Miracles for sainthood; God and masculine pronoun

| Father Kenneth Doyle | December 19, 2016 | 0 Comments

Q. I have read that miracles are required before someone can be proclaimed a saint. Can you tell me more about the process and perhaps give some examples of miracles for saints recently canonized?

A. The process for canonization has been developed by the Church over time — with increasing rigor. The first Christian saints were martyred for their faith in persecutions during the Church’s earliest centuries.

Later, Christians started to recognize as saints those who had lived virtuous lives even though they had not been put to death for their beliefs, and Church leaders realized the need for a more formal authentication. (In the 12th century, Pope Alexander III wrote to the King of Sweden castigating the Swedish people for venerating an imbibing monk who had been killed in a drunken brawl.)

The current steps toward canonization provide for one miracle to be documented for beatification and another one for canonization. Miracles obtained through someone’s intercession are regarded as proof that the person is in heaven and able to intervene with the Lord. The general procedures for canonization were outlined by St. John Paul II in an apostolic constitution issued in 1983.

The pope, as the Church’s supreme legislator, can and occasionally does dispense from the requirement on miracles, especially when the deceased is universally recognized for holiness. (This was done for Pope John XXIII when he was canonized in 2014.) Reported cures are scrutinized thoroughly by a panel of medical experts who must conclude that there is no natural explanation for the recovery of health.

When St. John Paul II was canonized (also in 2014), a guest at the ceremony was a woman from Costa Rica who had recovered inexplicably from a brain aneurysm after praying to that deceased pontiff. In September, St. Teresa of Kolkata was canonized after a Brazilian man with multiple brain tumors was healed when loved ones pleaded to Mother Teresa on his behalf.

Q. I would very much like to know the Church’s official position on whether God should be referred to as “Father” (that is, in masculine terms) or as a genderless being. I find it troubling when the words in traditional hymns are changed to remove any references to “his” or “him.” In a similar way, I often hear during the Liturgy of the Eucharist many people responding, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of God’s name, for our good and the good of God’s holy Church.” And yet, when I look up that response in the Roman Missal itself, I find “his name” and “his holy Church.” I fear the day when some people will start the Lord’s Prayer with, “Our God who art in heaven.”

A. It is the clear teaching of the Church that God is neither male nor female. As the divine being, God transcends gender.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “In no way is God in man’s image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective ‘perfections’ of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father” (No. 370).

The traditional use, then, of the masculine pronoun does not equate to a belief in the masculinity of God.

Having said that, I would make the argument that — for the sake of uniformity within a congregation and across the wider Church — it is best to stick with the responses given in the Roman Missal and hope that the liturgical translators eventually catch up with the Church’s theology.

As for the Our Father, that of course has a special sacredness because it was the prayer taught directly by Jesus. In order to convey the ready accessibility to us of the Lord, Jesus called his Father by the Aramaic word “Abba” — which, some scholars say, really translates to our warm and familiar word, “Daddy.” Since Jesus used these very words, this prayer ought never to change. (Can you imagine if Jesus had invited us instead to pray to “Our divine and genderless being”?)

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, New York, he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Questions may be sent to askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.

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