God shines through his saints. If we think of ourselves as participants or “players” on God’s “team,” then saints are like the best players on the team, the pride of the owner and the coach. On October 13, 2019, Pope Francis will declare five as saints of the Catholic Church: Cardinal John Henry Newman, along with four women: Giuseppina Vannin, Mariam Thresia Mankidiyan, Irmã Dulce Pontes and Marguerite Bays. The first three were each founders of religious congregations and the last a Swiss seamstress. The pope, with a consistory of cardinals on July 1, 2019, set the date for the canonization.
This announcement is the official recognition of the holy lives of these five. For those who have studied and learned about John Henry Newman, it is an acknowledgment of what has already been recognized: that his life serves as an example of Christian holiness for men and women today. His canonization is the seal on his teaching as a part of the great tradition of the Church.
What is this holiness, without which no one will see God? (see Heb 12:14) Holiness is living as God’s children with complete dedication or earnestness, as Newman would say. The soon-to-be saint invites us to live with a deep faith in God who moves us to risk all that we have in his service. The parable of the rich young ruler is an example of how one may fail. The rich young man, though he had been bid by Christ himself to give up his all for the Lord, refused and, “went away sorrowful.” The young man “had not faith to make the venture of this world for the next, upon his word” (Ventures of Faith in Parochial and Plain Sermons).
Saints, then, give us real-life examples of the practice of faith, hope and love. God shows us through them what his will for us is in our earthly life: that we are pleasing in his sight (Eph 1). The saints are not figures of marble; they are real human beings with strengths and weaknesses, with victories and defeats, with feelings and desires. As St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote, ‘they fought and won, they fought and lost but they always got up.’
The coming canonization of these new saints is a powerful reminder that God still lives in his Church, that he does not abandon it, but rather continues to give new signs of holiness. When we see the bad behavior of many Christians, including Christian leaders, we can easily become discouraged. But we must always look to Christ, our hope! He is our champion and shepherd of souls (see 1 Pet 2:25). For this we thank and praise the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Church invites us to read the lives of the saints and their writings. To learn more about the life of Newman, the biography I wrote: Passion for Truth, the Life of John Henry Newman, is one place to start. There are also other biographies about the future saint. The Church wants us to learn from them, and also to seek their help before God. A good time to learn more about Newman is in preparation for his canonization.
The date providentially chosen for the canonization is October 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the anniversary of her last apparition to three shepherds and the people of Portugal. In that appearance the Virgin Mary taught her sons and daughters to pray the rosary and to offer sacrifices for their sins and those of the world. She warned of the repercussions for offending God who loves us so much. October 13 is also symbolically significant for John Henry Newman, who struggled in his youth to understand marian devotion, but eventually developed a strong love for Mary, Mother of God.
Mary, too, traveled on a pilgrimage of faith. She was the “first to believe” in her Son. She brings us before her Son, and teaches us how to live with faith. Newman compares faith to the risk a trader takes with his property on some real estate speculation, and has us ask a difficult question:
“Consider for an instant. Let every one who hears me ask himself the question, what stake has he in the truth of Christ’s promise? How would he be a whit worse off, supposing (which is impossible), but, supposing it to fail? We know what it is to have a stake in any venture of this world. We venture our property in plans which promise a return; in plans which we trust, in which we have faith. What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to Him on a belief of his promise?”