Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood

Thoughts on sainthood with a Lower-Case S

Saint Vincent had hathead AND his body is supposed to have never decomposed. Do we really want to be like him?

No grand cohesive post today, just a couple of musings on what it means to be a saint. What I’ve found through researching (read: screwing up) and writing Flunking Sainthood is that many people (read: my friends and I) have an odd and ultimately damaging idea of what Sainthood is. We like to think of Saints as those holy folks with the halos on their heads, the ones whose feet don’t quite touch the earth, who perform miracles and heal the lame.


Those Saints are special, like superheroes who got religion. They are Not Us.

But that’s where the problem lies. When we set the bar so high for Sainthood, we cede our own possibilities for finding holiness in the everyday, in the muck and tatter of our ordinary lives. We do this because it takes the pressure off. We could no more become capital-S Saints than we could shoot forth webs like Spider Man or conjure an invisible jet like Wonder Woman.

But those kinds of Saints would be awfully hard to live with anyway. The playwright George Bernard Shaw had this to say about a righteous character named Brand in a play by Shaw’s literary contemporary Henrik Ibsen: “Brand dies a saint, having caused more intense suffering by his saintliness than the most talented sinner could possibly have done with twice his opportunity.”


So let’s set the bar lower! Let’s just be lower-case saints. Those are saints who fail and laugh and get up to try again. (As Henry Ford put it, failure is “the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”) They don’t stop striving, but neither do they define themselves by any achievements they may reach along the way. They are not about reaching holiness for themselves, but about loving others and letting them be real.

I will never be a Saint. But today I will try to be a saint.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Robert Hampton

    It is wise to remember that the Biblical use of the word saint more represents the lower case saint, the one who tries to follow the Christ than the upper case Saint, more or less an invention of later times.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Larry Ogan

    Latter-day Saints is a description of people who follow the original teachings of Jesus Christ. Some Mormons and anti-Mormons think the name of the LDS church means the members are the big “S”, when in reality they are the small “s”. It is the same mistake as thinking you can be perfect, making no mistakes in this life. In my opinion, both interpretations denies repentance and the Atonement.


  • Velska

    Thanks so much for what you do!

    You are a gift of God in my life. In the end, we all flunk the test. That’s what being human means to me.

    • Jana Riess

      Thank you so much! And yes, you’re right about the universal aspect of flunking.

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