(I’m currently away from home, visiting pilgrimage sites in Belgium. I have scheduled posts for this week so my blog will update. However, I probably won’t be able to reply to comments until next week).
It’s not often that I review my required reading, but sometimes I feel that there’s no harm in doing so.* Making Saints by Kenneth L. Woodward is one of those books. It is a specialist account on how saints are ‘made’ in the Roman Catholic Church, but it’s highly readable with many examples and anecdotes at the same time. Mind you, having to read this book for information instead of fun, the anecdotes got on my nerves at times.
Making Saints is not so much about what sainthood in the Catholic Church is or signifies. Rather, it is about the process by which Saints are made, the steps taken in canonisation and the changes that have recently (or recent for the Catholic Church: 1983) been made to this process. Woodward further highlights the things that the Vatican looks for in modern saints, because:
“The figure of the saint, though faded, is not disappearing. It is changing. So too is the process by which saints are made”
“We are living in a different era now and what we are looking for are saints of the ordinary. We’re trying to get the message out – this is what Vatican II said – that everyone is called to sanctity, though sanctity is not the same for everyone.”
This is what I enjoyed most about the book, learning about how the changes made in Vatican II have been incorporated in the saint-making process. For example, under the reign of Pope John Paul II a lot of effort has been made to incorporate more lay-people and people from or seen as representing third world countries as saints, in trying to make the Roman Catholic Church reflect its status as a World church, instead of a European-centred one.
I also liked the little facts that I found out through the book, and didn’t know before. For example that every altar contains a relic and that Lutherans have not completely rejected sainthood and even proposed to include certain catholics as “saints” for their own faith, or the other way around have tried to make the Catholic Church recognise some of their own number as Catholic saints. Apart from these facts, the case-studies mentioned in making Saints often made me curious to find out more about some of the modern saints. There are some truly inspiring stories mentioned.
However, I think if I were to pick up a book on sainthood, I would rather read a book that pays more attention to what sainthood means to the believers and why it is still considered important today. I would also love to know more about the history of sainthood. I do not find fault with Woodward’s book for not doing so, the title of the book makes his intentions quite clear. I’m simply saying that when it comes to further reading, I think I’ll look for a book that provides a thorough overview of these subjects.
* It’s not that I don’t think the books I read are difficult to understand to the readers of my blog, but they are mostly too specialistic in that they often deal with a small piece of a bigger issue and concentrate on highly theoretical or regional subjects, such as things that happened in a certain are in the Netherlands from 1602-1604. I don’t think those books would be of any interest to you, especially since some of them haven’t been translated from Dutch, or German, to English.