We call those ‘saints’ who died in the grace of God, and who are already in Heaven, more especially those whom the Church has canonised.
Canonisation does not admit any one into Heaven; it is only a solemn declaration on the part of the Pope that the man or woman in question has led a holy life (this having been proved by a thorough examination of his or her life), and that (as the miracles proved to have been wrought by the individual testify) he or she is already in Heaven, and is therefore to be venerated by the Church.
The scrutiny to which the life and miracles are subjected is or at least should be extremely rigorous; they are laid before a special congregation composed of cardinals, priests, physicians, scientists, who are appointed to examine them by the Supreme Pontiff himself. This examination, as a rule, does not take place until fifty years after the death of the individual concerned. The Church ordains that only those saints whom she has canonised, should be publicly venerated by the faithful.
There are countless saints in Heaven, ‘ordinary’ men and women and children who are not officially recognised as saints; but who are nevertheless in the presence of God and perhaps are in some cases greater in the eyes of God than some of the saints which are recognised for public veneration. For this reason, the Church recognises all of these and venerates them on the Feast of All the Saints; November 1st.
In Simple Terms; what is a Saint? Good versus Evil
God is our Father in Heaven. Like all good fathers, he loves His children and wants them to be good, strong, noble and virtuous; and wants to keep them from harm. Someone who is more or less like their Father in Heaven; will do their duty, be charitable towards others, patient, honest etc., build up society and make the world a better place to live in. This is what God wants for all His children.
A person who has been baptised (see elsewhere in this website for an explanation) and in the state of grace (the state of friendship with God); if he were to die in that state of friendship with God; he will be a saint in Heaven. If the same person is yet alive but would go to Heaven were they to die at a given moment; the same person is a saint; though yet alive. Remember that one might be in the process of savings one’s soul but one has not saved one’s soul till one has actually died and saved it. There is no such thing as being ‘saved’ as in having a guarantee of going to Heaven. Being human, we could always mess us and turn our back on God; sadly, it happens all the time.
Of course, none of us are perfect; we are in the state of grace if we have been baptised and have not committed a sin serious enough to lose the state of friendship with God (a mortal sin); or; having lost the state of grace; returned to it by being sorry for our sin(s); confessing our sin(s) in confession and thus having obtained forgiveness from God (see Confession elsewhere in this website – click here). Because God is so merciful; he will always forgive any sin or any number of sins if we are sorry for them, we confess them, do the penance given by the priest, make amends where appropriate and we have a purpose of amendment.
God does not want His children to turn out to be evil, ignoble, weak, capricious, vicious, etc; commit evil acts or harm themselves or others.
In this second case; His child will be more or less unlike their Father in Heaven; they will have turned their back on Him and knowingly done evil rather than good. Every sin, by definition makes the world a harder place to live in. By their actions, His child has harmed themselves and others.
For example: If a man cheats on his wife; he has broken his commitment to her, he is the cause of great discord, upset, jealousy, perhaps hatred; his children have been betrayed by him, they may have to grow up without a father and their ability to trust a human being is damaged, perhaps for life. His ability to provide for all his dependents is weakened and his children may know want and not have the chances in life they should have had. The man will know in his heart that he has done wrong and this will be the cause of great uneasiness for him unless he faces up to his wrongdoing and confesses his sin, and puts things right insofar as he is able.
If a man breaks into another man’s house, beats him up and steals his money; he physically injures the man, he causes him to suffer mentally as a result of his ordeal and the violation of his dignity and to live in fear afterwards. He causes the victim to be impoverished by the loss of his goods which may cause him or those he loves further harm. The perpetrator harms himself because he will never have an easy conscience as a result of his wickedness; unless he confesses his sin and puts right the damage caused as far as he is able. He will live in fear of discovery and having acted so viciously, he will have damaged his own soul and may (without grace) become less able to act well in the future.
We all know these things. Every person has a conscience which tells them whether an act or thought or word is right or wrong; even if they never heard of God or His Church. God is Our Father who loves us more than we can understand. As every loving father would; he commands us not to do certain things (The Ten Commandments) and commands us to do certain good things, to love one another, to do good to one another, even to our enemies. This is not something which the Catholic Church invented or can change. It is reality. Priests who do not boldly preach the truths of God become like the salt that has lost its savour; only fit to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men. Priests who don’t preach the truth, who don’t act like a good father should; deprive people of the truth, of instruction and guidance they badly need; without which they are likely to make grave mistakes and cause themselves and others great misery and unhappiness.
Someone who did not (or is not doing) the will of God and accordingly is not in a state of friendship with God (called being in a state of mortal sin); as they live in that state is not a saint and if they die in the that state; will not be a saint or go to Heaven.
A person who dies in the state of grace will go to Heaven (even if they have to be purified in Purgatory first); someone who dies in the state of mortal sin; therefore not in the state of grace or friendship with God; will suffer eternal fire in Hell. God is just. He rewards good and punishes evil. It is not God who causes someone to go to Hell; it is themselves; because by definition; to commit a mortal sin, the person must know it is a mortal sin, they must want to commit it and then either decide to commit it or actually commit it (see sin elsewhere in this website). God is also merciful; he is always ready to receive His prodigal son back and forgive all, no matter what the transgression.
All called to holiness
So, everyone is called to be a saint! God became a man like us while still being God; that through Him and by virtue of His sacrifice, we can share His divine life. How good God is! How wonderful it is to be joined onto God; to have His life in our souls while still on this earth with the prospect of achieving perfect unity and happiness with God in Heaven for eternity! What leader can reward so richly, is so merciful, so good, so benevolent? We have God the Creator of the world for our father! Let’s take advantage of the boundless treasures, riches and infinite goodness which God wishes to share with us!