‘Offer of Life’ a new path to sainthood

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What does it take for a person to be canonized a saint? In the tradition of the Church there have been two main avenues leading to canonization. Firstly, the person is verified as having lived a life of heroic virtue. The second avenue is martyrdom; a multitude of saints went to their death refusing to deny their Catholic faith. St. Thomas Aquinas held that one need not be killed for the faith per se, but that sufficient for the martyr’s crown could be the willingness to die for a particular virtue or the refusal to transgress one of the commandments.

Flannery O’Connor once characterized a precocious fictional character, explaining “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.” Realistically, though, martyrdom is frequently the culmination of a lifetime of courageous witness to Jesus Christ.

On July 11, Pope Francis introduced another path to canonization, what he describes as “the heroic offering of life.” In his Apostolic Letter, “Maiorem Hac Dilectionem,” he examines the “ordinary” life of Christian virtue (distinct from heroic) culminating in an offer of oneself for love of God or neighbor, in the face of the certainty of an untimely death. There is nothing new here in the centrality of sanctity evidenced in the total gift of self. New, perhaps, is the urgency of this witness today and the need for Christians to offer themselves generously in the midst of a world that has largely forgotten God.