How to become a saint
The process of canonization was developed in the 10th century by Pope John XV after the Vatican decided that determining sainthood by public opinion left too much room for error. Back then, you just needed to be popular. Now it's a little more complicated.
1. You need to die. (Sorry, no exceptions.) Generally, the process of canonization cannot begin until five years after death - although after Mother Teresa died, groups convinced the Vatican to relax the rule. Still, the process typically takes between 10 and 100 years.
2. A local bishop will investigate your virtues. If and when sufficient virtue is uncovered, the bishop will name you a Servant of God and send his info to the Vatican for further review.
3. A gaggle of theologians and cardinals called the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, under the guidance of a postulator, evaluates your life, and if they like what they see, they pass the buck yet again, this time to the pope.
4. The pope will then proclaim you "venerable," meaning that you are officially a role model of Catholic virtue. One nifty perk: Venerable-ness entitles you to have Catholic prayer cards printed in your likeness, which encourage the faithful to pray for a posthumous miracle to be wrought by your intercession.
5. The next step is beatification, and the solution to this one is multiple choice. To become beatified, the venerable must either:
a. have been martyred. Generally, martyrdom is the quickest ticket to sainthood (10,000 martyrs were once beatified in a single ceremony), but the thing about martyrdom is that it generally hurts (see, for instance, Saint Apollonia, who had her teeth pulled one by one by the Romans). Or,
b. have been responsible for at least one miracle during your lifetime. Mother Teresa, for instance, was beatified when the Congregation for the Causes of Saints verified that a woman in India had her cancer cured by pressing a picture of Teresa against herself.
6. Once beatified, you'll earn the title "blessed," and then you must be credited with at least one posthumous miracle before you can be canonized and become an official Catholic saint.
7. There's more? Don't forget about specializing! As a "patron saint," of course. If you've been canonized and have some unique talent on your resume, you could be named a special protector or guardian of a particular illness, occupation, church, country or cause. The aforementioned Apollonia is the patron saint of toothaches. And Saint Isidore of Seville, who reputedly wrote the first encyclopedia, is in hot contention to become the patron saint of the internet.
Adapted from In The Beginning (HarperCollins), available at leading bookstores. For a daily dose of quirky fun visit MentalFloss.com and check out mental_floss magazine at your local newsstand.