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.