All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness: Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt. 5: 48). In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christs’ gift, so that doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.

Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all.

The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mt. 16:24).

In its earliest usage in the New Testament, the term saint referred to all those set apart for God, all the members of the early Church who had received the Gospel message and who as a result had rejected sin to live in a state of sanctity. Gradually the word began to be applied to those who had died as Christians, who were therefore in heaven and able to intercede with God on behalf of the living, and finally to individuals as a mark of particular honour and veneration among the local inhabitants or members of the same religious order.

During the Roman persecutions of the Church in the early centuries AD many martyrs were canonized by popular acclaim as examples of fortitude and faith to the suffering faithful. The anniversary of their death was commemorated more in celebration than in mourning; they had assured their place in heaven by their death and could now help those who still lived. As the process of canonization developed and grew, it became desirable to invoke the highest authority and so the approval of the Bishop of Rome was more frequently sought. Under Pope Gregory IX in the 13th century papal approval became the only legitimate means of conferring sainthood.

To fulfil the conditions for sainthood within the Catholic Church, an individual must now satisfy an extensive inquiry into their life and death which seeks to establish whether the subject has performed a heroic service of virtue or piety. Often this will be one outstanding deed, such as the foundation of a holy order or martyrdom, the sterling test of sanctity. In other cases it may be an unremarkable death but a life of exemplary conduct and humility. Claims of miracles will be thoroughly researched to determine whether they are in fact the confirmation of holiness.


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