Are there too many saints?

Question: Why are there so many saints? I think there are too many. It seems to me that the more people are made saints, the value of being a saint is lessened. Surely the title "saint" should be limited to a small band of people. Also, do you know how many canonized saints there are? 

— Name withheld, Manchester, Mo.

Answer: Taking your last question first, it is virtually impossible to count the number of canonized saints, as the process of canonization has varied so much over the centuries. Only at the beginning of the second millennium was the process of canonization centralized in Rome and the steps toward canonization clarified. Various scholars have estimated that the complete list of canonized saints — whatever the process of canonization — may be as high as 10,000. 

Are there too many saints? How could there be! Every Christian — indeed, every man and woman who ever lived — is called to be a saint. Heaven is the goal for which we are all created, and to be a member of God's holy people is the essential characteristic of being a saint. In the broad sense of the term, everyone who is in heaven is a saint. 

This does not mean that the Church should start canonizing everyone left and right after they die. The fact is most Christians probably die in a state of imperfection and have to go through a purgatorial purification before they enter the glory of heaven. Of course, some people think that the Church canonizes too many people already. But given the care and rigor that goes into the process of canonization, especially nowadays, I do not seen how this position can be sustained. 

Is there a danger in lowering the status of the saints if too many are canonized? I do not at all think so. Becoming a saint is not like becoming a major general (you can only have so many of them) or having too many Nobel Prize winners (lowering the stature of the award). A saint is not someone who is above and beyond us, in a different and distant category, but someone whom we are called to emulate and reflect in our own lives, so that we ourselves eventually become saints like them. 

Invalid weddings 

Question: My Catholic niece is getting married to a divorced man outside the Church and wants me to attend the wedding and the reception. I do not know what to do. If I attend the wedding, am I approving of the marriage? If I stay away, I feel that my niece and I will never be as close again. Should I also stay away from the reception and not give a gift? I would hate to miss the whole thing and lose my niece's love. 

— Name and address withheld

Answer: Your predicament is one that many faithful Catholics share. The advice I give to people generally is to excuse themselves from the wedding ceremony, but to attend the reception and give a gift. If you are as close to your niece as you say, then you should be able to find a way — perhaps by a letter — to explain carefully that in conscience you are unable to attend the ceremony, but that you know your niece will respect your conscientious position. In the letter state your love for your niece and how much you want to be part of her life. Make it clear that your nonattendance at the wedding is not a statement of condemnation on your part, and that not being able to attend is a matter that has caused you much anguish. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.