Just what is a Saint?


In a recent thread people were discussing mystical ascenticism. The writings of St Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, who are examples of God’s mystic handiwork, were used to control the parameters of Mysticism. The persons using the inspired writings were creating a state of rigid pettiness in just what is real mystical events.

It seems that we have some how anointed these inspired writings with some type of dogmatic properties. Thereby, giving their opinions and observations credit far beyond the value that the official Church does. All saints and all their opinions are just opinions. There may be truth in their opinions as there may be in anyones opinions but all their opinions are not correct because they are saints.

When the child visionaries of LaSallete were being transported to a place for questioning concerning their visions in La Sallete they passed through Ars. St John Michael Vianney the Cure of Ars invited them to remain for dinner and after dinner spent time with the children and questioned them himself. After they left the Cure was asked what his opinion was and St John Vianney said that the children were so ordinary and common showing no outward sign of personal holiness and devotion that he himself would have grave doubt concerning the authenticity of the vision. Of course he was in error for the visions were approved by Our Holy Mother the Church.

What I am trying to point out is the small rigid perception of the mystical life going on within our church has somehow been fenced off by the writings of St Theresa and St John which I for one do not believe was their intention. People we live in a world where in the entire history of this world there has never been two snowflakes that were identical. We are not just uniquely identifiable but unrepeatable universes within ourselves.

God is not bound by the rigid parameters that people may set up after reading the inspirational writings of saints. A saints authority on any subject outside of quoting church teaching is just as dogmatic as my barbers, or any teenager it is entirely personal observations not dogmatic teaching. For example I know of no dogma concerning what is one type of vision or another or whether a locution is heard with our human ear or some inner voice heard loud and clear but without the use of our bodily ears. So to those who hear and see the wonders of God allow yourself to be directed where possible by a good spiritual director but remember that even his opinions are just opinions it must be his or her actual good will you rely on.

I have read the lives of many saint but the holiest person I ever met or heard of was never and will never be canonized. This person worked as many 1st degree miracles as any saint, she multiplied food at least a hundred times by her own admission she had the invisible sigmata, she had a window in front of her and could see the past present and future. In fact she told me 10-11 months before John Paul 2 was shot in Rome that he would be shot and described to me the entire sceen she witnessed and when I saw the video a year later when it became a reality it was as she described including the lay victims. She prayed 150 decades of the rosary a day and had raised eleven children. She did not attract the attention of the Church. Her wisdom was a great as any saint and I was privileged to have her as my first spiritual director. She would never of even heard of the term locution. She lived it. Being a chosen soul and mystic does not come with a manual of instructions you just find your way and do your best.


That’s exactly the point.

This life has no manuals. We can only hope to live the best that we can. To answer your topic question, a saint is someone who we know for sure is in Heaven. We see this through evidence on how they lived their lives. Were they a good Christian? A good role model? Someone you’d have been proud to support? They’re people that lived their lives to the best of their abilities, and made it to the top. Now, the Church needs proof of this, which is why they ask for miracles. They also know that it’s something that is difficult to achieve without having active participation in Church life and ministries, and without having learned so much about the faith, so they look for someone who is well known in the Church, and who may have been in a position to have learned so much, like a nun or priest.

Other than that, the saints were just as human as you or I.


Actually, the purported “mysticism” is not really mysticism but the contemplative life. Mysticism in Catholicism means mystical union with Jesus Christ: the Mystical Body, mystical marriage, etc. Mysticism is Christocentric, not man-centered.

False mysticism is a mysticism of miracles and signs, of false humility and disobedience, of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. It dose not have all these marks, though. Sometimes it only has one or two. False mysticism is man-centered, it honors the person rather than God in the person. An example of false mysticism would be the so-called “holiest person” you ever met, Mandate.


My dear friend

Eucharisted makes some good points again. I don’t know where he learns all this for a 23 y.o. layman. Sounds like an old priest.

I agree with you that the path to sanctity is unique for each, as each person is unique. We can learn a lot from the Saints as they are the most reliable source of info we have apart from the Pope and dogmas etc. Whilst Saints possess great wisdom due to an overdose of grace and the Holy Spirit they can be wrong. But if we use their examples we can learn the path to sanctity, allowing for the fact that no two Saints are the same. So we will not be the same. They are meant to inspire us. With the writings you mention they are very good but not an exact path. The path will vary for each person. Thank you for raising this and pray for me please.

God bless you dear friend:thumbsup::slight_smile:



You can find pretty much anything Catholic on vatican.va

Also, meditation is a great way to learn.


In a very simple way, a saint is someone who is called to holiness and responds with the power of his/her complete soul . I ask you to consider an anecdote that Thomas Merton relates in The Seven Story Mountain when he first encounters the thought of becoming a Saint from his friend Robert Lax.

One of the real moments of my conversion was realizing that Saints were not so different from myself. Once you get over that distance between yourself and Sainthood, becoming Catholic turns into a real adventure. Thinking of yourself as a Saint and keeping a straight face is a challenge though.

I’ve tried to capture some of that here between telling the Merton story, some Fr. Barron comments on it and Ralph Martin’s writings in his book “Called to Holiness.”


In Christ,



nobody was ever canonized a saint because they had mystical visions or experiences, they were canonized because they were martyred or otherwise in the life displayed consistent, heroic virtue and fidelity to the Gospel.

the rules for discerning such perceived experiences has been throughout Church history, as described in the writings of Teresa and John, and other classic spiritual directors, to submit them to the authority of one’s confessor or spiritual director, and if they seem to contain a message intended for a wider audience, to the authority of one’s bishop. Those saints stated that consistent teaching clearly and vociferously because they lived in an age abounding in spurious mystics who were inflicting grave damage on the Church. Their counsel was orthodox and valuable then and remains so.

establishing a blog or website to disseminate and discuss aspects of one’s personal spiritual life does not make one a mystic, either.

Leave off aspiring to mystical experiences, and aspire instead to holiness. Take up your cross daily and follow Christ through regular prayer, Mass, frequent recourse to the sacraments, works of penance and mercy, and fidelity to the duties of your state in life.


We are saints because we are a holy nation. But we are not yet holy ourselves. We strive to be true saints, e.g., holy people. In the sense, I believe, a saint is a sinner who has turned to God away from sin with trust in His Mercy. Not in the sense of a true saint but in the sense of response to God, like what Djeter said: “In a very simple way, a saint is someone who is called to holiness and responds with the power of his/her complete soul.” Those who do not respond, those who live in sin, are not saints, yet are called to sainthood, to holiness, for all are called to God, who is Holiness. We are created in His Image and Likeness, so let us be holy! If we do not, than we are not really saints but only fooling ourselves, even if we are members of the Church.


You must also remember 2 miracles after a persons death are required and they are studied, and must be verified by people who would understand if a true miracle took place

It is an arduous process and can take centuries…People can claim anything proof is another matter


Yep! The Church is patient in all matters :slight_smile:


Gee, I hope that wasn’t directed to my post Annie. Did you actually read the link I posted before writing that? It contains nothing of my personal spiritual life but makes a very powerful point through quotes from John Paul II, Thomas Merton and others. Not all saints are canonized by the Church and I’m not at all sure the connection between saints and “mystics.”

I was rephrasing the anecdote that Merton relates about himself and Robert Lax.



Whoah . . . hold it! The two saints you just referred to are “Doctors of the Church”! According to our Holy Mother Church, therefore, their opinions are NOT just opinions! Also, Pope Benedict XVI says that the saints are the proper interpreters of Scripture. St. John of the Cross used scripture quotations throughout his “Ascent to Mount Carmel,” to describe the “parameters” of the mystical life.

If you want to live against their teaching, this is dangerous. Stick with what’s safe and avoid what is dodgy.

Also, the Church has warned against Eastern mysticism and New Age practice. So if you’re feeling tempted by those, remember there are official warnings against them and by pursuing these forms of mysticism, you’d be acting in a way that’s contrary to every legitimate spiritual authority.

To be canonized a saint, a person or group of people has to set up the “cause of canonization,” as I think it’s called. The Church then performs rigorous examinations of the person’s history, analyzing their faith walk, their orthodoxy, and whether or not they lived lives of “heroic virtue.” There is an extremely high bar. Many real saints will never be canonized because the material evidence is inconclusive or they were so humble that they just never showed up on anyone’s radar. Or people greatly admired them but never set up their “cause of canonization.”

The fact that there are undoubtedly saints in Heaven like this does not undermine the rightful authority of those people the Church has offered us as examples of how to live our lives of faith.

Be VERY wary of straying from saints that the Church has set up as examples and guides for our lives! St. Paul writes that they are a “cloud of witnesses” for us, and the Church canonizes them in part to give us people to look to as examples of how to live our lives. The Church has approved that their teachings are orthodox and contain nothing heretical. They are lights, brilliant lights! So are many other true Christians around us day to day; we live in a Living Body, not one in which the living parts are all in Heaven and we’re dead here on Earth. It’s worthwhile to pay attention to the wisdom of Christians surrounding us. However, the teachings of all the canonized saints and especially the Doctors of the Church (such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross) should be held in special reverence.

:thumbsup: Yes, exactly! That is the way of the Spirit.

mandateman, if this spiritual director was leading you to seek mystical experiences, that’s a danger sign, and if she was guiding you away from the teaching of the Doctors of the Church, that’s a big danger sign.

I strongly recommend you look for a spiritual director who will direct you toward what puzzleannie just described.


As has been explained to me (thanks EWTN, several host) a Saint is nothing more than someone who is now actually in heaven. Cannonized Saints are those souls whom we on earth are sure, are in heaven.


“A Saint is a sinner who never stopped trying” and there are many who are not formally canonized. We celebrate them on All Saints Day. Perhaps your holy friend will be among them some day! As for not being right about some things (Cure and the visionaries)? Saints are holy, not all knowing. :slight_smile:


I agree with MM that mystical experiences can’t be bound by any hard and fast rules because if God’s the author, who can bind Him? But there’s an awful lot of commonality in the experiences of those whom the Church accepts as valid mystics and much to be learned from them concerning how God may work in a person and how they should practice discernment especially. And yes, He can grant these experiences to common, sinful folk, for His purposes. But, I tend to believe, these are always people who have hearts that are hungry for and oriented towards Him and will probably end up as saints one way or the other when all is said and done.

Anyway, I look at a saint first and foremost as one the Church has recognized as having gained eternal life-something we all aspire to and many before us have obtained regardless of whether or not recognition’s been given.


They also are shining examples for how we should live our lives! The Church canonizes them partly so we know to appeal for their intercession and partly to give us more examples for what to believe and how to live. It is particularly important to heed the teachings of the Doctors of the Church, for the teachings these saints have been given the Church’s special blessing.


The person I described as the holiest person I ever met, had all the other outward signs of holiness. Virtues in an emminent degree. But here with less then one paragraph speaking about some of their special gifts which were shared by many saints she is condemned as false by self appointed electronic judges of a persons sanctity without any knowledge of the person.

I ask myself how is it anyone could immediately condemn someone as a false person and question their obedience without knowing them. Just to let you know when anyone jumps to conclusions based on insufficienct evidence that is the sin of Rash Judgement. Rash Judgement mostly shows a great lack of Charity. As exhibited by one responder. But this is not uncommon within the realm of intranet spirituality.

Perhaps people who spend their time reading about faith and holiness and discussing faith and holiness often never develop the practice of living faith and holiness.

Faith without works is dead. Knowledge without Spirit is dead. No saint would have made this assumtion against a real human person based on my statement about the holy person without personal knowledge of the individual. Calling someone a false mystic who has multiplied food 100s of times, prophesied often accurately worked hundreds of other miracles, spent a lifetime of 80+ years in prayer and service all attested to by everyone that knew her is perhaps not the best choice a Christian could make. It is so easy in todays world where we seem not to recognise that even electronic blogs are acts. Whether these actions are made with or without thought what we are doing is condemning someone using today’s electronic judgement arena while assuming that God would not be offended. Perhaps people believe that we cannot be guilty of sins against charity or of defaming a holy person just by texting. This shows that even among serious Christians our practice of faith and our perception of God is still wanting.

The reason I point out this isolated statement is to demonstrate a common thread in life where most Catholic people spend most of their lives, living their spirituality in thirds. It is all about knowledge, all about love or all about spirit. Any virtue when practiced exclusively leads to error. While all these virtues are necessary the truth is they must all be practiced together in a balanced character. Very few people achieve this until late in life. That is why we often think of older people as wiser. But they have just finally combined these three virtues, some obviously better then others. Those we call saints present all three virtues together normally with charity in the lead.


Oh I never meant to suggest otherwise, I was mearly offering the simplest and most concise answer to the question. I did so in part, because it truely helps explain what exactly the church means when it says “you should all be striving for sainthood”. Yes we should look up to them as role models, yes we should pray for their intercession, NO, we should never think of them as something speacial that we can not be :slight_smile: We can, and should be saints.

In fact just last week i went over all this with my CCD class :slight_smile:


I measure a saint by the measure of the Church: Heroic acts of charity. Miracles and signs are not what makes you holy. If they were, many Saints would be frauds.


Greetings again! I think that Saints canonized were “common sinners” on earth. I have read Elizabeth Seton’s journals (pricy things!) and came to that conclusion. Hence, I said All Saints Day. Many Catholics were taught to put Saints in a separate category. I think when we put others above ourselves in terms of holiness, living or dead, we negate our own command to be the same way, mystical experiences not needed. For me personally, they are not wanted for lots of reasons. Besides, all good spiritual directors are going to downplay them anyway. I think with all the people John Paul II canonized he was trying to send the message that there are many Saints. When I was growing up I remember people being all up in arms about Padre Pio when he was alive (oops, I’m dating myself!) and he is a Saint now! Incidentely, Elizabeth Seton had no mystical experiences (why I like her). So, since all are sinners and all have grace, let’s get to it!! :slight_smile:

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