"Making Sense of the Saints: Fascinating Facts about Relics, Patrons, Saint-Making and More" by Patricia Ann Kasten.Our Sunday Visitor. (Huntington, Indiana, 2014). 142 pp., $13.95.
"Renewed: Ten Ways to Rediscover the Saints, Embrace Your Gifts and Revive Your Catholic Faith" by Robert P. Reed. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2014).114 pp., $13.95.
"Fearless: Stories of the American Saints" by Alice Camille and Paul Boudreau. Franciscan Media (Cincinnati, 2014). 208 pp., $15.99.
Most Catholics know that we are living in a great age of saint-making and that St. John Paul II canonized more men and women during his papacy than any pope before him. What may surprise them is that Pope Francis in his short time as pope has already canonized more saints than John Paul.
This is partly because the system has been simplified – fewer miracles are needed to establish sainthood. It is also because of the fact that, as popes travel worldwide, canonizing saints in countries they visit is seen as a way to honor those countries and to draw them closer into the universal church.
"Making Sense of the Saints" is one of three paperback books on sainthood that have appeared recently. This short, brisk book outlines the history of the process by which saints move from being local heroes to universally venerated figures. The author, Patricia Ann Kasten, describes how individuals become patron saints of communities and occupations and how saints are given feast days in the church calendar. Most importantly, she makes clear the sometimes mystifying difference between worshipping God and venerating saints. This book would not only be useful to interested Catholics, but also to Protestant readers seeking understanding about an often divisive issue.
"Renewed" by Robert P. Reed is subtitled: "Ten Ways To Rediscover the Saints, Embrace Your Gifts and Revive Your Catholic Faith." Each short chapter focuses on a single goal: looking beyond one's present troubles, being adaptable to innovation, living in joy as examples. Brief, one-page sketches of two saints each chapter are meant to lead the reader to ponder major, life-changing issues. Somehow the book makes one think of someone trying to run a marathon having never run before and having only eaten a single banana for breakfast.
"Fearless: Stories of the American Saints" provides much fuller portraits of 14 men and women who have been canonized and who lived, worked and died in the United States. Three of them were born on this continent: Kateri Tekakwitha in what would become New York state, Katharine Drexel in Philadelphia and Elizabeth Ann Seton in New York City. All of the others were born in Europe and immigrated to America.
What most of them shared was an unquenchable desire to be missionaries to an unknown and vast country and they came with an assurance that the importation of Western values and religion was an absolute good. Most of them had bad health, largely a result of overwork and spent years bed ridden. Yet they created hundreds of hospitals, schools and churches. They started religious orders that grew and multiplied quickly.
But all of them had to deal with the strong anti-Catholic prejudice that has been a part of the American character since the landing of the Mayflower. The fact that most of them were part of a religious order or created one is not surprising. It takes time, commitment and a great deal of money to promote the cause of a saint, all of which an order can provide.
The stories of these American saints bear great similarities, but they also possess individual quirks which make for entertaining reading. Saint making has always been about storytelling; reading and hearing about the lives of extraordinary men and women awes us, mystifies us and reminds us that every human being is capable of accomplishing great things. When sin and fragility seem to be the only common characteristics humanity shares, the saints prove we can do good.
Yearley is a graduate of the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore.