The Roman Catholic hierarchy will most likely overlook my Baptist nomination of a layman for sainthood as it rushes to beatify Pope John Paul II.
The fast-track strategy (normally five years) seems in place for the late pontiff now that his successor, Benedict XVI, has signed off on a required miracle that JP II pulled off – in heaven no less!
A French nun, Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre, was certifiably cured of a serious case of Parkinson’s disease after praying to the deceased pope, writing his name on a piece of paper and finally getting a good night’s rest.
There have been reports of a relapse (a valid miracle needs to have durability and completeness along with medical inexplicability) and questions about the original Parkinson’s diagnosis. However, the Vatican’s medical and theological experts, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and the current Pope have all confirmed the miracle.
The beatification rite will occur May 1 in Rome.
Yes, there is some criticism of both the process being followed (conservatives worry that hurrying sainthood along cheapens the time-honored procedures while liberals see theological politics being exploited) and blemishes on the late pope’s record, especially the way he dealt with the church’s sexual abuse scandal. But no one expects these matters to create insurmountable hurdles for according “blessing” on May Day.
What chance could there possibly be, then, for my nomination being heard – not for an accelerated course leading to beatification and sainthood but a steady and sustained examination of the life and ministry of the recently deceased Roman Catholic layman R. Sargent Shriver Jr.? Probably very little.
Still, I think a pretty strong case can be made.
His Roman Catholic piety was beyond question. I heard his son report that he attended Mass every day. And a rosary was always in his pocket, except when he paused and placed it in his hands for prayer. He had assiduously studied the saints, leaders and thinkers – historic and contemporary – of his faith. As one of his former associates wrote, he could “riff” on “the differences between the early, middle and late writings of Saint Teresa of Avila.”
But maybe most important, Shriver, who died Jan. 17 at the age of 95, attended to the social teachings of the church and did everything in his power not just to live by them himself but also to – this is my word – “evangelize” them, that is, to make the good news of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ evident in word and deed throughout the world.
As for the saintly requirement of documentable miracles that are durable, complete and medically and scientifically inexplicable, he had millions of them – and they continue today, as they will for a long time.
Think of the Peace Corps, which he founded and directed, profoundly changing the lives of those Americans who volunteered over the decades and continue to be deployed across the globe today. They change the lives of those people and peoples who were and are served by the volunteers.
Think of all those millions of people whose lives were transformed by his creation and leadership of Head Start, Legal Services, Job Corps, Community Action, VISTA and Upward Bound.
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And then there is the testimony of those who engaged him one on one, person to person, and came away feeling they had experienced an “encounter with grace.”
Colman McCarthy, who confesses to have been an unlikely candidate but fortunate appointee to serve as one of Shriver’s speechwriters, remembered an address his boss delivered at a reunion of Peace Corps workers in 1981:
“The cure is care. Caring for others is the practice of peace. Caring becomes as important as curing. Caring produces the cure, not the reverse. Caring about nuclear war and its victims is the beginning of a cure for our obsession with war. Peace does not come through strength. Quite the opposite: Strength comes through peace. The practices of peace strengthen us for every vicissitude… The task is immense.”
Those words, which seem to inform a whole life of dedicated service to others, remind me of another, older address, and one that could and should serve as the definitive criteria for beatification and sainthood, whatever the religious tradition:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the dominion of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sake, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the dominion of heaven.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your heavenly Parent.
I place in nomination Robert Sargent Shriver Jr.
Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.