One of the most intriguing components that the Catholic Church undertakes is in the making of Catholic Saints, one, I think, that has an allure of beautiful mystery to it, because, at its core, it is one of many stark manifestations of the Divine. In a beautifying and or canonization case, it is the power of the Divine behind a particular candidate. For the faithful, there is something human and tangible about the saints; they are Gospel artists, and, more intimately, friends who are held to the highest esteem, because they have lived out the Gospel truth to such a heroic degree and often with mysterious yet faithful Herculean effort; it is a joyful effort that is always preached as worthy of emulation, and rightfully so, because it is an example that fosters the best of human nature. People thrive on love, kindness and goodness. And the saints exemplify that truth. Yet, how do the saints, these beacons of light, come about? How does the Church know who is and who isn't a saint? And what is involved in the behind-the-scenes process of beatifying and canonizing someone? How much money is funneled into a cause? What is the view of the medical board who analyze the supposed miracles offered up in cases of beautifying and canonizing a person? These are just some of the basic questions that Kenneth Woodward tackles in his probing investigation which takes him to the various corners of the world, allowing him to informally see and scrutinize an assortment of causes which are on the books.
At the beginning, a candidate's reputation must last after death, where there is a positive lingering memory of all what he or she did in living out God's will. If the actions are aligned with church doctrine and good fruit has resulted after the candidate's death, normally five years, give or take, then the cause is initiated at the diocesan level. If there is a green light after that, the candidate is given the title Servant of God. If a candidate is proven to have lived heroically virtuous, despite intense struggles and shortcomings, like the case of the Irish dockworker Matt Talbot, who battled alcoholism and all the bad attributes connected with drink, yet who persevered in the end, the person is then given the title of Venerable. After that, medical miracles are required as a sign of God's approval and or favor that the soul is with Him and that it is acceptable for the faithful to pray to Him through His servant's intercession. In the case of martyrs, medical miracles are not required, primarily because to die in defense of the Gospel truth is already seen as a heavenly grace given to the soul. Death does not wield full frightening power for martyrs, because Jesus Christ on the Cross took that sting out. Martyrs see beyond death.
Woodward's book is quite exemplary on many fronts, and he had a cornucopia of saintly candidates whom to choose from. While positiones (something similar to a biography but not exactly) were not readily available to Woodward because of the sensitivity of the amassed documentation, he nonetheless did a superb job in culling the most interesting cases that were made available to him. While in the company of the postulators (those who lead the investigation of a candidate's cause), Woodward saw firsthand how each postulator (often a person from a religious order) scrupulously analyzed the good and bad of the candidate in question. Nothing is left untouched. Everything about a candidate's life is meticulously combed through, and more often than not, it is reevaluated by other scholars, as are the miracles that are supposed to substantiate the holiness of the candidate. When all is definitively approved, the Pope signs off on an official decree. Kenneth Woodward's book is probably one of the more definitive books out there on this subject matter; his work gives an excellent historical context of how the saint making process got started and it also details how that process has evolved over the centuries. It will, no doubt, also give readers a more heartfelt appreciation for how the saints can enhance one's faith journey, especially when it can lead people back to the ultimate joy: Mass. Confession. And the Rosary. Quite an illuminating and informative read.