Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Even Saints Aren’t Perfect

I have a magnet on my refrigerator that reads “Jesus loves you, but everyone else thinks you’re an a—hole.”

It’s a gentle but effective reminder that on those days that I manage to piss off every person around me, God will still give me an invitation to his big bash in heaven if I say sorry and try harder tomorrow. That’s worth a lot when Eric can’t take the mess anymore (if five Tupperware containers fly out of the cupboard when he goes to take his vitamins) or when the kids delight in telling me that I’m a bad mom and they wish daddy would stay home with them, not me (“because the hourly wage of an architect is a tad higher than that of a writer, so until I write my bestseller, you are stuck with me”).


For a person who aspired to be a saint in grade school (nothing short of beatification for my soul, thank you), I find it especially comforting to read about the imperfections, foibles, and character defects of the saints.

In his intriguing article, “Saintly Bad Behavior,” Fr. Jim Martin, an editor of “America” magazine and author of “My Life with the Saints,” argues that being holy means behind human, not perfect.

Here’s an excerpt:

“[St. Augustine, Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Peter, St. Jerome, St. Cyril of Alexandria, Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa] were holy, striving to devote their lives to God. They were also human. And they knew it, too. Of all people, the saints were the most cognizant of their flawed humanity, which served as a reminder of their reliance on God.


“Unfortunately, well-meaning hagiography often tries to dial down the saints’ human side to make their lives seem more virtuous. So, the modern-day conception of Francis of Assisi ends up depicting him as a kind of well-meaning peacenick, rather than the complicated man who was something of a hothead. (Francis once clambered atop the roof of a house his brothers built and began tearing it apart—he felt it was not in keeping with their life of poverty.)

“While I disagreed with some of Pope John Paul’s positions, and while the late pope wasn’t always a fan of the Jesuits, I believe he was a saint. The man born Karol Wojtyla was devoted to God, devoted to advancing the Gospel, and devoted to the poor. And, just like his critics, he was aware of his faults. (He went to confession weekly.) Those who oppose the idea of St. John Paul might remember that perfection is not a requirement for holiness. And sanctity does not mean divinity.


“Supporters of John Paul, on the other hand, should remember that his inevitable canonization does not mean he was flawless, and that it isn’t heretical to criticize a saint. As another saint, Frenchman Francis de Sales, wrote in the 17th century, “There is no harm done to the saints if their faults are shown as well as their virtues. But great harm is done to everybody by those hagiographers who slur over their faults. … These writers commit a wrong against the saints and against the whole of posterity.” John Paul wasn’t a saint because he was perfect; he was a saint because he was most fully himself. And that will make it easier for me to say, some day, St. John Paul, pray for me.”

  • http://HASH(0xced7ca0) Anonymous Also

    OMG, I have this same saying on a bumper sticker on my car!! It pisses a lot of people off, but so be it. (That’s actually the best part about it sometimes. :-) )

  • http://HASH(0xced8814) Mr.& Mrs D.O. Livingston

    Your article was interesting, well crafted,and full of wisdom. But don’t you think that your message could have been just as truthful and meaningful without the author succumbing to unfortunate modern-day worldly expressions of poor taste and example,especially for our young impreshionable youngsters? Just because an expression is “popular” doesn’t make it proper. One of the reasons we read Beliefnet is to avoid literary crudeness and poor taste in an ever-shrinking virtuous world.

  • http://HASH(0xced8ae4) SuzanneWA

    Not being Catholic, I am still aware of the beatification of those like John Paul II and Mother Theresa. I faintly remember that the Pope was a thespian in Poland; THAT kind of people are in a class by themselves! Being somewhat of an actress myself, I know what goes on backstage; quite a revelation! I admired the Pope and Mother Theresa for the fact that they TRIED to perfect their lives, and be of service to those less fortunate. But to make them saints – I don’t fully understand what that means. I prayed to a friend’s daughter who died, and what I prayed for came true. Is that how it operates?? If so, then Ste. Theresa would be MY saint!!

  • marie

    What I find most interesting is that during the entire religious life of Bl. Mother Theresa she herself was undergoing the ‘dark night of the soul’. What an amazing woman! We all saw the intense suffering of the Pope but do we understand his inner loneliness? Can you imagine a man who loved being with people, conversing with them laughing with them, only to find his ability to communicate with anyone impaired. I love the Saints not because they were perfect but for their very imperfections and through them we see the Great work of God. Yours in Christ, Marie

  • http://HASH(0xcedb070) Crystal dunn

    I really liked your article. I’m not Catholic but I do believe any believer devoted to Christ is a saint as these people were. I get beat up by the world and their attitude that in order to follow Christ you have to get everything perfect or be perfect. That is so not true! I think Christ is glorified in our humanness. The fact we are honest about that and show our flaws as well as what he is doing through us really does reach more people for his glory. I hope you keep writing. Yours in Christ, Crystal

  • marie

    “I think Christ is glorified in our humanness.” Crystal:) that is a great quote and I agree with it. God is seen most perfectly through us despite our faults and failings. Thankyou Cystral I will now ponder on that quote for the day:). Peace to you:) Marie

  • http://HASH(0xcedc03c) Ruth Davenport

    It is sometimes wise to remember that a ‘saint’ is defined differently by different denominations. The Roman Catholic church has a criteria and people are named saints accordingly. Most protestants define saints the way St. Paul did when he called all believers in Christ ‘saints’. All of his letters are addressed ‘To the saints in ______’. Other times he refers to members of the early churches as saints. Sainthood really has nothing to do with how good we are, but with the new life we receive from God when we accept his Son as our savior. No human criteria necessary.

  • Frank Corless

    Just wanted to say thanks for the reminder. Sometimes day to day mistakes and issues block us from remembering the focus is really the relationship with God we have flaws and all. Perhaps why it means so much when we let go of the fears and just let God in to do the work we don’t seem able to. We’re all called to be saints only a few get recognised but I suspect there are many flawed humans out there who still seem to let God work through them

  • Bernadette

    I love the saints especially those who show their human side. Saints are our heroes. Starting out with the flaws of our great Saint Peter. I love him especially because he fell so many times in so many ways, but was able with God’s grace to make a come to say sorry. Even Jesus fell 3 times but got back up on His painful journey. This is truly our sign for hope..we just have to pick ourselves up and start all over again…Praise God.

  • Gwin F Smith

    I’am really glad that someone had the nerve to tell the truth about this subject that Not all men are saint hoods. That even the pope can sin, and that everyone including ministers clergymen, Rev, Pastors and all have come short of the glory of being perfect. If you believe some of these preachers, they will make you think that you are the worse person in the world and you faithfully come to church every Sunday that you ask God to forgive you for your sins. If you think that you will let the sun go down before you ask God for forgivenes of your sins, then you think that you haven’t sinned that day. No one is perfect and you should always ask God for forgiveness for what you don’t know what you may have said or did.Now if I’m wrong please write me and tell me that I’m wrong or right. Thank you Gwinn

  • Anonymous

    Who is the head of our church? Jesus is. Who is called to follow Jesus? We are. All denominations, like each of us, are flawed. We already have church unity. We simply do not have, nor will we ever have, uniformity, or agreement. This is a great example: we can not even agree with Paul; we can not unite in our understanding that we are all saints. New denominations spring up because a few people find that they can not join the sinners in any Christian community. They feel a need to redefine something to be true followers of Jesus. Denominationalism is an example of our human sinfulness. We think that we are right and all the others are wrong. We are all on the same path. We seek a life of happiness and holiness in Jesus.

  • JamesNewton

    yes it hard trying to live up to this thing of christianity.people put so much on individuals who try so hard,to not make a mistake in society eyes.

  • starr

    I’ve a good friend who is battling with her parish priest about giving out mother’s day corsages (she wants real, he says that’s too expensive). She was ready to go to the bishop, she was that upset! I told her even the apostles had squabbles–Peter must have driven them all crazy at one time or another! And John always acting like the favorite!
    I used to want to be a saint, the kind you find on medals, statues, etc. Then life made me humble (& reality leveled my ambition). I just pray I die in a state of grace!
    As for Pope John Paul? Oh, how our Lord must love him! I still tear up remembering how blessed this world was with his presence! He was beautiful in his humanity…and to be human, one needs not be perfect.

Previous Posts

Seven Ways to Get Over an Infatuation
“Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I” wrote US songwriter Lorenz Hart about the feeling of infatuation. It’s blissful and euphoric, as we all know. But it’s also addicting, messy and blinding. Without careful monitoring, its wild ...

posted 12:46:43pm Feb. 19, 2014 | read full post »

When Faith Turns Neurotic
When does reciting scripture become a symptom of neurosis? Or praying the rosary an unhealthy compulsion? Not until I had the Book of Psalms practically memorized as a young girl did I learn that words and acts of faith can morph into desperate ...

posted 10:37:13am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

How to Handle Negative People
One of my mom’s best pieces of advice: “Hang with the winners.” This holds true in support groups (stick with the people who have the most sobriety), in college (find the peeps with good study habits), and in your workplace (stay away from ...

posted 10:32:10am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

8 Coping Strategies for the Holidays
For people prone to depression and anxiety – i.e. human beings – the holidays invite countless possibility to get sucked into negative and catastrophic thinking. You take the basic stressed-out individual and you increase her to-do list by a ...

posted 9:30:12am Nov. 21, 2013 | read full post »

Can I Say I’m a Son or Daughter of Christ and Suffer From Depression?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we read: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” What if we aren’t glad, we aren’t capable of rejoicing, and even prayer ...

posted 10:56:04am Oct. 29, 2013 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.