During remarks at an event marking the 800th anniversary of the Franciscan order at the Antonianum Pontifical University, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Archbishop Angelo Amato, explained the essence of holiness and what it means when the Vatican recognizes a person's virtues as heroic.
“With Vatican Council II, it can be said that all of the faithful are called to holiness. Holiness is the vocation of all the baptized. As a consequence, holiness today is part of the identity of the Church—One, Holy—and of the baptized.
After recalling that the “original source of the holiness of the Church and in the Church is this Triune God,” Archbishop Amato explained what the Church is declaring when it recognizes a Servant of God's heroic virtue. Receving this recognition is one of the most important steps in the process of canonization.
He went on to recall that St. Thomas Aquinas considered “heroic virtue as the extraordinary perfection of the rational part of the soul.” St. Thomas, he said, “explains later the relationship between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and virtue. The gifts are indispensable for the baptized to achieve their supernatural dimension. In this context, he speaks of the heroic or divine habit, which indicates a disposition towards the good that is higher than that which is common. Heroic virtue is the exercise of virtue in the eminent degree.”
Afterwards, the archbishop said, “In heroic virtue the moral level that is present is above the moral level present in almost all men. This inspires admiration, which also constitutes an element of the definition of heroic virtue.”
Regarding the question of how heroic virtues are recognized, “the answer is that the heroic degree is recognizable, first of all, by its frequency, its promptness, the joyful character of virtuous activity; and secondly, by the fact that amidst complicated obstacles, formed by external or internal circumstances, these are overcome in such a way that the virtuous hero can be considered capable of great sacrifices for the Gospel in the total abnegation of self.”
“In heroic virtue, Christ becomes visible again in our midst and the saint becomes the mirror of Christ. The saints, moreover, are true operators of the enculturation of the Gospel, not through theories elaborated at a desk, but rather by living and manifesting the sequela Christi (the following of Christ) in their own culture.”
“The saints,” Archbishop Amato explained, “show gospel truth with their existence. The Christian metamorphous of a culture is realized in them, from the moment in which they reveal how the gospel beatitudes touch and convert towards good the hearts and minds of people of all cultures.”
“In the saints, enculturation does no occur principally ab externo, in the style of the churches, the vestments of the body, linguistic manners; but above all ab interno, that is, in their persons. They are themselves the living Gospel for the culture. As in the beginning of the Church when it was the holy pastors, the holy theologians and the holy martyrs who evangelized the culture, so today the Church needs saints for the success of enculturation. The Gospel, in fact, is not reserved for a determined culture but rather exists for all cultures.”
Archbishop Amato said the existence of the saints is the most convincing act of kindness of the Word of God. “Only in this way can we explain the conversions to the Gospel carried out by the holy missionaries beginning with the apostles, who went to the whole world proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ, converting and baptizing.”
“The saints are concrete signs of hope for a future of brotherhood, joy and peace,” he added.
“Sometimes I hear complaints about the large number of saints who are canonized. But the Holy Church cannot help be generate holy children. To make this criticism is almost like complaining about the great quantity, variety and beauty of flowers in springtime.”