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The Coming Canonizations: Deal Hudson on Saints and Dead Atheists

By Deal W. Hudson
4/22/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The message here is a simple one: we are not on our own, ever - the virtue of supernatural charity is not a mean, but an excess.

We know that St. Peter's Square will be overflowing with happy faces, banners waving, and spontaneous outburst of songs - in many languages -  who will greet the arrival and presence of Pope Francis.  What would the mood be like in Washington Square at the memorial service of the world's best known "militant atheist"?

The Church in recognizing saints - there are many unrecognized, uncanonized saints - affirms that our Communion of Saints extends into heaven, creating a between the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory, the angels, and the faithful on earth.  The message here is a simple one: we are not on our own, ever - the virtue of supernatural charity is not a mean, but an excess.

The Church in recognizing saints - there are many unrecognized, uncanonized saints - affirms that our Communion of Saints extends into heaven, creating a between the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory, the angels, and the faithful on earth. The message here is a simple one: we are not on our own, ever - the virtue of supernatural charity is not a mean, but an excess.

Highlights

WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - There are between 10,000 and 11,000 saints canonized by the Catholic Church, depending on the sources you include.  Pope Francis added 813 saints to the list on one day, May 13, 2013, and now we are to celebrate the recognition of two more, Pope John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27 in St. Peters Square. Attendance estimates start at 500,000 and go as high as a  million. 

Such a gathering of the faithful from around the world in this age of secularism and the myriad of books pouring out on the New Atheism! What would happen if a leading atheist, say Richard Dawkins, died and one of his acolytes organized an event to memorialize Dawkins and announce him the athiest's version of a saint. I'm not sure what that would be called - perhaps, the first Refuser.

I can imagine the New Atheists memorial being held in Washington Square, with about 300-400 people in attendance, mostly curious NYU students and chess players.  "Richard Dawkins denied the existence of God to the very end of his life, without any hesitation or qualification". Richard Dawkins would be eulogized for refusing to accept the solace of eternal life even in the face of death. Presumably dozens of those present with well-thumbed copies of Nietzsche in the back packs would nod in appreciation. 

We know that St. Peter's Square will be overflowing with happy faces, banners waving, and spontaneous outburst of songs - in many languages -  who will greet the arrival and presence of Pope Francis.  What would the mood be like in Washington Square at the memorial service of the world's best known "militant atheist"?  There aren't any songs that come to mind, though atheists themselves are partial to quite a few songs, including "Letting Go of God" sung by Julia Sweeney.

We can bet that Washington Square would be filled to the brim with media - reporters reporting live, TV cameras streaming the events, and inter-views with attendees.  The number of the media would very likely equal the number of attendees, to the point that each attendee would have his or her own personal media partner.  Even the thousands in the annual  March for Life compete for media coverage with a dozen pro-choicers, shouting, sign waving, and looking angry. 

Being an a-theist, that is, without God, is problematic when determining just what you are for. The word itself begins with a prefix that denies and negates what follows, God.  An atheist is always, therefore, opposed to the-ism, belief in God.  The celebration of Richard Dawkins at the first Refuser would be a celebration of absence, of a belief that is missing, missing because Dawkins consistently rejected it.  Not really the occasion for singing or dancing, or outbursts of joy over the life he lived. 

One aspect of the Church's canonization, however, would be the same as Dawkins being recognized as the first, presumably, in an ongoing list of Deniers and Refusers.  Canonization derives from a Greek word meant to set a standard.  Richard Dawkins would become the model for deniers to follow, but since the afterlife is missing Dawkins would not be able to offer any help from beyond the grave.  The totality of the Dawkins' legacy would consist of his books, videos, audiotapes, letters, paper, and memories of those who knew him. 

Though none of Richard Dawkins colleagues, admirers, and disciples will be praying for his soul, I am certain there are many who will.  Who knows? The day may come when Dawkins will intercede on behalf of the New Atheists, that all of them will drop the "a" from their atheism. Anything can happen, and often does.

Catholic saints are considered more than models of spirituality -they can intercede for us, which is why a miracle is required for beatification, a miracle that occurs after the saint's death. An authentic miracle provides evidence of the saint's ability to intercede from heaven for a person in need.  A second miracle is normally required before the Church announces canonization, but Pope Francis made an exception  in the case of Pope John XXIII.

The Church in recognizing saints - there are many unrecognized, uncanonized saints - affirms that our Communion of Saints extends into heaven, creating a between the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory, the angels, and the faithful on earth.  The message here is a simple one: we are not on our own, ever - the virtue of supernatural charity is not a mean, but an excess. 

Not only will your neighbor pray for you in your time of need but also those you never knew, saints who died centuries ago fill the heavens with nothing but time on their hands, so to speak, to hear your prayers and intercede with God the Father on your behalf.  No wonder, then, that St. Peters Square on April 27th will be the happiest place on earth, a celebration of the grace pervading the universe.  That is why any declaration of Richard Dawkins as the first Refuser may be premature.

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

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Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

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