Misconceptions about Saints

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Many people, including Catholics, have misconceptions about the saints. Consider the following incidents:

A journalist interviews the producer of a musical play about the life of St. Lorenzo Ruiz, who, having been in trouble with the law, escaped his native Philippines to Japan where he is eventually martyred for his faith. The producer explains that although historical records are not clear on whether St. Lorenzo Ruiz committed murder he was accused of, the play takes the position that he did. The journalist asks, “But how is that possible? He is a saint!”

During a conversation over lunch about sundry topics, someone casually asks, “How many saints are there?” Another replies, “Millions,” and is not believed.

The invited guest speaker at a talk organized by the PTA of a Catholic school exhorts the parents in the audience to encourage their children to read about the lives of the saints so as to have positive role models. The audience laughs.

Indeed, many think 1) that the only saints are those who are canonized, and 2) that those who do get canonized are otherworldly freaks. But the reality is different.

According to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the term “communion of saints” refers to

“the communion between holy persons (sancti); that is, between those who by grace are united to the dead and risen Christ. Some are pilgrims on the earth; others, having passed from this life, are undergoing purification and are helped also by our prayers. Others already enjoy the glory of God and intercede for us. All of these together form in Christ one family, the Church, to the praise and glory of the Trinity.”

In other words, the term “saints” encompasses the church triumphant (all the souls in heaven), the church suffering (the souls in purgatory), and the church militant (those of us who are still on earth, aiming at sanctity). The saints whose statues are displayed in church are saints, but so are everyone’s deceased relatives and friends who have gone to heaven or purgatory.

Corollary to this is that canonization is not what makes a person a saint. It is merely a public recognition that someone is already a saint. While the Church canonizes hundreds of saints, there are millions more of saints who, though unrecognized, are nevertheless just as eligible for canonization – including people you and I have lived or worked with.

Indeed, the saints are human beings like you and me. While they were on earth, they had the same joys, sorrows, weaknesses, and problems that you and I have. They may even have committed great sins during their lifetime, repented, sinned again, and repented again. Amidst all of these, they sought the will of God and struggled heroically to fulfill it – and have gone ahead of us to show us that yes, with the grace of God, we can do it too.

This is the point of the feast with which we have begun this month – to honor all the saints, canonized or not, and to prod us to strive for sanctity ourselves. We are reminded that God wants us to be saints, and the pursuit of sanctity – even in this age of iPods and Facebook – is possible for everyone.

The universal call to sanctity is challenging. At the same time, it is a message of hope. As St. Josemaria Escriva put it,

“The saints were not abnormal beings: cases to be studied by a ‘modernistic’ doctor. They were — they are — normal: of flesh, like yours. And they won.”

Cristina Montes

Cristina Montes

Cristina Montes, from the Philippines, is a lawyer, writer, amateur astronomer, a gardening enthusiast, a voracious reader, a karate brown belter, an avid traveler, and a lover of birds, fish, rabbits, and horses. She is a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan who reads the entire trilogy once a year. She is the eldest daughter in a large, happy Catholic family.

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5 thoughts on “Misconceptions about Saints”

    1. Avatar

      Hi, Anna Rose! Thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, the Church does not oppose severe penances IF approved by a spiritual director and IF done in the right spirit (i.e., a genuine desire to do penance as opposed to spiritual pride at being able to do arduous things.) But yes, these severe penances are not advisable for everyone, and more importantly, they are NOT, in themselves, what make the saints, saints. Small penances done with great love can be worth more in the eyes of God than self-flagellation.

  1. Pingback: Top Five Catholic Novels - BigPulpit.com

  2. Avatar

    Hi Crissy,
    A nice article for these times. Thanks!
    A friend riding a taxi suggested to the driver to take a particular route. The driver
    asked, ‘Sir, is that Waze? How many minutes? …. then.. ok we will take that

    The taxi driver knows how important timely information is in making quick and hard decisions and not just basing on what you see in front of you. While sitting in traffic, it is so inviting to turn into a seemingly empty road. From
    experience, he knows what can happen if he does not believe the data of the
    social network. He therefore believes and follows. He is thankful for the data gathered from hundreds in social network several times a day for helping him choose the lesser traffic routes, avoid areas with accidents and even avoid policemen.

    The social network is useful in making us learn from the mistakes of many others and therefore gain the advantage for our own lives.

    Then, let us also be thankful for the millions of saints up there, whose lives
    can show us the better routes to heaven! (Not to be misled by what we see in front of us.)

    The saints in heaven want us to learn from their mistakes and learn from their
    lives, especially now that they are face to face with the very Purpose of our
    God bless.
    Tito Bing

    1. Avatar

      Hi, Tito Bing! Nice to see you on this website. Great analogy between the communion of saints and the social network. Indeed, with the communion of saints, we have a spiritual social network.

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