Thursday, November 01, 2012

Fifteen Common Misconceptions about the Saints

(All Saints' Day 2012: This homily was given on November 1, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3: 1-3; Matthew 5: 1-12a.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: All Saints 2012]


When you hear the word “saint,” what thoughts and images come to mind?

Do you think of someone who’s strong and happy and wise, or do you think of a person who’s weak and melancholy and naïve?

Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints—a day in which we are reminded that we are all called to sanctity.  St. John tells us in our second reading that “we are God’s children now.”  His implication there is that we are to LIVE in accord with this identity.  In other words, we are to live as God’s children now—in this life—by being holy, and by putting into practice the Beatitudes that we heard in today’s gospel text from Matthew 5.

And the good news is, if we do that, we will eventually become part of that immense crowd that John saw in his vision in Revelation 7: that group of fully redeemed souls “from every race and tongue and people and nation.”

That is to say, we will be saints!

And this is not optional!  Indeed being a saint can’t be optional, since at the end of time there will be only two groups of people: the redeemed and the damned; the saints of heaven and the condemned souls of hell!

So it’s very important that we “strive for that holiness . . . without which no one can see the Lord,” as the author of Hebrews tells us in chapter 12 of his letter.

But many people don’t do this—they don’t actively pursue holiness—because they have a number of misconceptions about the saints (especially those saints who are officially canonized by the Church).  Which is why I asked that question that I asked at the beginning of my homily: When you hear the word “saint,” what thoughts and images come to mind?

The other day I made a list of some of the common misconceptions about the saints that I’ve encountered over the years.  I ask you, have you ever believed any of these things in the past?  Do you believe any of them now?


  1. The saints said yes to everybody; they never offended anyone by saying no.
  2. The saints didn’t care at all about this world; all they cared about was heaven.
  3. The saints were not practical people; their heads were always “in the clouds,” so to speak.
  4. The saints didn’t experience temptation like ordinary people do.
  5. The saints were all celibate.
  6. The saints never had any fun.
  7. The saints prayed all day.
  8. All the saints started off as good, holy people.
  9. The saints never got discouraged or depressed.
  10. The saints were always happy; they were always on a “spiritual high.”
  11. The saints allowed people to walk all over them: they had no backbone.
  12. The saints never thought about or talked about anything or anyone but God.
  13. The saints loved people less because they loved God more.
  14. The saints got along with everybody; they never had conflicts with other people like ordinary men and women do.
  15. The saints were all perfect and sinless, like the Blessed Mother was perfect and sinless.


Each and every one of those 15 statements is false.  For example,


  • The great saints of the Church did not say yes to everybody.  Because they were men and women of such strong conviction, they often said no—especially to sin!  And they offended some people in the process.
  • The saints didn’t only care about heaven. (As the old saying goes, most of them had their feet firmly planted on the earth.  Most saints, in other words, appreciated the blessings of this life, and they had a great deal of common sense.) 
  • The saints were tempted just like the rest of us are. 
  • The saints sometimes got discouraged and depressed (just think of the prophet Jeremiah and how discouraged he got because of all he was forced to go through). 
  • Many of the saints were married people. 
  • The saints knew how to enjoy life.  In fact you could make the case that saints have much more fun than worldly people do, since they know how to properly enjoy the good things of this world.  They don’t abuse them.
  • The saints didn’t love their families and friends less because they loved God more.  In truth it was exactly the opposite: because they loved God so much, they were able to love the other people in their lives more completely.  And that includes their enemies.
  • If you’ve read St. Paul’s letters and the Acts of the Apostles, you know that the saints didn’t always start off as holy people.  St. Paul certainly didn’t!  And even after their conversions they didn’t always get along with others—which means that they weren’t perfect and sinless, like our Blessed Mother was perfect and sinless.


I mention all this today because, if you believe any of these 15 falsehoods that I’ve outlined in this homily (or any others that I didn’t mention), you will probably think that being a saint is impossible.  And, of course, if you think it’s impossible to be a saint, you won’t actively pursue the holiness necessary to be one.

Which will put you in grave danger of losing your soul!

But it is possible!  That’s the good news!  As St. Paul said in Philippians 4: “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” 

And that includes being a saint—even if we’ve been very un-saintly in the past.

May God help us to believe that—and to live like we believe that—so that someday the possibility of being a saint will become a reality for us all.