Sunday, May 1, 2011

Those Called Blessed and Saint

Earlier today in front of a huge crowd Pope Benedict XVI bestowed the status of “blessed” upon his predecessor John Paul II. This designation means that he is one step away from becoming an officially recognized saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic process for becoming a saint usually takes many years and involves a number of specific steps.

First a person must be dead for at least five years and then a local bishop must perform an investigation to verify that the person lived an exceptional life. The investigation involves a review of the person’s life, writings, and works. Then the information is sent to the Vatican for review and the person is declared a “servant of God”. A group of theologians led by an official postulator then evaluate the candidate’s life along with Cardinals from The Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. The postulator and committee must prove that the person is worthy of consideration. If the candidate passes this hurdle the pope declares that the person is “venerable” and is therefore is an example of Catholic virtue. After this the person becomes a candidate for beatification which if attained would allow them to be officially honored. In order to be beatified the person must either have died a martyr or there must be evidence that a miracle was performed because of their posthumous intercession on behalf of someone. If such an occurrence can be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Church the person is declared “blessed”. This is the step that was taken today by the pope for John Paul II. At this point, however, the person is still not officially a saint. In order to become a Catholic saint a second miracle must be documented and authenticated by the Catholic Church after beatification. Once the Catholic Church verifies that a second posthumous miracle has occurred the pope declares the person a “saint”.

The word saint comes from the Old English word sanct, which came into English through French from the Latin word sanctus which is the Latin word for the Hebrew kadesh and the Greek hagios which are the biblical words meaning set apart or holy. The biblical process for becoming a saint is at once much simpler and much more profound than the procedure used by the Catholic Church.

The bible refers to all who are believers in Jesus Christ as saints. Everyone who has a true and abiding love for God is set apart and holy which is why most of the letters of the New Testament spend a great deal of time exhorting  believers to live according to their calling. We are to offer spiritual sacrifices to the Lord having been called out from among the world. Peter explains it this way in his first epistle:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. You  once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

We do not seek signs or evidence of intercession because the bible tells us in 1 Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. He alone is righteous and He alone can intercede on behalf of people, all of whom have fallen under the power of sin. Biblically the only way that a person can attain holiness is if they have died in Christ and been reborn. The bible teaches that the holiness of the saints is actually the holiness of Christ Himself who has cleaned them of unrighteousness through His sacrifice. They obtain His righteousness by uniting to Him in faith. According to the bible it is only this perfect righteousness that can please God and that the righteousness of men is like filthy rags in His sight. We can never obtain the holiness required for sainthood in the eyes of God so He acquired it for us and offers it to us by His grace through faith alone. All that follows are works wrought in God through His spirit. Since we are all sinners what a blessing the words of the Apostle John are as he reminds us that “…if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” How marvelous it is that there is no separation between us and our savior. We need no priesthood and no earthly intercessor because Christ Himself is our advocate before the Father.

We are a most blessed people and our Savior taught us what was becoming of those who are to inherit heaven. Our Lord Himself declared that His people are blessed but not because they had any great spiritual powers or credentials but rather because they walked as He walked. He taught us:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5)

The only miracle the bible records as necessary to sainthood is the miracle of the new birth. I pray today that if you have not known this miracle that the Lord would open your eyes, give you a heart to love Him and that you would, by faith become one of His saints set apart for Him. If you are a believer I pray that you would be encouraged and would continue to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world”. (Philippians 2:12-15)

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