Above and Beyond: A Man Worthy of Veneration

by Dominican Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell, vice postulator

Most of us don’t use the term “venerable” on a daily basis. When Father Michael J. McGivney was given the title “Venerable Servant of God” by the Holy See in March 2008, the obvious question was raised: just what does this mean?

The long road to sainthood has certain benchmarks. The successful conclusion of the diocesan investigation into a Servant of God’s life and works is one of them. The opening of the Roman phase and the completion of the positio, the long explanatory argument presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in favor of a candidate’s sainthood, is another.

The bestowal of the title “Venerable” on Father McGivney marks another important step on the journey to beatification and canonization. It signals that the congregation has carefully considered the positio on Father McGivney’s life and virtue, and after consulting with historical experts and theologians, has judged it to be valid and convincing.

Once the members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints make a positive judgment on the positio, the matter is referred to the Holy Father for his approval. His positive response makes possible the issuance of a “decree of heroic virtue” and the bestowal of the title “Venerable.”

A decree of heroic virtue indicates a pastoral judgment on the part of the Church. For the good of the Christian people, the Church recognizes that Father McGivney was a man who went beyond what is required of a good Christian. His was a life of outstanding virtue, in which he “heroically” practiced charity, humility and prudence. Father McGivney went above and beyond the ordinary call to Christian perfection much as a martyr lays down his or her life for Christ and for the Gospel.

Father McGivney’s “martyrdom” was the daily giving of his life in fidelity to the duties of a typical parish priest, in an extraordinary and selfless manner. When we recall all that he undertook in spite of his youth, inexperience and his lifelong battle with poor health, his heroism is obvious.

Toward the Heart of God

What comes next? The reported miracle presently before the congregation must be judged favorably if there is to be a beatification in which the title “Venerable” will be exchanged for “Blessed.” The positio on the reported miracle has been submitted to the Holy See and is currently under consideration. Medical and theological experts must carefully examine the evidence in order to pass judgment on the case. If judged positively by the members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, that judgment will be passed to Pope Benedict XVI, who alone makes the decision about beatifications and canonizations.

What if a reported miracle fails the rigorous test of the congregation? We must begin again with another reported miracle. It is for this reason that reports of favors attributed to the intercession of a candidate for canonization are so important. For Father McGivney, a healing through his intercession was reported early in the process, but in 2011 the Vatican Congregation judged it to not be miraculous in nature. Another possible miracle was reported in January 2012 and is currently under investigation.

The technical aspects of a cause for canonization are fascinating but can sometimes distract us from the essential focus: the glory of God made manifest in the holiness of one of his servants. A cause for canonization is not meant to lead us into the intricacies of Church norms but into the heart of God and his call to holiness of life. Father McGivney’s cause, in particular, is a summons to ordinary Catholics to embrace the mystery of Christ in its fullness so each of us will see where we are called to heroic virtue. Father McGivney was an apostle of lay spirituality, and his message is intensified each time the Church recognizes his outstanding life and virtue.