Now here’s a topic near and dear to my past. As many of you know (or perhaps don’t), I’m a recovering Catholic of the Roman variety. When I was just a wee one, throughout my prepubescent years, I was indoctrinated, primarily by nuns, but often by priests, with the concept of the Society of Saints. Just about every day was dedicated to some Saint, and we were instructed to pray to that saint to intercede with God or Jesus or Mary or someone (never fully explained) to give us whatever it was that was that particular saint’s specialty.
For instance, St. Christopher was the patron saint of travel, and my parents hung St. Chris medals on their rear-view mirrors. According to legend (but not history) he purportedly gave a lift on his back to a child of ever increasing weight, and , when he complained about the burden, was told that he bore the Christ child and the sins of the world on his back. Sometime after I reached the age of reason, the Church disclaimed any historicity to the legend and removed him from the Calendar of the saints. So much for St. Christopher, not to mention quite a few others.
So we children were inoculated with this belief that once upon a time there were these holy people that walked the earth, and were so Christlike that after they died, they went to heaven, and eventually some earthbound proof (miracles attributed to them) was cited to substantiate their canonization as “official” (scare quotes added) saints.
What brings the saints to mind is the recent canonization of a nun in Australia, their first saint no less, and the big deal they are making of it down under. Reading this, along with all the brouhaha surrounding the fast track canonization of that fraud Mother Teresa, I can’t help but wonder – what’s the point? Why does the Catholic Church go through this long drawn out process to actually lay the title of “Saint” on some past Catholic’s shoulders? I’ve concluded that it’s just brilliant marketing, and nothing more.
The dogma of the church holds that if you live a good life, follow god’s word, and worship him as you are told, then, without any sins on your soul, you’ll go to heaven. By definition, a person who goes to heaven under this scenario is a saint. All good Christians aspire to sainthood, regardless of whether it’s officially recognized by the church.
During the entire existence of the church, presumably a sizable portion of those saintly creatures that have already made it to heaven are up there enjoying the fruits of their goodness with Jesus and all of the official saints. The only thing different is that they are not recognized down here by we lowly humans, because they did not generate sufficient recognition during their lifetimes for being saintly material, and no miracles have been attributed to them since they passed on to the great beyond. That’s the only difference between those millions or hundreds of millions of good, but dead, humans whose souls have gone to heaven, and the official ones like St. Augustine and Sts. Peter and Paul (and Mary) who are recognized by the church.
So why limit our acknowledgment of saints to just those with an official imprimatur? It’s a marketing decision, pure and simple. The official saints are no better or no worse than all the rest of the unrecognized saints. They are all still saints, and it’s sainthood the church celebrates. The church knows that in order to maintain their flock, to keep them in line tithing and praying and adding memberships, they must be able to point to hard, concrete examples of those who have gone before who made it to this place they have no other evidence for. If all they did was preach about the existence of heaven, using it as the goal to attain, without some evidence that it actually exists, they run the risk that Catholics will eventually wise up to them, and Catholicism would fall to the wayside like the myriad of past religions that could not sustain themselves and disappeared into the dustbins of history. But if they have “proof” of the afterlife, some miracles attributed to someone who made it there, along with a steady ad campaign for the Sainthood of this person or that nun, it might be enough to keep the flock inside the fence, so to speak.
If Ivory Soap stopped telling you how good it was at cleaning your body and your clothes, eventually people would stop buying it in favor of the soap that DID pound you over the head, relentlessly, with the efficacy of their product.
The Catholic Church is one of the oldest and largest corporations in the world. It is in business, and its business is selling itself and its superstitions to gullible people who feel a need to believe in those things the Catholic Church sells – redemption, salvation, life after death. One of the marketing strategies to selling their product is to point to happy customers who have preceded them.
If it had no happy customers blurbing its product, it wouldn’t be here today. Saints fill that function.