Saturday, April 26, 2014

Two Saints. One Church. One Call.

In the life of a church whose memory extends across two millennia and now comprises 1.2 billion souls, it's not often that one encounters the unprecedented.

As history goes, then, we've been spoiledrepeatedly – these last 14 months. And still, yet again, here we are: as never before, tonight brings the eve of the canonization of two Popes.

Of the 265 successors of a certain Fisherman from Galilee who came to Rome, only some 80 have been raised fully to the honors of the altar. Almost all of them held the Chair at the very beginning, before a small, persecuted fold took on the trappings of Empire. Before tonight, meanwhile, the last Pope-Saint was declared in 1954 – the beloved, contadino Pius X – while, to find a second, you'd have go to back to the 1700s.

Even since that period, however, it's not just a very different world, but a renewed church whose Sacred Tradition has evolved in continuity with its long, vaunted, sometimes convoluted past. Along those lines, the joint ratification that John XXIII and John Paul II now live in the Father's House doesn't merely validate the verdict of the sensus fidelium on the holiness of their lives: it represents the ultimate recognition of their respective roles as the twin architects of the modern papacy – a munus in which a man's personality doesn't vanish at the moment he donned the white, but one that would see the Petrine charism amplified across the globe by its respective holder's gifts, talents and areas of concern, so as to restore for a new age an aspect of the office which was often obscured with time, but from its very inception had been its intended charge: that is, to be Pastor of Christ's Body on Earth.

With the rites (pdf) set to begin at 10am Vatican time (4am ET; 0800GMT) Sunday, in the packed streets and churches of Rome, the second "White Night" vigil of the last three years is already underway. And so, as it begins, let the saints come marching in: first – in Angelo Roncalli's maiden turn on the world stage – Pope St John XXIII's arrival at his 1958 coronation...

And for Pope St John Paul II, the first time the generation of the Great Jubilee saw him on American soil – Karol Wojtyla's memorable entrance into Newark's Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, which he made a Basilica in its narthex on St Francis' Day 1995....

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Given the times, it wouldn't be a Big Story out of the Vatican if at least some didn't seek to find or create controversy in the hopes of grabbing at least a bit of the spotlight for themselves. Yet even for that, the millions already flooding the Square and the streets surrounding it serve yet again to deliver the last word – that when God's people come together to celebrate and affirm our own, The Church always wins.

Lest anybody forgot, that's not just a lesson for canonizations.

Sure, the day to come marks the sainting of two Popes, but Peter's Chair is only where the paths of Roncalli and Wojtyla would end. Most of all, then, even more than standing as the architects of the modern papacy, the duo being highlighted respectively blazed their trails in an era whose primary ecclesial stage was formally defined to be far beyond the Papal Apartment, in Vatican II's powerful reminder that, in the Church, holiness is not the unique province or privilege of neither the papacy nor the ordained presbyterate, but of the shared priesthood which, through Baptism, is the life and mission of all the People of God.

Clearly, that's still not enough for some. And as even the third architect of Peter's work in our time would agree, that's because the vision remains to be realized.

Whether through holy Popes or sainted souls in every walk of life, the joy of this day is rooted in something far bigger than the sum of its million-plus parts. Indeed, it comes in the Church's due celebration of the gold standard for all of us: women and men alike; lay and ordained, professed, created or elected.

As the moment draws near, perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the moment is the degree of focus that's duly fallen on the presence of a certain onlooker, one now resigned to being well more silent than the crowd.

Of course, that wasn't always the case. Still, it was he who gave the master-class on what this Sunday celebrates just nine Easters ago. More than anything, it is – at least, it's supposed to be – the goal of all God's People: that sanctity which is possible for each of us, whatever our state in life, regardless of how far we have to go in trying to live up to it....