Many times when people hear stories about people who are saints, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul II, or Maximillian Kolbe, the response tends to be, “Well, that’s great, but I could never be like them.” The reality is actually quite the opposite, as all the people throughout history who eventually became saints share 7 common characteristics that we can incorporate and practice in our own lives, too.
Practice #1 Daily Prayer and Meditation
“A soulthat does not practice the exercise of prayer is very like a paralyzed body which, though posessing feet and hands, makes no use of them.” –Alphonsus Liquori
All saints prayed every day. Their prayer styles were as different as each of them were, but the commonality was that each of them spent time in prayer and meditation each and every day with their Lord and Creator.
Practice #2 Live a Life Full of God’s Grace
Whenever possible, each saint would frequently receive the sacraments. Most particularly, they would receive Holy Eucharist (often daily) and go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) at least weekly.
José Teófilo de Jesus, ‘Institution of the Eucharist’, 1793
These practices ensured they would be filled with God’s love and grace and also frequently encounter His mercy so that they, in turn, were able to share that same love, grace and mercy with others they would encounter in the course of daily life.
Practice #3 Daily Resolution to Grow in Virtue
Each saint would attempt each day to the best of their abilities to grow in virtue in some small way. In order to do this, they would make a daily resolution. The resolutions could be to act in a positive manner like “I will smile at others today to show joy” or to act by refraining from a thought, word or action like “I will not speak unkindly to someone who is rude to me to grow in patience”. These small resolutions assisted each saint in growing in virtue little by little each day.
Practice #4 Daily Examen
Each evening at a minimum, each saint would pause briefly and reflect upon their days’ thoughts, words and actions through the use of what is known as an Examen. The Examen is much shorter than a Examination of Conscience (which is normally undertaken prior to going to Reconciliation), and consists of giving thanks for the graces and blessings of the day, reviewing failures to respond properly to the graces of the day, asking for forgiveness for those failures, and a firm amendment to try and do better the next day. The entire purpose of the Examen is that it keeps us focused on how we are (or are not) acting in accordance with God’s will in our lives that day so it is possible to adjust and get back on track as soon as possible.
“There is one final advantage to making a habit of the Daily Examen: We will never run out of things to pray about. Sometimes prayer gets dry. Sometimes we wonder what to say to God. The Examen eliminates these problems. As long as we have twenty-four hours to look back on, we will have hundreds of things to talk to God about—and to thank him for.” –Fr David L. Fleming, SJ
Practice #5 Devotion to the Blessed Mother
Each of the saints, in their own way, had a particular devotion to Mary. Marian Consecration, the wearing of the Brown Scapular or the Miraculous Medal, or praying the Rosary daily were all common practices amongst the saints.
Practice #6 Rule (Plan) of Life
Each saint followed a particular Rule of Life, either their own or from a religious order like the Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, etc. A Rule of Life ensures that we keep the proper priorities in our lives and live balanced lives, and this is key to growing in holiness.
Practice #7 Authentic Friendships
All the saints cultivated authentic and deep friendships with others who also were in pursuit of holiness. In fact, when one looks back at history, that adage of “Saints come in clusters” holds true throughout as whenever two or more gathered in Jesus’ name to do His work, many Saints sprang forth from those apostolic efforts.
You Can Become a Saint Too
As you have seen, none of the seven characteristics of saints listed here are extraordinary, or impossible to do, yet in the lives of the saints, and with God’s grace, these same characteristics resulted in each one being transformed in holiness, and are now celebrated as saints.
I encourage you to choose one or two of these characteristics and implement them into your own life for the next 30 days, and then see what your life looks like in a month. I can assure you, you won’t regret it.