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Stalking the Holy: The Pursuit of Saint Making

by Michael W. Higgins

Theologian Michael Higgins’ treatise on the making of saints is a self-described personal inquiry into the process, players, and politics inherent in the canonization of Christianity’s heroes. These “action figures of Christendom” have long fascinated both the faithful and the skeptical, and Higgins’ book provides an accessible entry into this mysterious world.

Higgins begins with the thesis that it is not saintly behaviour or “sanitized biographies” that captivate the imagination, but rather the very human foibles and struggles of these holy persons that propel the need to make saints of these sometime sinners. This, combined with humanity’s voracious need for celebrity, inspiration, and hero worship, provides the fertile soil in which such an ancient practice can thrive. According to Higgins, a search for saintliness from these “models of Christian life par excellence” comes from our need for “connectedness” arising out of our modern-day “existential loneliness.”

But while such motives are perhaps understandable, the process of saint making often contradicts the saintly virtues that the object of the process personifies. Higgins outlines in meticulous and well-researched detail the controversy and politics that can arise. The Vatican is well aware of the political and social implications of how and when saints are created and who is to be chosen for this ultimate spiritual accolade. Almost anyone can nominate a person to become a member of the rolls of the saints, but whoever is willing to be their advocate must be prepared for years of work, and for a hefty financial toll, which by some estimates can range from $15,000 to more than $1-million.

While this is an impressively researched and comprehensive study, little of Higgins’ perspective is offered, other than the odd and sometimes annoying colloquialism intended, conceivably, to render the analysis less academic. He provides a very balanced, “on the other hand” approach to the topic, and we are left wondering just what he thinks of this labyrinthine and highly charged activity, just where he stands on the whole saintly enterprise.