In "Making Saints," Kenneth Woodward lifts the veil on what to many is the mysterious process of determining who will (and who will not) be declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. For the extremely pious, the idea of human meddling in the saint-making process is sacrilegious. But Woodward explores the touchy area where devoted laborers for the Church, through their human work, manage to operate hand in hand with Divinity. "Making Saints" is not an exposé of the Vatican's machinery for canonization, but it does show how the Church's current institutional needs and prejudices strongly shape the choices of the causes under consideration.
Who will become a saint? In short, it is the person of great sanctity whose example happens to be deemed important by the reigning Pope and other high leaders of the Church. If the Church needs to highlight the sanctity of married life, it searches for married couples whose sanctity could inspire the faithful. Sometimes, this effort is comic, as the Church, trying to move forward, trips over its own past priorities. For instance, the married couple chosen by the Church as an exemplar of sanctified married life are Louis and Azélie Martin, all of whose surviving children entered convents, and one of whom, Thérèse of Lisieux, became a saint. In choosing the Martins as candidates for sainthood, the Church did not stray far from its discomfort with sex, except perhaps as a means of producing priests and nuns.
Obvious candidates like Archbishop Oscar Romero -- whose opposition to rightwing government-sanctioned death squads in El Salvador earned him a rifle bullet in the chest -- is not likely to be considered a saint soon. His gospel-like opposition to temporal power, his siding with the poor, his martyr's death, the devotion to him by ordinary people and even indications of physical incorruption ought to make him a shoo-in for sainthood. But to the saint makers, Romero is still too "political" to be canonized or even beatified. The upper levels of the Church are still nervous about those whose activities affect the lives of masses of people, opening the Church to charges of being in league with activists, communists and other undesirables. And so Romero awaits official notice of his canonization, regardless of his actual status in the heavenly court.
"Making Saints" is a book that opened my eyes to the truth that there are still saints among us, people whose devotion to God and neighbor is heroic, extraordinary and exemplary. The book also made it clear that the Church (probably rightly) moves very carefully when declaring sainthood for all but the most innocuous of the holy. The Church has many constituencies and cannot afford to win some while losing others. So for every John XXIII pushed forward by liberalizers, there is a Pius XII put forward by conservatives. "Making Saints" gives fascinating insights into how the ecclesiastical, scientific and political arms of the Vatican work together to determine the who, why and when of canonization and beatification--incredibly, doing the work of God in the process.