Life holds one tragedy – not to have been a saint

Almost a year ago, I posted under this same heading – in response to those who felt impelled to explain to the Church who could, and who couldn’t be called a saint. In that article, I was addressing those who think that a saint is someone who shows perfect judgement, and who behaves perfectly in all circumstances, throughout their lives.

Contrast that idea with the behaviour of these heroes and heroines of the Church. Perfect judgement and lifelong perfect behaviour are clearly not the criteria!

So what is a saint? In a broad sense: anyone who accepts Jesus as saviour and tries to serve him. But in the narrower sense that we usually use the term – especially on this Feast of All Saints – a saint is a person who has already entered heaven. In heaven, as part of the Church Triumphant, as companions and friends of Jesus, they support us with their prayers.

We recognise as saints those who have lived lives of heroic virtue, who have died, and whose continued action in this world is shown because prayers addressed care of them are answered. Many of them have their own feast day during the year. On the Feast of All Saints, we remember and give thanks for all the others; for the anonymous saints whose lives were hidden, and humble, and holy.

Our Church teaches that not all of the saved are immediately ready for heaven. Many, if not most, of us need a period of purification – the Church calls that waiting time/place Purgatory. And tomorrow, on the Feast of All Souls, we’ll support them with our prayers. They, too, are part of the communion of saints (in the broader sense), as are we.

Saints, in all their diversity, remind us that it is possible to be holy. Being a saint is what we’re for. Being a saint is our ordinary and expected destiny – even if it takes a detour through Purgatory to make the grade; the alternative to being a saint is being damned.

Life holds one tragedy; not to have been a saint.


About joyfulpapist

JoyfulPapist is an adult convert to Catholicism, with a passion for her God, her faith, and her church.
This entry was posted in Catholic Lives, Church History, Church Politics, Saints and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Life holds one tragedy – not to have been a saint

  1. Anne Mansfield says:

    Dear JP, A biography of Saint Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset might interest you for all sorts of reasons, not least because the author was a Norwegian Catholic, a rare breed.

    Certainly St. C of S would be a rare breed now. All her efforts — including many diplomatic ones during the Avignon scandal and involving the Guelphs — were inspired by her total love for Jesus
    Christ and the blood that poured from Him during His Passion.

    One hopes that your remark that the alternative to being a saint is to be damned is not written in all seriousness. Sadly. Although today there may be more potential saints than we are aware of — certainly I rejoice in the better than v. good people I come across — we live in awkward times.

    God bless you. And the rest of us. St. Catherine of S was keen on mercy.


  2. joyfulpapist says:

    Thank you, Anne, I’ll look for that book. When I said that one could be a saint or damned, I mean in terms of ultimate destination. I’m taking the narrow definition of ‘saint’ (as meaning a person who has already entered heaven) to its logical conclusion. In the eternal scheme of things there are only those two choices. Purgatory is finite. It will come to an end, and the souls in Purgatory will enter Heaven. We may not be saints in this life (I know I’m not), but our ultimate destination is either Heaven or Hell.


  3. manus says:

    Sigrid Undset was a remarkable character in several respects. A Norwegian Catholic, for one thing, as Anne says. A Nobel Prize winner (Literature, 1928) for another. And a strangely modern figure, who “converted [to Catholicism] because her disasterous marriage opened her eyes to what it really means for a woman to be a mother and to what children really are, being created by God for an eternal destiny”, according to the a biography by Stanley K Jaki (Sigrid Undset’s Quest for Truth, Real View Books, ISBN978-0-9790577-6-2).

    Toad won’t like her as she translated Chesterton into Norwegian. Naughty Sigrid!


  4. manus says:

    My ‘disasterous’ spelling speaks for itself.


  5. Anne Mansfield says:

    I am not sure that the rather controversial but not doubt a good man and scholar, Stanley Jaki,
    is the only source from which to learn about Sigrid Undset, although I will look up his book.
    There are other monographs, courtesy of the internet, some stuffed with feminism, alas.
    However, I did find a piece in the off again NOW on again CRISIS magazine — one of the contributors is Michael Novak — which I did not finish but which seemed promising.

    S Undset, novels, perhaps the Kristin Landesdtter (sp?)trilogy are worth reading.

    Thanks for the information about Chesterton In Norwegian. Perhaps, in a worldly way, GKS’s
    wonders never cease.

    To continue the Scandinavian theme, I noticed that there were more than a few Scandinavian
    signatures to the “In Defense of Summorum Pontificorum” that went the rounds several months ago.

    PS Thank you, JP. for your definition of a saint “in the broad sense”.


  6. manus says:

    Hi Anne,

    Of course there are many sources, but it was from Jaki’s writings that I heard of Undset. I am a big fan of Jaki, but he has always struck me as very orthodox, with excellent if sometimes scathing scholarship on the relationship between science and religion, and somewhat overlooked. Is he controversial? – pray tell more!




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