Have you wanted to be a Saint, but not known exactly what that even means or practically looks like? Me too!
That's what this article is all about - what I grew up kind of knowing, in vague ways, about the title of "Saint" in the Catholic Church, how I perceived the best way to become one, and then how I needed to unlearn some misconceptions I formed about this topic and learn what sanctity is all about.
I first learned about Saints in the amazing home parish I grew up in. When I learned about the Saints (capital "S" Saints, the canonized people!), I had a burning desire to be as holy and virtuous as them. Some examples of Saints are Pope John Paul II, Mother Theresa, St. Rose of Lima, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Paul, St. Peter, and more. They lived adventurous lives full of love for others, and their stories inspired me to live like them.
Lately, I've been able to reflect about how the enemy takes many of my heart's pure desires and twists the desires just enough to help entangle me in various sins of pride, despair, etc. regarding said desires. The enemy saw my desire to be a Saint (for pure intentions of being as holy as Jesus Christ, Our Lord, wants us to be for the sake of glorifying God the Father) and totally twisted it.
The enemy helped me think I needed to practice extreme asceticism, like my patron saint St. Rose of Lima did, to be a Saint.
The enemy helped me think I needed to be a Saint overnight, not grow into holiness as I mature into my faith in God and in practicing virtue with time. This made me feel stressed and mad at myself for not being super holy right away. This stress and anxiety became an obstacle in between God's love for me and my receptivity of that love.
Due to lack of knowledge about married Saints or Saints who weren't married or in the religious life (like the kid Saints!), the enemy also encouraged me to think that almost all saints were a part of the religious life (nuns, monks, priests, consecrated virgins, etc.). Therefore, I thought the best path to sanctity was through the avenues of asceticism and religious life. This has made me think that my call to marriage wasn't good enough. Marriage is a great vocation, and any path that God chooses for you is the best path to help you grow closer to Jesus Christ and in holiness.
Because I hadn't done my research into the GREAT VARIETY and DiVerSE community of Saints, I hadn't realized that God wants Saints of all ages, abilities, talents, because He wants every single one of us to be utterly transformed and transfigured in His love and grace, which elevates our natural states to a more pure, holy, and God-like state of being us. I hadn't learned in my early years about all the married saints (ex: Louis and Zelie Martin, St. Therese of Liseiux's parents), the kids who became saints (ex: Maria Gorietti), and all the ways that you can be pious, holy, and virtuous without practicing any form of asceticism.
Heck, after a while, I forgot the difference between undercase "s" saints and uppercase "S" Saints.
I'm not sure how much you know about Saints, saints, and the Catholic Church's canonization process and view of said Saints, so let's talk about what it's really all about. Then we'll all understand more about it AND (BONUS) feel more confident that we know what's happening if the subject is ever brought up in a conversation!
First, what is a Saint?
"Defining Saints in the Catholic Church" by the Dummies.com website was a very useful and fun read. Let me quote them for you below:
The Catholic Church believes that saints are ordinary and typical human beings who made it into heaven. In the broader sense, everyone who's now in heaven is technically a saint. Saints are human beings who lived holy lives in obedience to God's will and are now in heaven for eternity. The classification or title of saint, however, is a spiritual pronouncement that the faithful can be morally certain that this particular person is indeed in heaven; prayers to and from the saint are considered efficacious.
Remember: In the Catholic Church, only after death can someone be called a saint, even though while alive the person lived a saintly, holy life. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, for example, who was revered around the world by people of every religion, couldn't be given the title of saint until after her death and only after a thorough investigation of her life and only after what the Church believes to be some undisputed miracles that took place through her intercession.
Catholic devotion to the saints is nothing more than respect and admiration for the memory of the deceased heroes of the Church. Just as a society honors its dead who helped make the world a better place while they were alive, Catholics honor saints.
Remember: Saints aren't born saints. Saints are born sinners in the state of original sin and were sinners throughout their lives. Saints are ordinary people. They weren't born with a halo around their head, and they didn't glow in the dark. What separated them from those who weren't given the title is that saints never gave up and never stopped trying to be and do better.
Instead of seeing or portraying saints as superheroes, Catholicism wants to present them as just heroes — ordinary people who made it to heaven. The idea is that if they could do it, so can you.
I am so grateful that this post was made by the Dummies people because it is a great, simple, true, and straightforward summary of what Catholics think about the saints and Saints.
I hope that's a good, firm foundation for the rest of this article, which will talk about how the beatification and canonization process works.
Second - how does the Church decide who is canonized as a Saint?
Beatification and canonization is the process by which a person moves to sainthood in the Catholic Church.
This process has changed over the years. I'm not smart enough to explain it well, which is why I will refer you to other websites that explain it better than I ever could! But here is my brief summary:
In the early history of the Church, a martyr for God AND/OR a person who lived a very holy life was usually declared a Saint by the masses of faithful Christians without much investigation. In the medieval part of Church history, this process became more formal and included more of a "trial" investigation with the person in question's local bishop and the Pope. Starting in the early 1900s, the process for beatification and canonization took on a more "investigation by research and writing" mode, which still continues today in the modern era. The beautification and canonization process has been simplified and streamlined thanks to a couple of Popes, but most notably Pope John Paul II (who is now declared a Saint by the Church). All of the information in this paragraph was taken from the first resource I will point you towards, which is the link below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQgx6cTIDLc - "How Does One Become a Saint?" by Breaking in the Habit, created in March 2019.
If you have time, I'd like it if you read the following article about the "Devil's Advocate" role in the canonization process.
This was an official position that existed in the Catholic Church from 1587 til 1983, but the tradition (not an official position) of having a "Devil's Advocate" is still alive and well in the canonization process of the Catholic Church. The reason why Pope Sixtus V established this position in 1587 was to help make sure someone a part of the canonization process would have the job to call into question the person's saintliness.
It's a terrific article and doesn't take long to read - I think you'll enjoy it! The link is below, along with the article name:
https://allthatsinteresting.com/devils-advocate-origin - "The Origin Of The Term 'The Devil's Advocate' Is More Literal Than You Think" by All That's Interesting, written in 2018.
If you want a very historical view of this process, check out the following Catholic Encyclopedia excerpt about Beautification and Canonization. It's a bit hard to read, though (very sophisticated language and lots of historical facts you get to sift through)
Third - sooooooo how should we all think about canonized Saints?
Below are my main take aways:
Saints are sinners who lived holy lives full of heroic virtue and have been recognized by the Catholic Church as people who are definitely in heaven. Saints are able to pray and intercede for us on earth in amazing ways. The title of "Saint" is not given away cheaply - thorough investigations are made usually for many years to make sure this person truly falls under the definition of Saint (capital "S"). People who are canonized as Saints never stopped being sinners on earth - they weren't totally free from sin, but they were VERY holy. The Saints did not receive this title until after they died and the process of canonization was completed. No one ever receives this title while they are alive.
Catholics look up to Saints as role models, people who can effectively intercede for us from heaven, and their lives inspire us to be holy and united to Christ just like they were.
Being in right relationship with God the Holy Trinity ourselves and drawing others into that relationship is our goal as Christians. Saints made their whole lives about glorifying God with everything they did - whether it was serving the poor, being a mother, or being a child martyr. Learning the stories of these holy men and women inspires all that it IS POSSIBLE to be holy like Christ. They are examples that Christ's grace and love really can make us "new creations in Christ."
If you want to learn more about the Saints canonized in the Catholic Church, I suggest listening to the podcast Saint Stories for Kids (it has a teal logo) OR looking at the following list of canonized saints: https://mycatholic.life/saints/#TOC-A
Both resources above will be quick and easy ways to get to know the Saints!
I prefer the Saint Stories for Kids because they tell the background story of the Saint, one or more funny/holy moments from their life, and how their story relates to how we should approach God/life. They do this all in 5 - 8 minutes.
Let's start living our lives with more abandon and total surrender to the Love of Jesus Christ. Let's trust more that if we cooperate with His Grace, we will become the disciple of Christ we are called to be.
Our goal is to be holy in, with, and through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit for the glory of God the Father, not for the sake of the title of "Saint."
But that title wouldn't be bad if we truly were deemed worthy of it after we died ;) (winky face)