I need more messy saints…

“All Saints” by Fra Angelico


I am looking for some messy saint stories. You know, the type of story that shows the person made a fool of themselves, or chose poorly, or even… sinned. Perhaps it sounds weird—we look to the saints to be our examples in holiness, so why would I want a story that showed the exact opposite?

I need encouragement.  Sure, I love grand stories of saints choosing heroic virtue. I want to be inspired by Joan of Arc leaping into battle or pulling an arrow out of her chest.  I want to be in awe of Maximilian Kolbe giving his life for another at Auschwitz. I want to be moved by stories of Francis Xavier and Clare of Assisi and Marianne Cope giving up everything to follow Christ.

But somedays I just need a reminder that those people were fallen human beings.  When I fall into the same habitual sin, when I feel like I’m back in the confession line for the umpteenth time, ready to say almost exactly the same thing I said last time… I want to know I’m not alone.

Perhaps that’s why I recently found comfort in Galatians 2, when Paul rebukes Peter.  We’ve heard the stories of Peter denying Christ (Mt 26:74) or trying to convince him not to suffer (Mt 16:22).  But part of me always wants to dismiss those as “pre-Pentecost” Peter.  Yes, he knew the Lord, but he hadn’t yet been filled with the Holy Spirit.  After Pentecost, he’s been transformed! Right?

But Galatians 2:11 reminds me that he’s still a fallen human being.  Peter had been eating with Gentiles, but then stopped out of fear of what people would think or say.  Paul rebukes him because he was acting hypocritically. I think as Catholics sometimes we want to downplay this story.  Peter couldn’t have messed up! After all, he’s the Pope!  Paul must be telling his side of the story, and maybe there’s some way we can understand it to get Peter off scot-free.

But notice that the story doesn’t jeopardize our understanding of the Pope and papal infallibility at all. Peter wasn’t teaching error.  He was erring in his actions.  He was a hypocrite, not a heretic.  We can safely assume that every pope, since Peter, has erred at some point in their actions.  And I certainly do so every day.

Peter wasn’t perfect.  No saint was perfect, except the Blessed Mother.  I am called to be a saint, but today, I’m not perfect.  I’m trying, and I’m asking God every day for the grace to simply love him more.

If you want a perfect Christian, I’m going to disappoint you.

It’s nice to picture the saints with halos and happy smiles on their faces. But if I think about that too much, they seem too far removed from me.  Is holiness possible or not?

I need more messy saint stories. I need to be reminded that the saints sinned, that they fell short at times, and that they disappointed people.  I need to be reminded that the story of the Prodigal Son could be the story of a man who would one day be canonized.  Because that’s my story – every day. Every day I have to confess to the Father that I sinned.  And if that means I can’t be a saint, well, there’s no hope for any of us, is there?

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on Integrated Catholic Life™ on July 15, 2016. 


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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