were deeply devoted to the Eucharist, both in their personal spirituality and in their public ministry. They believed in its power and in its necessity for anyone seriously committed to living a life of Christ-like goodness and holiness.
I invite you to read Father Paul Bernier’s moving reflection on the Eucharist in the life and teachings of Pope John XXIII as well as an accompanying piece on Pope John Paul II. This issue also contains a meditation on Mary, the first disciple and the mother of compassion.
Father Anthony Schueller, SSS