Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saint of the Titanic

In the wake of the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I've seen a spike in articles on the Catholic-webs about Fr. Mychal Judge. There seems to be a certain popular veneration for him as, basically, "The Saint of 9/11." And I'd say rightly so.

This reminds me of my opinion that the modern canonization process is too bureaucratic and hard for anyone but religious orders to afford and navigate. I have expressed being disturbed by the fact that, in the first millennium, martyrologies contain possibly tens of thousands of saints (albeit, many martyrs) but that from when the process was centralized (until Pope Blessed John Paul II, at least) there were only a few hundred added for the second millennium.

Certainly, I think, even if "universal" canonization (called an infallible declaration of "dogmatic facts" even!) remains ultramontane and in the hands of the curia and Pope...we could have more local saints again by decentralizing beatification (which approves someone merely for local veneration anyway, so I don't exactly understand why the process has been made "federal").

I doubt Fr. Judge will be officially raised to the altars either way, if only because of the politics surrounding his sexuality, and potentially heterodox statements he may have made related to that (and, if he were a proven and public heretic, then, while I certainly won't deny personal holiness, I'd tend to agree with with-holding any sort of official recognition).

But, still, his case reminds me of another holy man in the life of the Church who is not officially canonized but whose story remains nevertheless inspiring (and who might be venerated as a saint or blessed if the process wasn't so bureaucratic!)

I'm speaking of Fr. Thomas Byles who died aboard the RMS Titanic the night of its legendary doom:
Of the very few passengers willing to brave the cold, Father Byles had been reciting the Breviarium Romanum, fully dressed in his priestly garb, while walking back and forth on the upper deck at the moment the Titanic struck the iceberg. He acted bravely in his capacity as a spiritual leader of men. Descending to the third class and calming the people, Father Byles gave them his priestly blessing and began to hear confessions; after which, he began the recitation of the Rosary. He then led the third class passengers up to the boat deck and helped load the lifeboats. He gave words of consolation and encouragement to the woman and children as they got into the boats. As the danger became even more apparent, he went about hearing more confessions and giving absolution. By all accounts, Father Byles was twice offered a seat in a lifeboat but refused. After the last lifeboat was gone, he went to the after end of the boat deck and led the recitation of the Rosary for a large group kneeling around him of those who were not able to find room in the boats. Father Byles also exhorted the people to prepare to meet God. As 2:20 a.m. approached, and the stern rose higher and higher out of the sea, Father Byles led the more than one hundred people kneeling before him in the Act of Contrition and gave them general absolution [...] Father Byles died in the sinking. His body was never recovered [...] On a trip later that year, Katherine and William traveled to Rome where they had a private audience with Pope Saint Pius X, who said that Father Byles was a martyr for the Church.
Though he cannot be publicly venerated either on the local or universal level, we are free to privately venerate anyone we have a certain moral certitude is in heaven, and I do not hesitate to privately venerate Fr. Byles as a heroic priest and cure of souls, nor would I hesitate to pray "Father Thomas Byles, ora pro nobis."


Jon Marc said...

A wonderful post! And heresy doesn't always seem to keep the holiness of saints from being formally recognized - St. Isaac of Nineveh belonged to a church in his day anathematized for Nestorianism by both Rome and Constantinople (although he is venerated in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy) and St. Gregory of Nyssa believed in universal salvation, which some consider a heresy. And there are many more examples - saints are glorified not for their perfection, but for how they allowed God to shine through them, no?

Cady said...

Thank you for posting on Father Byles! Our family has been personally inspired by this valiant man's story also:
RIP, Father Thomas Byles.