Anyone who has read the history of the Reformation in England would be mightily impressed by Katherine of Aragon, the wife cast off by Henry VIII. In the midst of all her troubles and sufferings, she maintained a serenity and resourcefulness which most obviously emerged from her Catholic faith. Sometimes depicted as a religious fanatic, even a quick survey of the reality of her life and personality reveals such depictions to be biased and lacking foundation. The question which emerges is: was Katherine of Aragon a Saint?
With an interest in the English Reformation, I have discussed that with many people down the years, and just last Saturday a friend and I were talking about it on the way to Belfast. Most agree that there is a good chance that she was, and it seems one man, Gregory Nassif St John, is determined to do something about it ( Read this article for more information).
As I read this, while I see some Church figures are open, I sense hesitation: there must be devotion to her, they say. Yes, that is true, and there is some evidence. But should there be overwhelming, universal devotion to a figure before a Cause can be started? No. First of all there must be the fama - a reputation for holiness: that is vital. With that you can start. The advice Mr Nassif St John was given is sound: start making her known: bring her to people's attention and then see if devotion begins.
I hope a Cause begins for Katherine - many people in the Church and the world today would benefit from the example she offers us. In particular I think of those who, though they devoted themselves to their marriages, were abandoned by a spouse who sought pastures new. Katherine's holiness, I believe, came as the fruit of her fidelity to her marriage vows and her heroic prayer for the conversion of her husband. If Henry VIII made it to Purgatory it was because of Katherine's prayers.
In the Anglo-Irish world we seem very cautious of Saints and Causes, indeed, without being negative, I sometimes think there is an aversion. I certainly know that in the minds of some bishops and priests saint-making is an unnecessary distraction from real pastoral concerns. Whenever I have spoken to bishops/priests about opening the Cause for a particular person I have been told that the "Irish Church"(sic) has more important things to be doing. I find that interesting since the glorification of holy people from a particular local church is always the best sign of how healthy that local church happens to be. No candidates for beatification/canonisation, or at the least if there are a few but not making any progress, may reveal a local church in spiritual stagnation or crisis.
I am always heartened by the Italians, the Poles, the Spanish, French and now the Americans and their attitude to saint-making (I note Mr Nassif St John is an American) - they see the value of it - both spiritually and pastorally. Saints bring life to a local church, and a progressing Cause can bring people along with it, touch the lukewarm and help people rediscover faith. A local Beatus or Saint, or someone on the way to being one, reminds people that holiness can be found in the here and the now, even in the midst of ordinary life. Isn't that what we as priests and bishops ought to be teaching the faithful (and trying to live ourselves)?
One problem we have in Ireland, one of our national vices, is our begrudgery. One of Ireland's great virtues is informality and hospitality - we treat everyone the same, and all receive the same warmth and kindness - we saw this with the royal visit last week. But the downside of that is that sometimes we do not like to see other people exalted. We have no honours system in Ireland - there have been attempts to introduce one, but all have failed. When those proposing it reminded us that other Republics have honours systems, that argument got nowhere. I think it is the same with saint-making - we cannot single out a certain person and seek to raise them above everyone else - that might offend people and, God help us, if there is one rigid pastoral law in Ireland it is "Do not offend anyone".
But if we are Catholic we have to participate in the full life of the Catholic Church, including the saint-making process. We have many holy men and women in Ireland and in the UK - we just need to start taking them seriously and making advances. In Ireland we await the beatification of 42 martyrs, including the first Irish Carmelite (well born in England, but lived and died in Ireland), but no move - we need only a declaration of martyrdom - the work is already done: but not a dickie bird. If every time an Irish bishop went to Rome, or a representative, they popped into the CSS HQ with the same annoying question: "Well Head, how are the martyrs getting on?" you would find some frustrated official would eventually send the messenger boy up to the Pope: "Get Benedict to sign that Decree, the Irish are driving me crazy". That's how it works. If all is in order you have to torment them to get a move on. You see, with so many Causes to deal with, if there is no pressure being applied, individual cases slip further and further down the line. Now if there is a miracle its another story, but then again if it is perceived there is no interest, CSS has enough to be getting on with...
This group of Irish martyrs, our second, should be beatified by now, indeed, all our martyrs should well be on the way to canonisation. And we have others: Matt Talbot, Edel Quinn, and Fr John Sullivan - amazing people - all in a state of stasis. We should be pushing, knocking doors and dropping prayer cards all over the world in the hunt for miracles. I think it is time to get the finger out. Anyway, rant over.