The Universal Call to be Saints

Dorothy Day, the renowned founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, once said in her later years: “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.” Years after her death, she must be looking down from heaven, chagrined by the sainthood cause initiated for her by the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York. Day was speaking to a common misperception about what it means to be a saint. When asked, most people would say a saint is someone terribly holy and very good, someone who doesn’t sin and doesn’t indulge in the usual vices of humanity. In effect, a person with superhuman powers of goodness — awesome to behold but impossible to emulate.

But that is a caricature of sainthood. In reality, we can all be saints.

On this All Saints Day, it is worth recalling how the Church actually views sainthood. Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, in his book Living God’s Word: Reflections on the Sunday Readings for Year A, observes the following:

“In the New Testament, the term ‘saints’ regularly translates the term for ‘holy ones’. Generally, it refers to Christians in contrast with unbelievers (cf 1 Corinthians 6.2). Paul uses the term ‘saints’ interchangeably with those who are ‘God’s beloved’, all who are ‘called to belong to Jesus Christ’ (Romans 1.6-7). . . .

“In other words, the term ‘the saints’ is an appropriate designation for Christians. The Second Vatican Council reflected this doctrine in its declaration that God’s call to holiness is universal. Sanctity is the vocation of each disciple of Christ.”

So sainthood is both a state of being and a vocation. Saints are sinners in the process of becoming closer to God. This is good news for all of us. The official canon of saints is merely a list of those whose heroic holiness is recognized by the Church. Saints are subject to veneration and, of course, we pray to them to intercede with God on our behalf. Yet they are also role models — human examples of what we can all achieve if we listen to the Good News and abide by the teachings of Jesus.

-Joseph Sinasac,Publishing Director

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