Today was a history making day in the Catholic Church. That’s because Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were make saints in the Church by Pope Francis with the retired Pope Benedict XVI also in attendance. This is the first time in history that 2 popes have been canonized at the same time with 2 other popes in at the ceremony. Commentators remarked that this day will go down in history as the “festival of the 4 popes.”
Pope John XXIII was pope from 1958-1963 and was responsible for calling the Vatican Council that resulted in local churches being able to celebrate Mass in their native tongues. He was considered, by most accounts, a literal pontiff. In order to be canonized and declared a saint, there must be two recorded miracles – but in the case of Pope John, there is only one reported miracle, which is necessary for beatification, the first step in the process toward sainthood. Pope Francis waived the need for a second documented miracle, stating that John’s entire life was a series of miracles and so he was cleared for sainthood with the very popular John Paul II today. One of the requirements for sainthood is what is referred to as a “relic” or piece of the physical body of the beatified person. In the case of John, it was a piece of skin and in the case of John Paul II it was a vial of his blood.
In fact, there are several vials of the former pontiff’s blood in different areas of the world, including blood on the cassock that John Paul was wearing during the failed assassination attempt on his life some years ago. His two miracles have both been documented, although it is true that Pope Francis waived the time necessary to wait after death of John Paul before the start of the sainthood process.
More than 800,000 people witnessed the ceremony where Francis blessed and declared the two men saints of the church. It was the largest crowd assembled since the funeral of John Paul back in 2005. Originally, people were not expecting the retired Pope Benedict to have a position of honor in the ceremony – especially since Benedict said that he would stay out of the public eye once he was retired. It was due to the coaxing of Francis that Benedict was present on this historic day and there was jubilation around the world celebrating the fact that this was the first time that two living popes were present during the canonization of two of their colleagues who served during the 20th century and represented both the liberal and conservative aspects of the Catholic Church.
Having grown up in the Methodist Church, I never fully understood the idea of praying to entities other that Jesus, the Holy Spirit or God the Father. But the miracles that have been attributed to these men are the result of people testifying that their prayers to these former pontiffs resulted in their healing. Another interesting thing is that the Church saw fit to add these men to the official rolls of people that the Church refers to as saints. And that brings up an interesting point.
After all, in the Bible, all those people who believe in Jesus are declared to be saints. That means that you and I are already saints, assuming you believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. There are many references to this in the Bible, even prophetic references in the Old Testament to the future. The verse for this evening is from Paul, who wrote the book of Romans, one of his most famous works and addressed to the Roman Empire. Paul tells us, in Romans, 1:7, during the introductory remarks of the book, “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Saints, back then, were those people who believed in Jesus.
My encouragement this evening is that you don’t have to have documented miracles attributed to you to be considered a saint. My prayer is that you will direct your prayers to God and while we may be rejoice the canonization of these two former popes, let’s not forget that they dedicated their lives to the service of God – and God expects no less from us as well. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…