I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Catholic Church. That’s why I feel less comfortable criticizing Catholicism than Orthodox Judaism, the religion in which I was raised. Occasionally, though, I just can’t help myself. In my defense, some of my best friends are Catholics (actually just one—a guy named Tony). But many of my best friends are ex-Catholics, including my wife.
Which brings me to sainthood. Because I prefer behavior to belief and life to death, I recently criticized Catholic doctrines that make martyrdom an easier path to sainthood than good works. But part of me wishes Congress were as willing to craft political compromises as Pope Francis, who approved making Popes John Paul II and John XXIII simultaneous saints. The first is a conservative and the second a liberal. (I’m grading on a curve here because “liberal pope” seems like an oxymoron.)
Pope Francis has been so anxious to elevate both that he put John Paul II on the fast track to sainthood and waved a second miracle for John XXIII. As I understand sainthood, you must first be dead and in heaven. You must then perform miracles, usually by answering a live person’s prayer for assistance in a desperate situation. “Proof” of such miracles is frequently a medical cure that the Vatican has found to be instantaneous and without scientific explanation. Prayers to win the lottery don’t count, despite overcoming greater odds, one would think, than inexplicable medical cures. If there were a god, she would probably have a good chuckle over the chutzpah of one man (the pope) declaring someone to be in heaven.
It would make more sense to me if sainthood were simply a lifetime achievement award for good works, reserved for those whose character others are invited to emulate. But good works are downgraded when miracles play a key role.
The Catholic Church is known to move slowly. For example, it wasn’t until he had been dead for 350 years that the Vatican admitted Galileo had been right after all about the earth orbiting the sun. Even if I believed in sainthood, I would prefer that the church take its time to declare saints. A long waiting period allows for a legacy to endure or for scandals to emerge. How many of the thousands of official saints would stand up to careful scrutiny today?