What does it look like to be a Catholic saint today? A Vatican conference taking place in Rome this week has been discussing just that.
Speaking to the “Holiness Today” conference on Oct. 6, Pope Francis underlined that saints are not disconnected from the realities of daily life but faithfully live the Gospel to the fullest within the communities in which they find themselves.
“Saints do not come from a ‘parallel universe’ but are believers who belong to God’s faithful people and are firmly grounded in a daily existence made up of family ties, study, and work, social, economic, and political life,” Pope Francis said in the Apostolic Palace.
“In all these settings, the saints strive constantly, without fear or hesitation, to carry out God’s will.”
Pope Francis pointed to the example of Blessed Carlo Acutis, who died as a high school student in 2006, as “a model of Christian joy for teenagers and young people.”
Holiness “is not primarily a matter of struggle and renunciation,” the pope said. “First and foremost, it is the realization that we are loved by God and freely receive his love and mercy.”
The pope also shared the less contemporary example of St. Francis of Assisi. He emphasized that the witness of the Church’s canonized saints is timeless and never loses its relevance.
“The saints are precious pearls … they provide a fascinating commentary on the Gospel. Their lives are like a catechism in pictures, an illustration of the Good News that Jesus brought to humanity,” he said.
The pope highlighted how the universal call to holiness was at the heart of the Second Vatican Council.
“Today, too, it is important to appreciate the sanctity present in God’s holy people: in parents who raise their children with love, in men and women who carry out their daily work with dedication, in persons who patiently endure sickness and infirmity, and in the elderly who keep smiling and sharing their wisdom,” he said.
“The witness of a virtuous Christian life given daily by so many of the Lord’s disciples represents for all of us an encouragement to respond personally to our own call to be saints.”
The papal audience concluded the Holiness Today conference, an event organized by the Vatican from Oct. 3–6 to discuss what “heroic virtue” looks like in the 21st century and how devotion to candidates for sainthood has spread via social media.
Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, spoke at the conference’s opening on “the fame of holiness in the digital age.”
The cardinal said that a solid and widespread fama sanctitatis, or reputation for holiness, has always been a fundamental requirement for initiating a cause for beatification and canonization, but that the issue is especially topical as “the digital age poses new and urgent challenges.”
Pope Francis addressed some of these challenges in his speech to the conference participants. On one hand, he said that media could help more people to learn about the Christian life of individual candidates for beatification or canonization.
“However, in the use of digital media, and social networks, in particular, there can be a risk of exaggeration or misrepresentation dictated by less than noble interests,” he added.
“Consequently, there is a need for wise discernment on the part of all those who examine the contours of the reputation of holiness.”
Semeraro noted that this prerequisite for opening a cause for beatification had “taken a back seat” in recent decades. In response, the Vatican’s saints office issued a letter to all of the world’s bishops last year requesting that they verify the consistency and authenticity of a sainthood candidate’s reputation for holiness.
When speaking about the “heroic virtue” required for canonization today, Semeraro quoted St. John Henry Newman: “If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first — Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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