This pocket edition of Richard McBrien's Lives of the Saints is the perfect concise, handy reference for scholars, students, and general readers.
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.20(d)
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Who Is a Saint?
The veneration of saints has been an integral part of the Church's life practically ever since the death of its first martyr, Stephen [December 26]. Most Christians (and many non-Christians as well) are named after saints, as are some major and mid-sized cities in the United States, for example, St. Louis, St. Augustine, St. Paul, San Francisco, San Jose, San Juan, Santa Anna, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, and San Antonio. The most famous golf course in the world is named after St. Andrew [November 30], and one of the world's most beloved mythical characters, Santa Claus, after St. Nicholas [December 6].
In 1955, however, Karl Rahner (d. 1984), the leading Catholic theologian of the twentieth century, noted the absence of any serious treatment of the saints in contemporary theology. "It is a strange thing," he wrote, "but if one takes a glance at an average modern dogmatic theology, one will find it necessary to look in a great many different places for the doctrine of the Saints of the holy Church and of their veneration." Twenty-five years later, the situation remained essentially unchanged. Lawrence Cunningham, a well-established expert on the saints and spirituality, found no evidence in 1980 "that theologians are doing much serious reflection on the relevance or even the meaning of the saint in the Christian tradition."
The saints were nevertheless an important part of the devotional life of Catholics during this period. Parents were carefully instructed to choose a saint's name for their newborn infants;otherwise, the priest would not baptize them. Boys and girls were expected to select a saint's name for Confirmation. Catholics of all ages routinely prayed to St. Anthony of Padua [June 13] to find lost articles or to St. Jude [October 28] in the face of seemingly hopeless situations. There were popular novenas to St. Anne [July 26], the Little Flower (St. Theresa of the Child Jesus) [October 1], the Miraculous Medal (a devotion promoted by St. Catherine Labouré [November 28]), and St. Jude. Children and adults alike wore medals imprinted with the images of St. Joseph [March 19], St. Benedict of Nursia [July 11], and St. Christopher [July 25]. The last was such a popular item in automobiles that it was a matter of widespread concern, even anxiety, for many Catholics (and some non-Catholics too) when Christopher was dropped from the liturgical calendar in 1969. Saints were also the subjects of colorful stained-glass windows in churches and of statues, medieval and modern. National or ethnic parishes were readily identified by their patron saints, for example, Anne (French), Anthony of Padua (Italian), Boniface [June 5 ] (German), Casimir [March 4] (Lithuanian or Polish), Cyril and Methodius [February 14] (Polish), Martin de Porres [November 3] (African American), Our Lady of Guadalupe [December 12] (Hispanic), Our Lady of Mount Carmel [July 16] (Italian), and Stanislaus [April 11] (Polish).
Since 1980 the saints and spirituality have moved closer to the center of theological as well as devotional attention. The reasons vary and are perhaps too complex to pinpoint. However, the increased interest in narrative and storytelling and the heightened value of experience as a locus (Lat., "source") of theological understanding would have to be counted among the leading factors. It may also be a matter of the delayed impact of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which clearly shifted the emphasis from the saints as miracle workers to the saints as models. "No devotion to the saints is more acceptable to God," the great Christian humanist Erasmus [see July 12] once wrote, "than the imitation of their virtues.... Do you want to honor St. Francis? Then give away your wealth to the poor, restrain your evil impulses, and see in everyone you meet the image of Christ."
The Saints as "Holy Ones"
Saints are holy people. Because God alone is holy, to be a saint is to participate in, and to be an image of, the holiness of God. "Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy" (Lev. 19:2). Persons, however, cannot make themselves holy. Only God can do that. The biblical notion of holiness, rooted in the Old Testament, involves a "being set apart" by God from what is profane in order to belong in a new and special way to God. This setting apart, or consecration, can apply not only to persons, such as priests and religious, but also to places, like a temple or land, or to things, like commandments or a chalice, or to communities, like Israel ("a holy nation" [Exod. 19:6]) or the Church ("one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church").
For Jesus, nothing is more precious than the Kingdom, or Reign, of God, which is the healing and renewing power and presence of God on our behalf. "Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides" (Luke 12:31). Like a person who finds a hidden treasure in a field or a merchant who discovers a precious pearl, one must be prepared to give up everything else in order to possess the Kingdom (Matt. 13:44-46). But it is promised only to those with a certain outlook and way of life, as expressed in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), and to those who see and respond to Christ in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, and the prisoner (Matt. 25:31-46). To the scribe who grasped the meaning of the two great commandments love of God and of neighbor Jesus said: "You are not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34). For Jesus, the Reign of God and, therefore, a life of holiness is open in principle to everyone.
To share in the holiness of God is to share in the very life of God. Holiness, therefore, is a state of being that is the practical equivalent of grace, God's self-gift. To be in the "state of grace" is to be permeated...
Meet the Author
Richard P. McBrien is Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. Educated at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he has also served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. A leading authority on Catholicism, he is the bestselling author of Catholicism, Lives of the Popes, and Lives of the Saints, as well as the general editor of The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Most recently a consultant for ABC News, McBrien offers regular commentary on all the major television networks. He is also a prizewinning syndicated columnist in the Catholic press.
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