Some papers have reported that the Cause for G.K. Chesterton has already been opened. Chesterton, who made his living as a journalist, would be amused and not surprised that the papers would get it wrong.
Here is the status report.
Five years ago, Bishop Peter Doyle, of Northampton, England, appointed Father John Udris to be the Investigator for Chesterton, which means he was to prepare a report on Chesterton’s life, on whether or not there was evidence of heroic virtue and holiness, and if there is a cult devoted to Chesterton. Fr. Udris will be completing his report this month. It involved a lot of research, but also gathering testimony from people all around the world. Obviously, he heard from me.
But another person he heard from was Bishop Robert Barron, who wrote: “I’m convinced G.K. Chesterton is a saint, and should be formally recognized as one. I ask for his intercession often…But why is now the right time for his cause to move forward? First, I think, because as the world becomes increasingly secular—especially the West—Chesterton offers a healthy engagement with skepticism. He never smeared his opponents, never exchanged fire for fire, never used vulgarity. He loved his intellectual opponents and counted atheists among his closest friends (e.g., Shaw). We’ve lost the art of charitable religious argument, of ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15), and Chesterton can help us recover it.”
Bishop Barron also believes—as do many of us—that Chesterton represents a model of lay spirituality.
Fr. Udris will submit his report to the Bishop Doyle. The Bishop will then seek a Nihil Obstat from the Congregation of Saints in Rome, which means quite simply that if they don’t find anything in their files that would automatically stop the Bishop from starting the Cause, he can then make the decision to open the Cause and declare G.K. Chesterton a Servant of God. Then the real work begins. A Postulator would be appointed and Chesterton’s life and work thoroughly examined. It will be a years long process. When the Congregation for Saints is convinced that the candidate clearly demonstrates a life of sanctity it would declare him Venerable. The next vote, as they say, comes from heaven: a miracle. One miracle for beatification. Another for sainthood. It doesn’t mean we can’t have a miracle earlier in the process. People don’t wait for an announcement from the Church before asking for a miracle. They ask for a miracle when they need a miracle.
The first step in raising any saint to the altar is the devotion of faithful followers who have been affected by that person’s holiness and goodness. It is natural that they should ask for his intercession. They have no doubt that he is in the presence of God. At a certain point, the Church officially affirms it. That’s how saints are made. That is the basis for the process.
Though holiness is rare thing, it is not a narrow thing. But people have a narrow idea of sainthood, and Chesterton generally doesn’t fit. He doesn’t fit into anything narrow. He was, after all, a beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, three hundred pound London journalist. But there have been saints who drank and smoke and were fat. Maybe not all at the same time.
Some have objected: “Chesterton never would have approved of people making him a saint!” To which I answer, “What saint would have approved of his own Cause?” Chesterton says every saint knows he is a sinner. One of the many reasons that Chesterton breaks the mould is that he is a layperson, who made his living in the secular world. But was a bright and shining witness to that world, and drew people like a magnet to his goodness and charity and blazing truth.
Chesterton himself praised the idea of more laypeople being canonized: “Speaking as a Catholic, I am very proud and happy to say that I know of no reason, in heaven or earth, why a barmaid should not some time or other be canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. It is simply a question of in what way, with what motives, and in what spirit she minded the bar.”
The momentum for Chesterton is growing.
I recently returned from Croatia, where I spoke at an international conference on Chesterton. The day after the conference was Sunday, and the conferees attended Mass at a very large old beautiful church in the heart of Zagreb. Place was packed. The choir sang a Mass by Gounod. The priest was the Provincial General of the Jesuits in Croatia. His entire homily was about G.K. Chesterton. He talked about Chesterton’s humor, his cigars, his humility. He talked about Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man and Father Brown, his defense of common sense, his mysticism, his conversion, the fact that he makes converts and that people return to the Church because of reading him, and that his Cause for Beatification will probably be opened this fall. Then he went on to describe him as a perfect example of someone who was in the world but not of the world, which tied nicely into the Gospel reading.
For the offertory, the choir sang “O God of Earth and Altar”, a hymn by G.K. Chesterton.
Then before the final blessing, the entire congregation prayed for Chesterton’s intercession and that the Church would beatify him.
The Mass was broadcast on Croatian national radio.