All of us are called to become saints. How do we know? Jesus commanded us: “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy.” (Mt. 5:48) In other words: Become a saint! Most saints have not been officially canonized but are anonymous, unknown except by God alone.
Given that this is a serious command given by Jesus Himself, to be holy, to become a saint, let us briefly highlight ten of the most salient notes or characteristics of the saints. This will serve to motivate each and every one of us to become whom God has called us to be—a saint!
1. Antithesis of Saintliness: Sin
Let us start with the negative. Saints truly detest the one major evil in the world—the reality of sin. Modern culture glamorizes and even promotes sin; the saints fight against it! The motto of Saint Dominic Savio for his First Holy Communion was the following immortal assertion: Death Rather Than Sin!
It is absolutely impossible to come across or read the life of any saint who did not take his prayer life seriously and spend sizable blocks of time dedicated to prayer, which is union and friendship with God. Face it, we can all improve in our prayer lives; we can pray more and we can always pray better. May the Holy Spirit enlighten and inspire us to upgrade our prayer life in our pursuit of holiness.
Saints are truly humble. By humility we mean the following: saints attribute all the good they have done to God who is the origin, author and end of all good. When complimented on any good done, almost spontaneously the saint responds: Thanks be to God!
4. Hunger for Holiness
Authentic saints have a real hunger and thirst for exactly that—holiness, to become a saint. If you like, the saint lives out the first verse of Psalm 42: “As the deer yearns for running waters, so my soul yearns for you, O Lord my God.” A saint admits that he is not a saint but really longs to be a saint one day. This longing, this yearning indeed is half the battle of attaining the crown of holiness, the triumph of winning the crown of saintliness.
Many yearn for money, power, pleasure, success and possessions. Not so for the saint: he yearns to love God fully and totally and unreservedly; he longs to be the saint that God has called him to be!
The saint is motivated to assimilate and to carry out in word and deed the greatest of all the Commandments—the command to love both God and neighbor. If you want to see a graphic image of charity, lift up your eyes to Jesus crucified, Jesus hanging from the cross—there you have a clear image of charity. We are called to love God totally and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
On one occasion, after Thomas Aquinas had achieved enormous accomplishments, Jesus appeared to him and asked the saint what gift he desired most. Immediately Aquinas responded: “Lord, grant me the grace to love you more and more each day.”
Saint John of the Cross asserted: “In the twilight of our existence we will be judged on love.” Saint Francis de Sales adds to this in these words: “The measure with which we should love God is to love Him without measure.”
6. Zeal for the Salvation of Souls
Two saints met, one a youngster, the other a priest. The youngster looked up and saw on the wall a few words written in Latin and he asked the priest what the words were and what they meant. The priest responded by saying that those words were his motto and they were: “Give me souls and take all the rest away.” The priest was Saint John Bosco; the youngster was Saint Dominic Savio.
An authentic saint loves God and loves what God loves—the salvation of immortal souls. One soul is worth more than all of creation in the natural world! The reason for the excruciating pain that Jesus suffered in His Passion and the outpouring of His most Precious Blood on the cross was precisely this: to save immortal souls for all eternity. The stigmata for fifty years of Saint Padre Pio; the 13-18 hours daily in the Confessional in the life of the Cure of Ars, aka Saint John Vianney; the heroic sacrifices of the little children of Fatima; the victimhood of Saint Faustina, had one motivational reason and force: love of God and hunger and thirst for the salvation of souls.
7. Struggling Sinners Who Rise When They Fall
Many have been deceived into an artificial, sugar-sweet, somewhat romantic vision of the saint as exempt from human weaknesses and moral failures. Nothing could be further from the truth! Saints are born sinners. However, a common characteristic of the saint is that upon falling, sinner though he is, he resiliently bounces back; he returns to the Lord through Confession, good will, and a firm purpose of amendment. Venerable Bruno Lanteri taught Nunc Coepi—meaning if we fall, then we must rise immediately and trust all the more in the grace and mercy of the loving Heart of Jesus! No surprise that in the Diary of Saint Faustina, Jesus reminds us that the greatest sinner can be the greatest saint if he trusts fully in the mercy of Jesus.
Venerable Fulton J. Sheen reminds us that the first canonized saint was a murderer, an insurrectionist, and a thief who hung on a cross next to Jesus on Calvary. “Jesus said: ‘Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Lk. 23:43) As Sheen points out: “And he died a thief because he stole heaven.” Read and meditate on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, that can also be termed the Parable of the Merciful Father. (Lk. 15:11-32)
8. Fervent Love for the Source of All Holiness: the Holy Eucharist
The ultimate source of grace, purity, strength and holiness is Jesus Himself. The most efficacious means by which we unite ourselves with Jesus in His Mystical Body is through the Sacraments. The greatest of all the Sacraments is the Most Holy Eucharist for the simple but profound reason that the Eucharist actually is Jesus—His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity! Jesus is the Holy of Holies; He is God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
Though it may sound trivial, there is a real truism behind this one liner: “You become what you eat!” Bad eating habits can produce health problems; good eating habits can contribute to health and longevity.
In a parallel but real sense, when we nourish our souls with the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus with faith, devotion, fervor and love, then we start to think like Jesus, feel like Jesus, act like Jesus, become like Jesus, until we can say with Saint Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20)
9. Open and Docile to the Holy Spirit
Father Jacques Philippe wrote a short masterpiece on this topic with the title “In the School of the Holy Spirit.” In this short but inspiring book, Father Jacques constantly reminds his readers that holiness essentially depends on one basic attitude, action, and plan of life: being docile to the Holy Spirit and His heavenly inspirations. The Holy Spirit speaks gently but insistently to humble and docile souls, guiding them in the proper course of action that leads to holiness of life, that leads them to become the saints that we are all called and destined to become.
Saint Paul reminds us: “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with ineffable groans so that we can call out Abba, Father.” (Rom. 6:26) It is precisely for this reason that Pope Saint John XXIII stated: “The saints are the masterpieces of the Holy Spirit.”
10. Mary and the Saints
Our Lady, Mary most holy, is the Queen of Angels, the Queen of Virgins, the Queen of Confessors, the Queen of Martyrs, the Queen and beauty of Carmel, the Queen of the most Holy Rosary, and finally, Mary is the Queen of all of the Angels and Saints. After he died, Saint Dominic Savio appeared bathed in heavenly glory to Saint John Bosco and told the holy priest what gave him the greatest joy in his short life on earth. It was precisely this: his great love and confidence in the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Dominic ended this encounter with Saint John Bosco exhorting him to spread devotion to Mary to the greatest extent possible.
Mary inspires the saints to pray fervently. Mary inspires the saints to return to God after they sin. Mary encourages the saints to love Jesus with their whole being. Mary’s presence helps the saints to avoid moral dangers. Mary’s maternal and loving presence helps the saints to move from desolation to consolation. For that reason, the saints cry out to Mary in these words: “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope.”
Our final prayer and hope is that all of our readers will become saints and great saints. Our hope and prayer is that all of you will one day be a very precious, resplendent and glorious jewel in the crown of Mary so as to contemplate and praise the Blessed Trinity for all eternity.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us so that we can attain the grace to truly become the saint that God has destined us to become for all eternity. Amen!