The reason the Church exists

There would be several ways one could explain the purpose of the Church: to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth; to continue Jesus’ mission for the Salvation of the world; to abide in and bring about the Kingdom of God; to the salt of the earth, the light of the world and the leaven of the human race; to love God, love others, and make disciples. All of these descriptions are true and complementary. 

But another, which I’ve always preferred, is that the Church exists to make saints. Everything that the Church has been founded by Christ to do has earthly and eternal sanctification as its purpose, to help people enter into God’s holiness through prayer, the Sacraments, and the life of love in this world so as to rejoice in the presence of our thrice holy God forever in the communion of saints. 

That’s why what is happening on October 4, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., is so important. 

For the first time in the history of the United States a beatification ceremony will take place, as Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, a young Sister of Charity who died in the Garden State in 1927, is formally raised to the altars. 

In the history of the Church, 18 other men and women with American ties have been beatified, with 12 of them proceeding on to canonization. But with the exception of St. Damien of Molokai, who was beatified in Brussels in 1995, all of their beatification and canonization ceremonies have taken place in the Vatican. 

So it will be a moment of special joy for the Church in the United States when the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, pronounces the formula never before heard on our shores, solemnly declaring Sister Miriam Teresa beata in the presence of a packed 1,800 in Newark’s stunning Gothic Cathedral. 

I’d encourage you to watch the ceremony, which will be broadcast live on EWTN at 9:30 a.m., Eastern Time. 

After reforms made by Pope Benedict XVI, beatifications normally happen in the place where a saint lived or died — while canonizations almost always happen in Rome — and so we hope that it will be the first of many beatifications to take place in our country. 

The Church exists to make saints and although few will be formally recognized as such, what happens in beatifications and canonizations is meant to be a reminder to every Catholic that sanctity is possible. 

We see that lesson in the life and teachings of Sister Miriam Teresa. 

She was born in Bayonne, N.J. in 1901, the youngest of seven children of Slovakian immigrants of the Byzantine Catholic Rite. She was a brilliant student, receiving double promotions and graduating as salutatorian of Bayonne High at 16. She wanted to become a Carmelite but instead chose to stay home and care for her ailing mother, who would die two years later. 

Her family persuaded her to go to the College of St. Elizabeth, where she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in literature, academic achievements that were rare for women at the time. She still was interested in the religious life, but in order to care for her father at home, she took a position as a high school teacher. 

After she had discerned formally that God was calling her to enter the Sisters of Charity, founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, she needed to detach herself from the care of her father, entrusting his welfare to God. God would respond by calling her dear dad home three days before she was to enter the convent. 

Entering the convent, her spiritual director, Father Benedict Bradley, OSB, recognized she had received very special graces, and with the permission of her mother superior, unbelievably asked her anonymously to write the Spiritual conferences he would preach to her and her fellow young Sisters. 

“I believed that she enjoyed extraordinary lights, and I knew that she was living an exemplary life,” he presciently stated. “I thought that one day she would be ranked among the saints of God, and I felt it was incumbent upon me to utilize whatever might contribute to an appreciation of her merits after her death.” 

The conferences were eventually published in a book called “Greater Perfection,” which can still be obtained from the Sister Miriam Teresa League of Prayer. 

In these conferences, Sister Miriam Teresa stressed that God calls each of us to be holy, regardless of our state of life. 

“The imitation of Christ in the lives of the saints,” she wrote, “is always possible and compatible with every state of life. The saints did but one thing — the will of God. But they did it with all their might. We have only to do the same thing — and according to the degree of intensity with which we labor shall our sanctification progress.” 

That sanctification happens, she added, through doing God’s will: loving Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and loving others as Jesus loves us.

“The reason we have not yet become saints is because we have not understood what it means to love. We think we do, but we do not. To love means to annihilate oneself for the beloved. The self-sacrifice of a mother for her child is only a shadow of the love wherewith we should love the Beloved of our soul. To love is to conform oneself to the Beloved in the most intimate manner of which we are capable.”

Her beatification is an occasion for us to ponder her words and life, seek her intercession, and learn to do the will of God with all our might, so that one day we may enjoy her friendship forever in the Church’s triumphant perfection. 

Anchor columnist Father Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts