Saturday, July 18, 2015

Heroic Virtue

A friend posted an email to the NYR Daily from 21 December 2009 by the noted author and historian, Timothy Snyder, which closed as follows:

"But what if evil were plural in 1941? And what if patriotism is not about perfecting the past, but about making imperfect choices about the future?"

Snyder's piece has lost none of its relevance and I'd like to transpose his question about what distinguishes brothers Andriy and Kliment Sheptytsky, when it comes to judging them as being righteous among the nations in the eyes of Yad Vashem, to address the question of what saints are made of. I do this quite serenely in that the Church has now declared Andriy venerable.

In a sense, I suppose all the tribulation about declaring the heroic virtues of this giant of a man should not surprise us. We have the cases of several Roman Pontiffs of late, who have been at the center of similar controversies and each for different reasons: Bl. Pius IX, Ven. Pius XII, Bl. Paul VI. For the sake of perspective, I would like to take them together with Metropolitan Sheptytsky and abstract from the particular issues which may have placed their veneration in question for some or for many.

For me the matter at hand deals with the Church's never-ending quest for surety when declaring someone a friend of God. From the earliest days of the Church up until the present, we have gladly given recognition to martyrs as friends of God, to those who have identified most perfectly with Christ in His suffering and death upon the Cross. I remember learning as a child that the first non-martyr to be officially canonized by the Church was St. Martin of Tours, on whose feast day I was ordained a bishop. Naturally, before Martin others were considered saints though not martyrs, surrounded by devotion and popularly supplicated for their intercession on behalf of those of us still below. Even so, it is important to underline that it cost the Church centuries to step out in faith and declare virgins, confessors, pastors and doctors of the Church saints in the absence of testimony to their martyrdom.

Interestingly enough, beatification does not follow immediately on attestation of heroic virtue as is the case for martyrs. It requires a miracle through the intercession of the one declared venerable. 

The great metropolitan, whose prayers and sacrifices in this life were decisive for the building up of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as we know it today and who, no doubt, has never ceased to pray for his Church from his place before the Heavenly Throne, has not so much received a present in his jubilee year as have we. We move on with new confidence and hopefully learn from the witness of his life, now certainly defined as heroic in virtue.

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