Sunday, May 07, 2017

When Heaven can’t wait


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#BlessedRomero #Beatification
In a commentary at CRUX, Fr. Raymond J. de Souza cautions that Pope Francis’ decision to waive the five-year waiting period to begin the canonization process for Fr. Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit by Jihadists while celebrating Mass in Normandy, France, last year, risks being unable to investigate “deliberately, with care and discretion, avoiding any sense of prejudging the outcome,” such questions as whether Fr. Hamel was truly a holy man worthy of being raised to the altars.
While Fr. de Souza makes an important point—that being killed for hatred of the faith is necessary but not sufficient for beatification, because the Church must also make a finding that the candidate possessed “heroic virtue”—there is nonetheless a case to be made for swiftness in certain circumstances.  Fr. de Souza asks whether Fr. Hamel’s death puts him on a par with figures such as St. Thomas a Becket and Blessed Oscar Romero, who also were killed at the altar.  Notably, Becket was not just beatified but fully canonized within three years of his assassination.  And, with respect to Romero, there was a widespread perception that the Vatican dragged its feet and that the 35-year wait for his beatification was inappropriate.  In a recent interview, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of the Romero cause, remarked that opposition within the Church to the Salvadoran martyr’s canonization was “political.” 

From these two landmark cases (Becket and Romero) we can deduce that: (1) there are times when celerity is warranted and (2) delay does not produce only the positive consequences that Fr. de Souza highlights.
The case for a quick response to martyrdom was made in another article published in CRUX recently. In it, John L. Allen Jr. pondered how to boost persecuted Christian communities.  Although “popes can’t just wave a magic wand and make police states, armed gangs and terrorists disappear,” Allen wrote, what they can do “is deploy their unique authority to fast-track sainthood causes for new martyrs.”  As Fr. de Souza concedes, “the beatification and canonization of martyrs is like other sainthood causes, intended to raise up witnesses that can inspire and intercede for others.” 

The beatification and canonization of martyrs, as opposed to other sainthood causes, however, sometimes has the added urgency that it can send a message to an endangered community and to its persecutors.  Both angles have import.  To the persecuted community, a martyrdom recognition can be a powerful confirmation in the faith and an inspiration to persevere in the hardship they are enduring.  Moreover, the martyrdom recognition can also be a shot across the bow to the persecutors, which lets them know that the Church is willing to put its moral weight behind the victims and perhaps even cause the killers to see the light (in the case of Becket, King Henry performed acts of public contrition in connection with the canonization).
In sum, where the case requires prudent deliberation and reflection due to complex political considerations or polarization about a particular cause, the Church should of course proceed with caution.  But, where the “odium fidei” is easy to see, the personal virtues of the victim can be readily ascertained, and the martyrdom recognition is a “teaching moment,” it does not make much sense to delay.

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