“Follow the saints because those who follow them will become saints.” - Pope Saint Clement I
As an imperfect human, one of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around are Saints (upper case s). Catholics believe that all humans who have lived a good enough life to get into heaven become saints (lower case s) upon their arrival in heaven, once they are fully united with God. This makes sense and it is what we should all be striving to do. That’s the goal. So what are capital S Saints and why do I struggle with them?
Capital S Saints are saints that we here on earth acknowledge have made it to heaven. Since none of us can physically visit heaven and take roll of who’s there, we have to use context clues here on earth to see if someone has made it.
Back in the day, people could be named Saints by just asking the popular opinion of whether they were good people or not. In 1170, a decree by Pope Alexander III made it so that all canonizations (the process of naming someone a Saint) must go through the Pope and his councils. The actual process of how this worked was slightly changed and adjusted a few times over the next 800 years after that. Then in 1983 Pope John Paul II formally wrote out the laws that should be followed that we still use today.
These outlined rules lay out 4 major steps:
- First the cause must be brought to the local bishop, usually the bishop of the diocese that the candidate died in. He then decrees that an investigation begin that will look into the virtues of this individual. Once enough information is found, this evidence is taken to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS), and this candidate is deemed a “Servant of God”.
- Once it has been brought to the CCS they continue the investigation and when they decide that there is enough evidence that this person lived a virtuous life, they share it with the Pope. They recommend that the Pope declare this candidate “Heroic in Virtue” and the candidate is then deemed “Venerable”.
- As I said before, the Pope doesn’t CREATE Saints, he is simply recognizing that they are truly united in heaven with God. Those context clues I talked about earlier, that we use to determine this, are miracles. We believe that if the person is completely in union with God, that when we pray to them for help, they can tap God on the metaphoric shoulder and God will grant those requests. So our proof that they are in heaven is when we ask this person to help us and a miracle occurs. Thus this third stage is looking for miracles done through the intercession of the candidate. When one is claimed to have happened, the diocese and then the CCS themselves send teams to investigate the miracle to see if it was true. Since we are human and have physical limitations, the miracles that are normally found are miraculous cures because we have science that can prove or disprove whether the cures were due to medical science or something else. These miracles come under great scrutiny and must be proven to be a) spontaneous, b) enduring, and c) not from any other cause. Once these requirements have been met, the candidate is deemed “Blessed”.
- The final step is to find a 2nd miracle that took place after the 1st. (there are a few exceptions, martyrs, etc) They must follow all of the same strict requirements as the first. Once a 2nd miracle is found and proven, the Pope then sets a date to make the announcement, and he declares the person a Saint! The Catholic Church from then on believes that this human truly is in heaven, united with God in the Beatific Vision, perfect union.
As stated above, I’m not perfect. I’m far from it. I sin daily, but I really try, and I go to confession regularly. I am striving for that final goal. I know that it’s an attainable goal. I know that God wants us all to join Him. He wants us all to become saints. But when I see stories of the Saints (capital S), I get discouraged that I could never be THAT holy. Many people are inspired by their stories, as we should be, but I am a perfectionist and most of the time I just see my failures instead. I see how I fall short of that goal.
One thing that helps me to remain joyful and hopeful is the stories of the miracles performed thanks to the intercession of these Saints. I see these miraculous things, but then I dig deeper and look at the science behind it. My brain goes to facts. I want to know the details. I want to know that I’m not being duped. So I look to the doctors and the scientists that were treating these people. I look to how brilliant they were, but they were just humans and could not cure them through their own powers. Then God stepped in and this all-powerful being fixed everything. I am left in awe. So I wanted to share that awe today with you.
On Sunday, Pope Francis declared 5 new Saints. They were Saint John Henry Newman, Saint Giuseppina Vannini, Saint Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidyan, Saint Dulce Lopes Pontes, and Saint Marguerite Bays.
All of these men and women were declared Saints because 2 miracles were performed through their intercession. I’d like to take a look at one of those miraculous cures, the 2nd through the intercession of Saint Dulce.
Saint Dulce was known as the “Good Angel of Brazil”. She did many great works to serve the community including unions, schools, and healthcare organizations. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988. She was well-known and well-loved by the people of Brazil. One young boy in particular knew of her and had actually met her 3 times before her death in 1992. This boy was named Jose Mauricio Braganca Moreira.
Jose, like many, became near-sighted at a young age. He started wearing glasses at the age of 14. But when he went to those eye exams, they never checked his eye pressure. The eye pressure found in your eye is due to fluid (aqueous humor) that flows inside it. In a healthy eye, the fluid is able to drain through a tissue where the iris and cornea meet. But if too much fluid is produced or when the drainage system doesn’t work like it should, the eye pressure begins to increase.
As eye pressure increases, this can cause damage to the optic nerve. As damage becomes more severe, blind spots may develop. This type of damage is referred to as glaucoma. Sometimes it can develop quite suddenly, but for Jose it developed over a number of years. His doctors first tested his eye pressure at the age of 18 and found it to be quite high. Over the next 5 years his symptoms got worse and the tests doctors ran confirmed that his situation was declining.
Jose attempted to use eye drops to decrease the pressure, but this wasn’t enough. Then in 2000 he flew to Sao Paulo, Brazil for corrective surgery, but by the time he returned home to Salvador, his vision was gone and he knew the surgery didn’t work. Nothing the doctors were doing was able to help Jose. For the next 14 years he had to get used to living blind. The only thing he could make out was the brightness of an area, whether it was a bright or dark room that he was entering. He explained it as a cloud had washed over his eyes, covering his view.
In December of 2014, Jose developed a severe case of conjunctivitis, pink eye. So not only could he not see, but now his eyes were burning and itching. This is a common irritation, usually through some sort of infection, but it can be extremely painful in some cases. In Jose’s case he had been suffering. He had gone three sleepless nights due to the pain. Since Sister Dulce was a common figure among those of Brazil, Jose owned a statue (pictured above) of her that his mother had given him. One sleepless night around 4:30am, he took the image and held it to his eyes and desperately offered up a short prayer to (at the time) Blessed Sister Dulce to take away this pain in his eyes. He then set it down and fell quickly asleep.
The next morning his wife gave him an ice pack for his swollen eyes and he went to work. Once at work he took some paper towels to wipe off the melted ice on his face and when he did so he realized that he could see his hand. It had been over 14 years since he had seen his hand! Within a month and a half he had full vision again, his glaucoma was gone.
Doctors had no explanation, but Jose did. From what he knew of Sister Dulce, she always went the extra mile. He says that if someone asked for help taking 2 stairs, Sister Dulce would have helped them with the whole flight of stairs. He thought it to be the same with his prayer. He asked her to help with the conjunctivitis, but because of her intercession, all of his eye problems were healed.
This is truly amazing. As a scientist, I look to the facts. I look to the natural world. I look to what is in front of my eyes, that I can test. So when things go far beyond the understanding of medical science, I am left in awe. I have seen first-hand the struggles and difficulties that come from glaucoma. I know that current medicine has no cure, it is a life sentence when you are diagnosed. But with the power of God, nothing is impossible.
Knowing this truth is what helps me believe that I can become a saint some day. It is not because of the Saints’ stories of holiness, but it is because of the sheer power of God. He is greater than all of my mistakes and failures. He is all-powerful and all-loving and He wants us to be united with Him in heaven. If that is what He wants, then I will continue to live my life trying to reach that goal, knowing that He will be there every step of the way to help and guide and move mountains if necessary.