Guest blogger Richard Humphrey, The Dean of Hobart, writes:
The religious life of Australia takes a big step this weekend with the canonisation of Mary MacKillop as the first Australian Saint recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, now to be called St. Mary of the Cross. You could hardly miss this event with the amount of publicity, even flags are flying in our streets.
I have read many comments about Mary this week and they all take a similar line. So our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, noting her work in education and social justice said “This event recognises a courageous woman of willing spirit and deep faith. … Mary’s example lives and shines to this day” Tim Costello from World Vision Australia said that her story resonated with Australians because of her courage and strength, her authenticity and her perseverance.
Without doubt there is much to give thanks for in her contribution to the Christian heritage of Australia.
Without wishing to be a naysayer, however, I have to wonder if this step is really one in the right direction. For canonisation in the Roman Catholic Church is not simply recognition of a life of ministry but recognition of a supposed ongoing ministry. So Bishop Christopher Prowse of Sale writes “There is joy because one of us, an Australian, has become a saint! …As a saint we can rely on her intercession … Saint Mary of the Cross, pray for us.”
Intercession by saints is very hard to reconcile with the biblical image of Jesus and the Holy Spirit interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25, Romans 8:26-27) and of Jesus being the only mediator we need: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” (1Timothy 2:5-6). To focus so much on Mary is to distract from the God she served and the Lord who saved her, Jesus Christ of the Cross.
Furthermore the whole language of “Saint” as someone special is problematic as it is the common New Testament word for all Christians as the start of most of Paul’s letters show. All who believe in Jesus as Lord are saints, not based on what they have done but on what Jesus has done for them. Christians are set apart by God to be holy, to live for him wherever they find themselves.
Here Mary is a great example to us. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson writes “… no one in this country may ever again say that genuine holiness is not for them, that they can settle for being ‘ordinary’ Christians. If there are secrets to her holiness, then surely they consist in total integrity, in following what is right even when others condemn, in a profound generosity of spirit, and in constantly, in every new situation asking the same question, ‘What is the most loving thing I can do here?’ “
If we follow that path it will be big step in the right direction.