Saints that considered themselves terrible sinners.... where does that leave us?


Saints oftentimes really beat themselves up as the greatest or vilest of sinners, as for example did St Francis. I can’t help thinking that if they were so bad where does that leave me? I’m sure I’ve done worse especially during those years when I was estranged from the Church.

And now, even though I do my best as a Catholic, I’m still worse than any of those saints.

Does anyone have a theory on why they think they are such sinners. Is it a case of contrasts?, like they have set or developed such high standards that the tiniest venial transgression is then quite serious in their eyes and that of the Lord. A case of the closer they are to God, the greater the expectation is of them?



Where does that leave us? Ummah…worse-er sinners? :shrug:

Does anyone have a theory on why they think they are such sinners. Is it a case of contrasts?, like they have set or developed such high standards that the tiniest venial transgression is then quite serious in their eyes and that of the Lord. A case of the closer they are to God, the greater the expectation is of them?

And though I’m personally contending to place as “Chief of Sinners”…maybe they were right! Maybe they were terrible sinners! Maybe we should have their standards, I mean, they made it, and according to them, maybe a… couple of us will.

And now, even though I do my best as a Catholic, I’m still worse than any of those saints.

Isn’t acknowledgment of having a problem one of the first few of twelve steps toward recovery? :rolleyes:

A case of the closer they are to God, the greater the expectation is of them?

Aye, or the closer they came to Him, the more they became like Him, and the more they saw the hideousness of their wretchedness through His holy, perfect eyes.


My dear friend

I think it’s due to an illumination of the mind by God to understand the extreme evil and malice of sin, even venial sins. The conscience becomes very sharp so that any sin is detected and causes great pain in the conscience. At the same time one must understand one is still loved by God as an only child and be extremely grateful for the great love and mercy of God inspite of ones sinfulness. One should see ones self like a little baby asking his Father for forgiveness when one needs it. Most people are too proud to see themselves as they are - little babies that can do no good without Papas help. If we sin we should run to Papa for help. God is our father and we His little children. Little children sometimes get mud all over themselves and need Papa to help them and clean them up.

That’s my thoughts.

God bless you:thumbsup::slight_smile:


The closer one gets to God through prayer and the Sacraments, the more he will be illuminated as to how great God is, and how sin is such an evil. So, what one person may consider a slight offense, a person very close to the Lord would put God first and see their offense in a different light - that of an all-loving, all-holy God!


But a lot of the Saints, such as St. Francis, did have quite a history of sin. Maybe, like us, they were in awe and wonderment of how God could forgive them. They may have thought, again, like us, that they simply did not deserve to be forgiven for their many sins and receive God’s mercy.


I’ve been reading quite a few lives of the saints lately (especially St. Therese the Little Flower and St. Teresa of Avila) and thinking about the same thing. I find myself getting discouraged - if they thought they were sinners, I must be lower than low. :frowning:


I think Dorothy in #4 above has the answer. Whatever the saints may write about their sinfulness, we still must remember the Church’s teaching that venial sins do not merit hell, and consequently we should not fall into despair. If we commit mortal sins, we still have the Sacrament of Penance which will obtain their forgiveness.

As Dorothy rightly noted, our own sense of horror of even our very slight sins is magnified subjectively to us (not objectively in terms of changing venial sin into mortal) the closer we get to God, the more we see how much He has done for us and how much He deserves our obedience.


Hi “Rove” :wave: I’d like to offer a suggestion in answer to the excellent title question of this thread:

“Saints that considered themselves terrible sinners… where does that leave us?”

This is just Food for Thought… but could the answer to your question be:

“As future Saints”? :hmmm:

I ask this… because (as you say) all of the saints did consider themselves sinners. We too, are sinners. So, they are examples to all of us, and give us great hope. We need only to imitate them… (as they imitated Our Lord Jesus Christ).

That is the truly beautiful thing about our big brothers and sisters in Heaven… The Communion of Saints! They passed this way before us. And isn’t it true, how “little” brothers and sisters will try to imitate the older siblings! That is my humble opinion of how we should view the saints in Heaven.

God bless you!



I think they probably just had great humility :slight_smile: they also had a greater understanding of holiness than most people do.


John Russell Jr hit it on the head.

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich lay on her death bed convinced she was far worse than the Good Thief. Yet she could not die while there was someone still in the world thinking good of her at that moment.

We must be so pure to see the Face of God. So, so pure. . .


Saint Paul the Apostle considered himself the chief of sinners:

1 Timothy 1:15 KJV
(15) This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.


Dear kind folks,

I read every answer very carefully and would like to thank you all for the deep insights you have shown in different ways. I think this is a very important issue in our journey to become more like Christ and how we view our big brothers and sisters in Heaven (I loved the idea of viewing the saints a siblings).

I said a prayer for each and every one of you in thanks and asked the Father to guide us in faith to be more like his Son.

God bless you,



To understand why saints like Francis of Assisi and others considered themselves the worse sinners in history, one has to understand several points. I hope this helps.

  1. Men and women, such as these, were not in competition with others.

  2. Their humility was not about who is a greater sinner. That would be pride.

  3. This is a way of speaking about a transcendent reality. When we look at God and at his goodness, when we look at the human Christ and his human perfection, we can see how far we are from the ideal. It is in comparison to Christ that one realizes that one is the greatest of sinners. It is then that one wants to cry out, “Lord, depart from me for I am a sinner.” or “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter into my house.”

  4. The statement was not a caparison between themselves and the rest of the world, but between themselves and the holiness of God.

  5. Saints are men and women who are normal and mentally healthy people. They are not masochists. Nor are they people with low self-esteem. On the contrary. They have very high self-esteem. They KNOW that they are loved by God. They KNOW that they are sons and daughters of God. They KNOW that they are heirs to a kingdom. They KNOW that they are part of a royal priesthood. When this sinks into our thick heads, we begin to realize that we have nothing to bring to the table, except our limitations. The more we think about God’s awesomeness, we realize that we are small and unworthy. It is a realization, not a feeling.

  6. Any man or woman who can do a reality check and does whatever it takes to make himself more like Christ, is going to face his or her sinfulness. This person is on the way to sanctity.

  7. Saints do not measure sins. They do not walk around with a scale that says this one is a mortal sin and that one is a venial sin. They avoid sin, period. Of course they warn others of the perils of mortal sin. But in their own lives, they avoid sin. When they fall, they realize that they have sinned. They do not feel sorry for themselves or embarrassed either. They accept that they are sinners, because they are human, because they are small. When they arrive at this step, then they can see how great God is. This just comes around full circle and helps them realize how far they still have to go to become the mirror of perfection.

This was what Bonaventure wrote about St. Francis. He said that Francis was so deeply aware of how far he had to go to be like Christ that he did not walk, but he ran to get there. In less than 20 years, John Bernadone turned his life around and became Francis of Assisi, the Mirror of Perfection as St. Bonaventure calls him. The Church calls him The Seraphic Father, because the seraphs are the highest ranking angels. The Church says that Francis reached that level of love and virtue, with the assistance of grace of course.

  1. Finally, sanctity is not a competition. We do not try to outdo other saints. We do not try to be like other saints. For example, I’m a Franciscan. But I do not try to be another Francis. That would be wrong. No . . . I follow Christ’s footsteps in the sandals of St. Francis. Francis is my teacher on how to follow Christ. Every saint is a teacher. Every teacher has his or her style. You have to find one that helps you, just like in school not every teacher can help every child, not every saint is a good model for every Christian. There are many saints and there are many personalities on earth. Look for the one heavenly teacher that you can understand and with whom you can connect.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


Hello there!

I think that Saints were very much more aware of their shortcomings than most of us only because thier minds were so illuminated also. As their union with God became more interwoven, they became more aware that ANY sin was bad. They actually had such a clearer understanding than the average person of sin and how it affects God, that I believe it made their lies much more harder. We “normal” folks are somewhat ignorant of just how sin affects God and therefore affects our relationship with Him. I do believe this is why there are Saints.

St Faustina and several other saints reffered to themselves as “miserable creatures”. Always striving to sin less and not hurt God more. We are sinful by nature. This is what we strive to change, to better our union with God on this earth.

I am thankful for the Saints and their lives, it gives me a focal point of where I need to be. Without their lives I believe we would have less a chance to make it to heaven. Afterall, they found the way, so can we.

God Bless!


You have to be caeful here, because you may be walking a slippery slope. I’ll try to explain.

One thing that caught my attention in your post as that it seems to place saints in a different category from the rest of us mortals. They are not. This is one of the points that often confuses Protestants and drives them away.

Saints are normal people like you and I. They lived very normal lives. Many were priests or religious. Others were husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, single people. They were professionals, manual laborers. Some were highly educated and others were very poorly educated. Some were mature adults when they died and others were children. They were ordinary people who came from every walk of life.

What makes them a saint is that they live their faith in very heroic ways. But the way that they lived their livers is not just for them. Vatican II tells us that every man and woman is called to holiness. Every man and women is called to the perfection of love. Therefore, every man and woman can be a saint and should want to be a saint.

Simply put, a saint is a man or woman who worked very hard at charity and holiness. We can all do it. Each one does it differently. That’s not important. What’s important is that we try to do it. Some saints were more agreable than others. St. Alphones Ligouri had a reputation for being a hothead. St. Francis of Assisi had a reputation for being very stubborn. St. Padre Pio had a reputation for being cranky. Bl. Mother Teresa was sometimes very rude to people. Bl. John XXIII was an over eater and so was St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas was obese and so was Anthony of Padua, while their spiritual fathers, Dominic and Francis, were very ascetical in their manner of eating.

So you see, saints are very normal people who do great things. As St. Francis said, “Begin doing what is possible and eventually you’ll be able to do the impossible.”

Sainthood is not reached by special people, but by people who can discipline themselves in the practice of virtue, said St. Benedict. Saints do not get more graces than anyone else. Each one gets different graces. That’s all. If you use the graces that you have received and pray for the ones that you need, you will be a saint.

I work with children who have disabilities. I am reminded of those who say that blind children have a better sense of hearing than those who can see. IT’S NOT TRUE. Some blind children aer deaf. Blind people use their hearing more than the rest of us do.

The same goes for saints. Some people believe that saints receive graces that the rest of us do not. THAT’S NOT TRUE. They use the graces they receive more than most of us do.

NEVER equate miracles, visions and ecstasies with holiness. St. Teresa of Avila reminds us that we should avoid those and if they happen we should ignore them. These things can come from God or from Satan. They are not a sign of holiness. If they come from God, they are a sign of God’s love. If they come from Satan they are a sign of his lies. In either case, Teresa says that we should not put our faith in them, but only in the power of grace, the sacraments, penance and prayer.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


Well, it leaves us in the same position then. We too are terrible sinners, and all the saints in Heaven once walked on this same earth, searching for and serving the same God.



I believe that Saints were normal people also. Just in many of their stories I have read, they were aware from childhood that they were to be saints. I believe the saints were hand picked by God. I also think God picked saints for role models for everyone on this earth. I am not trying to say these are the only people who are saints, just that some knew very earliy on. I think that any one of us has this potenial to be a saint. I believe that there are many unrecognized saints that have lived throughout the ages.

I just believe that saints had a clearer knowledge of their own sins than many of us. They, through their special union with God, just saw their sins quite differently than most. While I would term my sins as mortal or venial, they would not make that distinction. To saints, sin is sin, and any sin hurts God.

God Bless!


I just wanted to add that we have to remember that most people read biographies of saints. It’s like reading a biography of a great national hero. The writer is going to put the highlights into the book, because you can’t place every detail into it and you don’t know much of the information, unless you know someone on the inside. Often, saints appear as very different from the rest of us.

I am reminded of my shock when I entered novitiate and began to study Francis of Assisi. We began to learn to many things about him that are not in the biographies, but come out in letters that people wrote about him, their journals and even in notes made by such people as Cardinal Hugolino who later became Pope Gregory IX.

There were several surprises to me. I’ll share them for what their worth.

  1. Francis went to Rome to get approval of his rule because he was in danger of being accused of heresy. However, movies and books pick up on his reverence for the pope, which is true. But never mention the fear of heresy, which is very human. He could have been burned at the stake.

  2. Though no one ever wrote seeing him drunk. It appears that the humble man of Assisi was a weekly drinker and today would be arrested for disturbing the peace. I thought this was interesting, because we’re told that he loved to be with friends and walked the streets as the king of the carnival. But put into modern context, we call this a weekly drinker and a nuissance.

  3. He was a horrible administrator. When he died he left over 3,000 friars, about 500 nuns, and several hundred Secular Franciscans without a constitution. He wrote a rule for us that had 12 scripture passages and a few comments. Had it not been for Clare and Bonaventure the Franciscan family would not be around today. He was definitely a very holy man, but a very poor organizer.

Sometimes biographies and movies tend to paint saints as perfect in every respect. A similar injustice has been done to Thomas Aquinas. The man was a mystic and a genius. But he was not always right and he was not the pope. Many people try to pit the writings of Aquinas agains the teachings of popes, especially today. Aquinas was the most simple man in the world. He was obedient and at the end of his life he wanted to burn his Summa, because he said it was straw. He didn’t realize the wealth of his thoughts. Even those things that wee incorrect, opened the door for others to think about them and correct them. Maybe they would not have been addressed, had he not put the arguments on the table. So saints are not always right, But they are often on the right track, as was Aquinas.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


<<2. Though no one ever wrote seeing him drunk. It appears that the humble man of Assisi was a weekly drinker and today would be arrested for disturbing the peace. I thought this was interesting, because we’re told that he loved to be with friends and walked the streets as the king of the carnival. But put into modern context, we call this a weekly drinker and a nuissance.>>

This occurred before his conversion. He was said to be the life of the party and liked to round up his friends, spend money, party and have a “good time.” The way it is written above it sounds like this was happening after his conversion.


You’re right about that and this should be understood that after his conversion he no longer partied with his friends.

Even before his conversion, there is no mention of him being a drunk. That’s a good thing, because it shows a young man who had solid Catholic values and at the same time enjoyed being young. He partied, he had friends, he has dreams and hopes, like every other young man. That is the point that I’m trying to make. Saints come from very normal backgrounds.

Even before his encounter with the leper, which is the point that Franciscan scholars believe Francis’ conversion is sealed, even before that he was a good Catholic and a very normal young man at the same time. Being a good Catholic and being a normal person are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, saints are normal people. As St. Maximilian Kolbe said that every man has been given the grace to get to heaven. The rest is another story.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

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