UPDATE 12 July 2017:
I will not allow this post to be an occasion to bash Pope Francis or to call into question in the combox the processes of the Congregation.
___ Originally Published on: Jul 11, 2017 @ 09:33
The Pope issued a Motu Proprio Apostolic Letter today by which he established a new path (iter) by which a person might eventually be beatified.
Hitherto, we have had the main paths “super heroicitatem virtutum …. living the life of heroic virtues” and “super martyrio … martyrdom”. Now there is to be a path also of vitae oblatio… the offer of own one’s own life having lived a life of virtue at least in the ordinary way.
There is an oddity about the document. But what isn’t odd today about documents of the Holy See? The oddity is this, at least in the way that it is found in the Bolletino (only the Italian Bolletino and not the English… ’cause … well…). The Bolletino gives the TEXT in Italian and, beneath that, the Latin TRANSLATION. And yet the document has a Latin TITLE, which is screwed up in the title of the item in the Bolletino, but which nevertheless ought to be Maiorem hac dilectionem.
Here is a fast but still coffee-deprived translation of the first, important bits of the document HERE:
“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)”
There are worthy of special consideration and honor those Christians who, following very closely the footsteps and the teachings of the Lord Jesus, freely and willingly offered their lives for others and persevered on till death in this intention.
It is certain that the heroic offering of life, prompted and sustained by charity, expresses are true, full, and exemplary imitation of Christ and, therefore, is worthy of that admiration which the community of the faithful is accustomed to reserve to those who voluntarily accepted martyrdom of blood or have exercised in a heroic level. The Christian virtues.
With the comfort of the favorable opinion expressed by the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, which in the Plenary Session of 27 September 2016, studied closely whether these Christians merit beatification, I establish that the following norms be observed:
The offering of life is our new particular case of the “iter” of beatification and canonization, distinct from the case of martyrdom or of heroic virtues.
The offering of life, in order that it be valid and efficacious for the beatification of a servant of God, must correspond to the following criterion:
a) the free and willing offering of life and heroic acceptance propter caritatem of a certain death and in a brief time limit;
b) the exercise, at least in an ordinary degree, of the Christian virtues before the offering of life and, thereafter, until death;
c) the existence of reputation of holiness (fama sanctitatis) and signs, at least after death;
d) the necessity of a miracle for beatification, taking place after the death of the servant of God and through his intercession.
Art. 3 […]
The Positio on the offering of life must correspond to the dubium: An constet de heroica oblatione vitae usque ad mortem propter caritatem necnon de virtutibus christianis, saltem in gradu ordinario, in casu et ad effectum de quo agitur.
The bulk of the document deals with the details of the procedure, etc.
In the Church we have had the ancient teaching and tradition of “red” or bloody martyrdom for the sake of charity whereby the martyr dies giving witness in the face of hatred for Christ, the Church, the Faith or some aspect of the Christian life that is inseparable from our Christian identity. There is also a long tradition of identifying “white” martyrdom, coined by St. Jerome, whereby a person gives witness through an ascetic life, withdrawal from the world, pilgrimages involving great sacrifice, or who suffer greatly for the Faith but who do not die in bearing witness. Coming from another tradition there is a kind of “blue” (or “green”) martyrdom, involving great penance and mortifications without necessarily the sort of withdrawal from life that a hermit or a cenobite might live. Gregory the Great in his Dialogues, writes of different kinds of martyrdom, bloody, public martyrdom in time of persecution and secret martyrdom, not in time of persecution. He wrote that secret martyrs are no less worthy of honor, because they also endured sufferings and the attacks of hidden enemies, but they persevered in charity.
In principle I think that this is a good move… if we are going to stay on the course of so many causes for beatification, that is. Once upon a time, it was an extremely difficult process to investigate a life, gather proofs and organize all the documentation properly, and then study it thoroughly, etc. Now, with the modern means of travel and communication, that process is easier. Many more causes have resulted and, because they in fact corresponded to the criteria established, more causes have been successful. Also, it was the clear desire of John Paul II that there be more examples of Christians “raised to the altar” for our edification and imitation, so as to say, “Yes, it IS possible to be a saint!” I think that results have varied in that project. In a way, it is good to encourage people to aspire to sainthood. However, once the number of beatifications and canonizations multiplied, they seems less “special”. Also, if this can be imagined, the “truly amazing” saints perhaps get lost in the sea of “merely amazing” saints, if you get my drift. Again, the Pope made that call. Popes get to make the call about which beatifications and canonizations are good for the Church here and now. They can speed or slow the timing of the causes.
This new category of “offering of life” fills a gap. For example, the undoubtedly great St. Maximilian Kolbe beatified as a Confessor by Paul VI in 1971, but canonized as a saint by John Paul II in 1982 as a martyr, not a confessor. His is a case of bridging categories. The dedicated Nazi death camp murderers probably hated the Church, the Faith and priests and had no problem killing them. However, St. Maximilian offered his own life in place of another prisoner. It could be argued that he wasn’t killed because of the Faith, but because of his offer. His interesting, and heroic, case could be addressed by this new category of iter, the vitae oblatio.
I can imagine also cases of a pregnant woman refusing to have an abortion even though bringing a child to term kills her. The great St. Gianna Beretta Molla Molla refused to have an abortion and hysterectomy while pregnant with her fourth child knowing full well that she could die… which she did. During her life she was deeply involved with works of charity for the poor. She would probably be a candidate for beatification by this iter.
I can imagine any number of circumstances whereby people make a sacrifice for others and die as a result, though the death they died was not necessarily that of bloody martyrdom from hatred for the Faith. For example, Fr. Vincent Capodanno was a NAvy Chaplain serving Marines in the Vietnam War. He was killed trying to give last rites to the wounded after refusing medical aid for his own severe wounds. His cause is now already open, so I suppose that it would have to be retooled in order to take this new iter.
I can imagine a case of a person perhaps – setting aside issues of the acceptability of organ transplants, which are becoming more “ordinary” now – donating an organ to save someone’s life and, in so doing, weakening herself to the point of eventual death in a fairly short time. If it could be demonstrated in the Positio that she had lived a virtuous and holy life, even not necessarily, the life of heroic virtue, this new iter could be followed in her cause.
I can imagine a person who, diagnosed with a horrible disease, sure to bring death if not treated, might possible refuse treatment and then undertake to offer all his sufferings for the sake of a specific person’s needs. That might be on the edge of this iter. I am trying to think of examples.
In any event, I suspect that this new iter will result in many more causes being opened. Results will vary and the quality of some of the processes… well… we’ll see. Also, I suspect that some cases that may have lingered for a while might get an injection of new energy.
Is this is “lowering of the bar”? On the one hand, there are cases of “heroic virtue” (which must be properly understood. I’ve written about what that means elsewhere. (I did the official Studium with the Congregation for Causes of Saints.) On the other hand, this new iter does not require “heroic” virtues, but “ordinary”, although at the end of the act of offering of life there is end of life – and it will have to be proven with proofs in the Positio that there was an act of offering of life and that that act lead to death.