Being holy means being human, not perfect.

Religion, spirituality, and sacrilege.
April 20 2007 12:18 PM

Saintly Bad Behavior

The lives of the saints show us that being holy means being human, not perfect.

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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.

James Martin, a Jesuit priest, is editor at large of America magazine and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.

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