Why So Many Saints?

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24). Tempera on wood, National Gallery, London. Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons.
The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24). Tempera on wood, National Gallery, London. Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons. (photo: Register Files)

On July 17, Pope Francis opened the path for eight new saints when he authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decrees of their heroic virtues. Now these eight individuals are considered Servants of God – the first step in the canonization process. 

That’s starting to be old news.

Of course, causes for canonization are newsworthy, but the sheer number of saints canonized of late has me wondering what’s going on and asking myself, “Why so many saints?”

During the papacies of St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and so far in the term of Pope Francis, 1365 saints have been canonized. That’s roughly 37 saints per year! Granted, there were a handful of large groups of martyrs. For example, St. John Paul II canonized 101 Korean Martyrs in 1984 and 120 Japanese martyrs in 2000, and Pope Francis canonized 813 martyrs of Oranto in 2013. Yet, even with those large groups, there’ve been a lot of canonizations. 

Coming from a Catholic grade school background in which I was taught to honor the “great” saints – Joseph, Peter, Paul, Joan of Arc and Catherine of Sienna, among others – I had the impression that real saints were few and far between. The canonization track record of the past 37 years (1978-2015) seems to indicate the opposite.

Then again, maybe not. 

Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about sainthood:

By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. "The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church's history." Indeed, "holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal." (CCC, 828)

It’s the second-to-last sentence that really caught my eye: “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history.” For me, this perfectly has answered my initial question of “Why so many saints?”. 

At this moment in history, I’d say that the Church is having a pretty tough go of it. We’re facing declining numbers in our pews, denial of our religious freedom, persecution in our own country and abroad, and even divisions within our ranks over certain issues. I’d say that in this day and age, it’s not easy to be a faithful Catholic. 

Putting the nuts and bolts of the canonization process aside, I’m seeing a string of martyrs and holy persons who are being raised to the honors of the altar for our sake, as we weather the storm that’s hovering over us. They may not have a worldwide appeal like the saints we know as “great,” yet they’re great in their own right because of their heroic virtue and fidelity to God.

In this difficult time in our history, the Church needs new saints, and I’d even go so far as to say the more the better, so that they can encourage us and intercede for us in heaven. 

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy