The Church’s purpose in declaring women and men throughout the centuries as “saints” is to encourage us to aspire to holiness and to give us models for doing so. But this can present a challenge for many of us. Although we might read the lives of the saints and admire them, most of us cannot imagine ourselves in that sacred circle. St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, wrote “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Paul could have written that same letter to all of us because the Corinthians were struggling to make their faith active in their lives, just as we are.
So, here are some characteristics of the saints, traits that we can all aspire to and qualities that we can embody in our lives. And while we may not have miracles or a feast day ever attributed to us, we can certainly work to live as the saints. All as we celebrate those in our own circle of family and friends who taught us how to be holy amidst our celebration of those saints in the circle of the Church!
All saints are filled with the love of God.
They have chosen God above all others and made a definite commitment to God. In her book Saint Watching (Viking Press), Phyllis McGinley writes that saints are human beings with an added dimension. “They are obsessed by goodness and by God as Michelangelo was obsessed by line and form, as Shakespeare was bewitched by language, Beethoven by sound.”
All saints love other human beings.
It cannot be any other way. In the First Letter of John (4:20) we read: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” McGinley also says that, although saints may be different in many ways, they are always generous. You will never find a stingy saint.
All saints are risk-takers.
When God called, they answered. For some it was taking a chance on a new way of life in a new place. Others found their calling in a quiet, reserved life, far away from the center of activity. Others, whose names are not well-known, lived simple lives among their families and friends, serving God with all their hearts, but never making a splash in the world. Regardless of their circumstances, all the saints took the risk of stepping out in faith to do what God asked of them.
The saints are humble, willingly and lovingly attributing to God all that they have and all that they will ever be.
Humility has always had a poor press; many people think that humility means saying derogatory things about oneself. Far from it! The saints showed their humility by using whatever gifts they had to perfection, but never attributing these gifts to themselves. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas were brilliant men and they did not go around saying how stupid they were. They did acknowledge, however, that all they knew was as nothing compared to the infinite wisdom of God.
Saints are people of prayer.
Some, especially members of religious orders, had entire days of prayer. Others found their time with God in other ways. Dorothy Day, not canonized but recognized by many as a truly holy person, started her day with prayer but said that she met God daily in the crowds of the poor who came to her hospitality house. None of the saints saw prayer as a waste of time or as an activity for only the weak or naive.
The saints are not perfect.
Each of the saints had human flaws and faults. They made mistakes. Even at the end of their lives, they still found themselves in need of contrition, pardon and reconciliation. St. Jerome, it is said, had a fearful temper. St. Aloysius was the kind of saint who did not seem to know how to enjoy the things of this life. Some saints misunderstood their own visions. When St. Francis was told to rebuild the Church, and at first he thought it meant the local church building. It is interesting and amusing to note that Jesus did not clarify the request for him until after he had exerted a lot of sweat and energy repairing an old church.
If we look at the lives of all the saints, we can certainly find faults. Far from discouraging us, this can give us courage. Perfection is not what we are striving for, unless it is as perfect a love as possible. And this is the call to holiness that we all have because we are disciples of the Lord.