Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Saints and dissent

James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of My Life With the Saints, wrote an interesting op-ed article in today’s New York Times regarding saints and dissent in the church.
Last month, Pope Benedict XVI declared Mother Théodore Guérin, who lived and worked in rural Indiana in the mid-1800’s, a saint. She is therefore worthy of “public veneration” by Catholics worldwide. Mother Guérin founded the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods and started several schools and a college in the region.

You would think that this would have won her favor from the local bishop. You would be wrong.

At the time, the idea of an independent woman deciding where and when to open schools offended Célestine de la Hailandière, the Catholic bishop of Vincennes, Ind. In 1844, when Mother Guérin was away from her convent raising money, the bishop ordered her congregation to elect a new superior, in a bid to eject her from the very order of nuns that she had founded.

The independent-minded sisters simply re-elected Mother Guérin. Infuriated, Bishop Hailandière told the future saint that she was forbidden from setting foot in her own convent, since he, the bishop, considered himself its sole proprietor.
. . .
Many people think of the saints as docile, but Mother Guérin is not the only saint to have found herself at odds with local bishops, church officials or even the Vatican. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake at the behest of church officials. The writings of the great theologian Thomas Aquinas came under suspicion during his lifetime in the 13th century. And Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was jailed during the Spanish Inquisition over complaints about his ideas on prayer.
. . .
All Saints’ Day is a good time to remember that while most saints led lives of quiet service, some led the life of the noisy prophet, speaking the truth to power — even when that power was within the church.

Today the Catholic Church rightly honors all of its saints, even those it once mistreated, silenced or excommunicated. That includes Mother Théodore Guérin. It makes you wonder what Bishop Hailandière thinks from his post in heaven — or wherever he is today.

During this election year, we at Albany Catholic believe it is especially important for all of us to tolerate the ideas of people who might disagree with us. After all, we are all God's children and worthy of respect.

You can read the rest of the Father Martin's article here.