I help out at a website on the Internet called Bread on the Waters; part of it is called “Ask a Catholic.” People email their questions and a number of us try to answer them.
One question I got the other day was ” Why don’t we call the great figures of the Old Testament “saints?” Why don’t we say “Saint Moses,” “St. Abraham” “St. Isaac.”
I answered by saying that the Old Testament, instead of speaking of individual saints, prefers to speak of a holy people. God calls all his people to be holy, not just a few.
If you look at the New Testament, St. Paul does the same thing. He begins his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, for example: “To the Church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be saints…”(1 Cor.1,4) Everybody in that church is called to be holy.
The title “Saint” used today in the Catholic Church usually describes those who have been formally canonized by the Church. They’re individuals recognized for some outstanding work or virtue.
For example, the church recently canonized a French woman, Jeanne Jugan, the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who take care of the elderly poor, and a Belgian priest, Damian De Veuster. who for 16 years worked in a leper colony in Molokai in Hawaii. They were heroic figures.
From what we know about the church in Corinth from Paul’s letters, the Christians there were hardly saints in the same heroic degree. Paul describes them as suspicious of each other, fighting among themselves, some sexually immoral, some betraying their principles to get ahead. Not a church of canonized saints at all.
But they have been made holy by the grace of Jesus Christ, Paul writes. He is their Savior, their Shepherd who will bring them home.
Our Feast of All Saints is about saints like them and like us.