Are Catholics required to believe in every saint that has been canonized by the Church? This was on the mind of a young woman who called Go Ask Your FatherTM to share her concerns about some things she had learned in History and Religion classes. “When I see and read cards about saints that are mainly from the Middle Ages, I do doubt if they were really holy or if they really existed. Is that a bad thing?” asked Talie, a student at a Catholic high school in New Jersey.
Msgr. Stuart Swetland gave his reply:
“Our faith is reasonable. Catholic Faith is always reasonable. It might go beyond reason, but nothing in our Faith is contrary to reason. So, we are not afraid as a Church and as an organization, of historical research. We want to make sure that what we believe about the past is true and this is particularly true when it comes to the people we hold up as holy examples for us.
“We recognize sometimes that things can be lost. I, just going through at the beginning of school year the records of some of our teachers and we’ve noticed there’s some things missing in records that we know we had, but somehow they get displaced. And so St. John Vianney ran into this problem when in the 19th century he had a great devotion to St. Philomena. And there was some historical research that cast some doubt about some of the parts of the story of [St. Philomena] and there was even some doubts that she existed. And John Vianney had pretty good proof because he was asking her to intercede for him and miracles were happening for him and his parishioners through her intercession. His final answer, when pressed on this was always, ‘Well, someone is answering the mail.’
“So, the Church doesn’t ask us to believe the unbelievable. The Church asks us to use our reason. So if you are researching any saint’s life and there is some aspect of it that doesn’t seem to be backed up by history, the Church doesn’t require you to believe that. As a matter of fact, the Church doesn’t require us to believe that Mary, for example, appeared at places that Church has approved devotion to her, like in Lourdes and at Knock and Fatima. No Catholic is required to believe that. Now, I think there is very good evidence she did; there was just another miracle that was proven at Lourdes, obviously miraculous things are happening there. But we’re not forced, as Catholics, to believe that.
“But you’ll find that the Church is very careful about who they hold up as examples. And so, it’s usually done with great care and there’s very very very few—compared to the thousands of names that have been inscribed as canonized saints—that there’s even any question about. And I wouldn’t focus too much on those that have any doubt for you because it just gets in the way of you getting on with your life. Because what the saints are to be in your life, Talie, are companions along the journey. Intercessors for you, examples, and when you figure out what it is you’re called to do with your life—when you find out your vocation—you’ll also have patron saints associated with that vocation. And all those things saints are for us—they’re patrons, intercessors, friends, examples, they’re companions along the journey.”
All you holy saints, pray for us!