“Why isn’t she a saint yet?” This was the reaction a classmate of mine had to seeing an image of Mother Teresa. And it makes sense. This was a woman known around the world for her charity, compassion, and love of God, and she had yet to be canonized. The timing of his question was pretty good, though, since it was announced just a few days later that Mother Teresa would be canonized that fall.
The initial question is still worth reflecting on, though. “Why isn’t she a saint yet?” This question speaks to an instinct we have to recognize holiness in others. My friend, upon seeing an image of Mother Teresa, knew she was a holy woman and was frustrated that she had yet to be canonized.
But what is canonization, exactly? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors” (828). Canonization does not “make” someone a saint. Rather, canonization is the solemn recognition of a person’s sainthood, naming them as an example to be admired and imitated.
We are all called to be saints. We were created for God, to enjoy life with him, and this is the life the saints live right now. We do not know how many of those who have gone before us might now be enjoying the beatific vision, but Holy Mother Church recognizes some of these saints as role models for us on our own path to sanctity.
Mother Teresa inspired her sisters and others to holiness while she was still on this earth, she continued to do so after her death, and now the Church holds her up as a model of holiness to be admired by all. Our goal should be just as great, and yet more modest. We should strive for the holiness of the saints, without considering ourselves exemplars of holiness. Doing so would be in direct contrast to the holiness for which we strive. We are called to live lives which inspire others to holiness, while ensuring our own sanctity. We should seek to live lives such that when those who know us look at our pictures after we’ve left this earth, they will be inspired to say, “why isn’t he a saint yet?”