In our ministry, whether it is in Religious Education, RCIA or with Youth it is crucial that we communicate that being a saint is attainable with God’s help. Helping others see the heroic virtue of saints is very important but it needs also to be seen as attainable to reach verses something that is not possible for the average Catholic. Butler’s Lives of the Saints is a wonderful contribution to the Catholic but if he had a flaw it was that the saints were completely flaw-less and totally perfect from head to foot. Reading his book is inspiring but it can also be a little discouraging because most of the people that read it realize they are not perfect and have not yet come close to the perfect that he speaks about.
Lucy Fuchs wrote an article for St. Anthony Messenger and came up with 7 characteristics of the saints that we can imitate.
Seven Characteristics of the Saints
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. In the Old Testament, we have the example of Abraham, called at an old age to leave his country and to go to the place God had selected for him. Even today, it is difficult for older people to leave their level of comfort and to face the new and unknown.
Abraham’s story is a marvelous example of trust in God, but even more so of a decision to plunge into the unknown. Like Abraham, saints responded to the graces that were given to them. Some were called to be popes, bishops, abbots or abbesses. Others found their calling in a quiet, reserved life, far away from the center of activity.
St. Julian of Norwich lived in a small cell attached to a church. She was even walled in, but that did not keep people away; they came to her and asked for her spiritual advice.
St. Catherine of Siena lived at home, not in a convent, as a person dedicated to God. People flocked to her, but not because she wanted them to.
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.
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. When another scholar of his time, a former friend, Rufinus, questioned his conclusions, St. Jerome wrote pamphlet after pamphlet blasting him.
St. Aloysius apparently had bad timing in his spiritual quest; the other novices were just as happy when he was not there. He 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, 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.
St. Joan of Arc was coerced into signing a retraction of her visions, although she later retracted that retraction.
St. John Vianney, “the Curé of Ars,” did not believe the children of La Salette concerning their visions of the Virgin Mary.
During the time of the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy at the end of the 14th century and beginning of the 15th, when one pope resided in Avignon and another pope in Rome, saints found themselves on opposite sides of the rival popes, as confused as many of the common people were.
The saints are people of their times.
One wonders how anyone escapes being of his or her time. There were injustices around the saints that they did not speak out against. St. Paul did not condemn slavery but encouraged slaves to obey their masters. St. Thomas Aquinas considered women unequal to men. He believed their only task in life was to bear children.
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.
What characteristics would you add? How do you motivate your students or those you catechize to be holy and respond to their vocation to be a saint?