What is a saint (and why should we care)?

Take a good look at the person sitting next to you on the train, in the pew beside you or walking by you and texting.

Have you ever thought, even for a nanosecond, that this person could be a saint?  I know that I haven’t.

What is a saint & what do they do?

  • Saints, in Christianity, have been present since the first days of the community.  In his letter to the Philippians (1:1), Paul refers to the saints living in that city:  “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  (The New American Bible)
  • I would say that a saint is anyone that has died in God’s friendship, better known as the state of grace.
  • However, when most of us think of a saint we think of individuals like St. Pope John XXIII or Saint Hubertus or Saint Eustace; i.e. individuals that have been canonized, officially enrolled in the Roman Martyrology, after undergoing an often lengthy and exhaustive process of investigation of their lives, their writings, their preaching, etc.

How did they “become” a saint & what about me?

  • Some saints lived lives of extreme mortification and self – denial; see Simeon Stylites (He’s a very interesting individual).
  • Some saints were important members of the hierarchy; see Ambrose.
  • Some saints, quite valiantly, gave themselves over to be beaten, abused, and, eventually, quite gruesomely martyred; see Jean de Brébeuf.
  • Some saints were important and influential thinkers; see Basil of Caesarea.
  • Some saints founded important religious orders; see Vincent de Paul.
  • Some saints were reformers of established religious orders; see Teresa of Avila.
  • Some saints were very simple individuals; see Joseph of Cupertino.

The one “thing”, the one trait, that they all had in common, that I can see, was: they all lived lives of heroic virtue.  What does this mean?  I think it means that these myriad individuals took the message of Christ to heart, really took it inwards, and then sent it outwards, without regard for their own personal safety, regard or reputation.

Why are they important?

Saints are important for so many reasons:

  • Saints can help us see how we should live our Christian faith as an adult. See someone like Ignatius of Loyola.
  • Saints can be role models for us so that we can pattern our behavior after theirs. See someone like Augustine of Hippo
  • Saints can help us to see it’s a journey. See someone like John of the Cross.
  • Saints can show us that living out our faith may not be as difficult as we would like to think, that being a Christian may not involve great gestures but the “little way”. See someone like Thérèse of Lisieux.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, saints can help us to see that we are all called to holiness.  As The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

 “he learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary; he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it; he discovers it in the spiritual tradition and long history of the saints who have gone before him and whom the liturgy celebrates in the rhythms of the sanctoral cycle.” (#2030)


As I wrote at the beginning of this short essay:  take a good look at the person sitting next to you on the train, in the pew beside you or walking by you and texting.  You may never know.



The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  New York: Doubleday Press, 1997.

The New American Bible. The Vatican, 06 Nov. 2002.  Web. 16 Oct. 2014. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM>

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