What is a Saint? – Understanding God’s Love, Part 1

(This is the first post in a series covering the process of becoming a saint.)

It is important to note that only God knows how many saints there are in heaven, as well as who they are. God’s grace and mercy is offered to every living person and their exercise of free will to accept His graces and live holy lives. We should all strive to become saints, though we are all sinners. The original sin of Adam and Eve was an abandonment of their trust in God, and, thus, wrought suffering, sin and evil into the world. What God created, as described in Genesis, was “good.” However, God, in His divine plan,  gave man the opportunity to seek His grace, mercy and love in preparation of the day He would send His only divine Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer the paschal mystery of  His passion, death and resurrection to redeem the sins of mankind.

Each may seek to become a saint in his own way. As humans created in the image of God, we all, however, possess our personal strengths and weaknesses. God gives us, through grace and our acceptance of it, the ability to overcome our weakness and also to motivate our strengths to seek holiness. We may ask – what is holiness? This is a good and logical question to ponder. Perhaps we could say that holiness is living our lives, with all its imperfections, in a manner that all the good things we may do we do are not for personal aggrandizement, but rather and most importantly for the glory of God. When we do good, we may feel personal satisfaction, but we do the good to bring us closer in our personal relationship with God. Jesus commanded us in the Gospel of John 15:12-13, “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for a friend.”

In reading the lives of saints you find many different types of personalities and characters throughout history who achieved a personal relationship with Jesus, notwithstanding their vocations in life and the manner in which they conducted themselves. Some were cynical, obnoxious, abusive, headstrong, doubters, adulterers, promiscuous, vicious, neglectful and selfish. Nonetheless, when they turned their thoughts, prayers and actions to God to seek His grace and help, their spiritual lives changed because they sought a purity of heart and a close relationship with Jesus. God works in strange and curious ways to motivate us to witness His divine love. Other saints lived lives of humility, piety, and love of God in all their actions. Yet, we are all sinners in one form or another, and notwithstanding, we are all called to seek perfection. We can be pious and love God and neighbor, but, if pride misdirects our purpose, we may become judgmental of others or take pride in our piety. This could be sinful. To seek the perfection God commands, we may seek forgiveness of our sins, which we can obtain through the sacrament of reconciliation. Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection “He breathe on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit, For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained’ (John 20: 22 – 23.)”. Therefore, our sins do not hinder our journey to seek sainthood – provided we seek forgiveness and remain in God’s love.  Furthermore, in John’s gospel (14:16,17,26 ) Jesus promises to send an Advocate (paraclete) “I shall ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever, that the Spirit of  truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees or knows Him; but you know Him, because He is in you I will not leave you orphans… But the Advocate, The Holy Spirit, whom the Holy Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything I have said to you.” Thus, we are never alone to seek God’s help through the love, wisdom and strength of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus taught, ”But I say this to you; love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of the Father in heaven, for He causes His sun to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as you Father is perfect” (Matt.5:44 – 48). Further, “We can be sure we know God only by keeping His commandments. Anyone who says ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, refusing to admit the truth. But when anyone does obey what He has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him. We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be loving in Him is living the same kind of life Christ lived” (1John 2:3 – 6).

The Second Vatican Council (1962 – 65) taught that the call to holiness is universal, namely, “that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n.40). All humans of whatever religion or lack thereof are called to be saints.

What a wonderful thought!

In this series, we will explore what qualities the Church investigates for in a deceased person’s life that would ultimately conclude that such person is truly a saint in heaven. We will also describe the methodology utilized by the Church to investigate the deceased person’s life and writings in order to prevent error.

What is a Saint?
Continue Reading:

Part 2: What is a Saint? – Purgatory

Part 3: What is a Saint – The Ordinary Phase

Part 4: What is a Saint – The Ordinary Phase Continues

Resources for “What is a Saint?”

The Jerusalem Bible – Reader’s Edition, with abridged introductions and notes, Doubleday, Division of Random House Inc., March 2000, General Editor – Alexander Jones, Nihil Obstat – Lionel Swain S.T.L., L.L.S., Imprimatur – John Cardinal Heenan, Westminster 4 July 1966.

Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Richard P. McBrien, General Editor, Harper San Francisco.

Making Saints, Kenneth L. Woodward, Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Dogmatic Constitution of the Church

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