Sex and Sainthood

On October 17th Pope Benedict XVI named six new saints. Wait a minute. Doesn't everyone go to heaven?

I suppose it depends on whom you ask. For many years now, an ancient belief of the Christian faith has been on the rise. Theologians call it Universal Salvation and in the early Church this was the dominant belief. I spent many years preaching, "everyone goes to heaven without exception or prejudice". I will reserve further explanation and examination of that subject for another time. For now, let me say that there is a problem with the six newly named saints.

Fundamentally, a saint is a person who has died and now lives with God in the fullness of the kingdom. So everyone who is in heaven is a saint, and since I believe that everyone goes to heaven, you might be wondering what possible problem I could have wtih the Pope naming new saints, or what objection I could have to these six in particular.

On the surface, I have neither a problem with nor an objection to these new saints. Many millions of people are living with God in heaven and, as I said, they are all saints. Very few, however, are declared such by the Church. That is just a practical reality. Still, no problem. When people are canonized by the Church, it is because their lives serve as an example for the rest of us to emulate. On that level the six new saints are no exception.

Among them is Canada's first male saint, a 19th century brother, and the first native born Australian, a nun. There is certainly cause for Canadians and Australians to express pride that their own are among those venerated in the Catholic world. The other four are Giulia Salzano and Camilla Battista da Varano (both Italian nuns), Stanislaw Soltys, a Polish priest and the Spanish nun, Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola. Without question, all of them serve as models of Christian virtue and commitment.

But did you notice? All six were either clergy or religious. This presumes they were also celibate. Here is my question: What is the Vatican's problem with sexuality? Wow! Now that I think of it, maybe that is too loaded a question. After all, these are the same people who insist on an all-male, celibate clergy. And come to think of it, Benedict is just following in the footsteps of John Paul II who, while setting out to name more saints than any Pope in history, clearly favored those of clerical, religious, or at least celibate background.

From the beginning of our Sacred Scriptures in the Book of Genesis, we are told of the goodness of God's creation. The first chapter, containing the beautifully poetic creation myth, ends with this statement: "God looked at everything that he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed--the sixth day". God had just created the first humans and sanctioned their sexual activity. Throughout the Scriptures there continues a successive celebration of love making, most notably the erotic Song of Songs. Then came Rome.

I realize that canonization is a long, drawn-out affair. In part, this is to guard against the Church formally proclaiming an unfit person to be a saint. However, the Roman Catholic Church has a penchant for naming saints who were either celibate throughout their lives or who gave up sexual activity long before their deaths. This represents an unhealthy bias. Is it really possible that among the many millions of good, Christian people who have died, there is not one to emulate who was sexually active at the time of death?

These six new saints and their commitment to celibacy are part of our history, but they are not the whole story. As Catholics we will now venerate them and seek their intercession in our personal lives. Perhaps we should also seek their intercession for the institutional Church. Since most of us enter the world through the act of sexual intercourse, and since it is a part of God's "good" creation, shouldn't the Church celebrate sexuality in its canonization process? At the very least, it is as valuable as celibacy.