Monday, 18 October 2010

St Mary MacKillop

The news here in Australia is full of the canonisation of the first Australian Saint, Mary MacKillop, founder of the Order of St Joseph. 

Being a Protestant, I've never quite got the whole sainthood thing.  We were taught that all of us are saints (sanctified ones) and that this comes about as a result of God's grace.  We were also taught that it's wrong to pray to anyone other than God himself - my evangelical teachers were very big on "there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ the Righteous" from 1 Timothy 2:5.

As a result I've watched the whole thing with mixed emotions - not only bafflement, but pleasure, irony and cynicism.

Pleasure because for a change we are celebrating a national hero whose life was dedicated to doing good.  Mary MacKillop was a woman whose mission was to care for poor women and children, found schools and lift people up out of poverty.  She wasn't afraid to take on the church to do so either, and was even excommunicated for a short period after refusing to back down on her stance against priests guilty of sexual abuse.  A woman ahead of her time - if only the church had listened then, it might not be in the mess it's in now.

Irony because Mary's vocation was literally self-effacing.  Women in religious orders were not only veiled, they changed their names.  Yet this deliberately self-effacing woman is now a national celebrity. 

Cynicism because one of the truly odd things about sainthood is that one of the requirements is that the saint be responsible for at least two certifiable miracles.  This is perhaps not bizarre in itself, but the bizarre bit to my mind is that there is no suggestion Mary performed these miracles while alive.  They consist of incidences where people prayed to her (or in her name, I get confused) and were healed of terminal illnesses.  Which of course raises a host of questions of which the following are just the beginning.  First of all, were these just coincidences?  If people prayed to Mary and then got better, why would we necessarily believe Mary was responsible - and not say God, or even the doctors they consulted who despite having given up hope in their treatment found that it was unexpectedly successful?  Secondly, how many people died after praying to Mary?  Surely this doesn't mean she's also a killer?

I'm happy to admire Mary as a hero of the faith.  Protestants have those too.  She persevered against mistrust and obstruction, did good in her lifetime, and founded an order which does good to this day.  But please, spare me the mediaeval mumbo jumbo.

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