Summary of Saints: A Closer Look by Fr. Thomas Dubay

Saints: A Closer Look by Fr. Thomas Dubay, Servant Books, 2007.

“Saints are moral miracles far beyond the capabilities of human nature left to itself… Each of them has had “a spiritual revolution” (Eph 4:23)” (1).



Chapter 1: The Living Pinnacle

“Science and theology independently converge in declaring, each in its own thought patterns, that the human person is the pinnacle of visible creation… the summit of the visible cosmos” (5).

Going one step further, Dubay states that saints are “the pinnacles of human splendor” (7).

The purpose of this book: (1) Discuss the saints’ common traits; (2) Try to explain how these men and women far surpass the lesser of us; (3) Why the saints are ideal models for all vocations and states in life.

3 telltale questions to determine our current progress toward God (click here).

8 reasons to pursue deep conversion and be a saint (click here).

“The number-one trait of these heroes and heroines of holiness: being head over heels in love with God… being “madly in love” with the Lord, have him as one’s supreme Beloved” (9).

They “live a life of love” (2 John 1:6) because they are “lovesick” for God (St. John of the Cross).

“The rest of this study will simply concretize and explain what living a life of genuine burning love is like” (10).

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Chapter 2: Antecedents of Holiness

“Natural endowments or deficiencies can contribute to the facility and ease or the difficulty and hardship in living out the various virtues, but supernatural growth is due to the grace of God, the degree of willed cooperation with that grace and the degree of conversion on the part of the person” (16). 

“What is essential is the willed love response proved in the actions of daily life” (17).

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Chapter 3: Basic Attitudes

1. God-centred: “Anyone in love, genuine love, is spontaneously focused on the beloved. God is the saints’ consuming concern” (21).

2. Total: “Being thoroughly in love implies fullness of response in daily decision making… Corner cutting is foreign to the mind of the saint” (22).

3. Balanced: The saints show a remarkable balance, a beautiful harmony and proportion in their lives: “While they know that they are to live without limit the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, which aim directly at God, they are also aware that the moral virtues, which deal with created matters, are found in a mean between extremes” (23).

4. Determined: “Velleities, mere wishes, never produce excellence in any worthwhile human endeavor – scholarship, music, arts or sports. The same is true for virtuous living – that is, personal excellence” (23).

5. Dauntless in the faith: “Saints are so profoundly in love that they become fearless in the face of even extreme sufferings and sacrifices” (24).

6. Utterly ecclesial: “Without exception, saints have loved and do love the Church deeply, and this includes loving her teaching, her liturgical norms, and her discipline” (24-5).

7. Eager for the inspired Word: “Utter faithfulness to the Church is closely allied to, indeed flows out of, a glad embrace of the biblical message… Heroically holy ones listen to the word of God and then get out and act on it, as Jesus admonished all of us to do (see Mt 7:24)” (25-6).

8. Joyously enthusiastic: “Saints are never bored, jaded or drifting. Healthy individuals in love with the Lord naturally “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). In their freedom from egocentrism and in their God-centredness, they experience “a joy so glorious that it cannot be described” (1 Peter 1:8).

9. Welcoming the Cross: “Even though the saints, like the rest of us, feel a natural repugnance toward suffering (as did Jesus himself in his agony in the garden), they nonetheless generously embrace the hardships that come their way in daily life (see Lk 9:24). They likewise go out of their way to fast prudently on occasion and otherwise to chastise their bodies, to correct what is amiss in their behaviour (see 1 Cor 9:27)” (27).

10. Intellectual and academic honesty: “The saints are among those to whom we can look for to contest heresy and expound truth” (27).

11. Logically consistent: “What the saints profess they live… Saints shed wiggle room in living out the gospel, and they leave no place for pseudo-rationalizations” (28-9).

12. On fire: Since Jesus “came to cast fire upon the earth” (Luke 12:49), “the saints do burn, and they radiate at times” (29), just like the disciples at Emmaus (see Lk 24:32).

13. Fully alive: Since Jesus came to give life to the full (see John 10:10), the saints “live life to the hilt,” fully alive with the glory of God.  “Because of their deep conversion and profound intimacy with the Trinity, the saints’ human potentials are fulfilled as far as they can be this side of the beatific vision: knowing, loving, delighting” (30).

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The intercausal core of holiness – the two sides to becoming a saint – are action and contemplation.

“Jesus, in linking the two most important commandments, brings out this double aspect of holiness: a total love for God and the demonstration of this love for our neighbours (see Mt 22:34-40). Hence the core of lofty holiness has two tightly intertwined aspects: a transforming intimacy in prayer and a consequent heroism in action, as one extends that love to the brothers and sisters of the incarnate Word” (34).

St. Augustine said that “to pray well we must live well. That is, to grow in prayer depth, we must practice all the virtues… The opposite causality is also the case: to live well one must pray well. That is, living the virtues generously is greatly furthered by prayer intimacy” (34-5).

Chapter 4: Transforming Intimacy

Transforming intimacy, in the words of St. John of the Cross, “is a knowing-loving-delighting union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (45). There is a deep knowledge of the indwelling Trinity accompanied by perfect love and inexpressible delight. This transforming union, in which we are “filled with the utter fullness of God” (Eph 3:19), manifests itself in many different types (desiring, thirsting, knowing, delighting, loving), in numberless degrees of intensity and in duration (a gentle, loving awareness, a strong yearning, an absorbing delight, a burning love, an ecstatic joy).

The transforming union with God is the deepest root of holiness, the summit of what human life on earth is meant to be in the mind of the supreme Artist… and the summit from which a person can live all the virtues heroically… This oneness with Him is the normal preparation here below for the final and unspeakable intimacy of the beatific vision. The supreme Artist is also obviously the supreme Optimist” (44).

Just as in the natural order “beautiful realities grow gradually from an incipient beginning, through intermediate stages and into the final splendid fulness” (43) (eg. acorn into oak tree), so it is with the divine order in becoming a saint, as St. Teresa of Avila details in the 7 mansions of her Interior Castle. 

The effects of this remarkable union include: (1) “The person experiences a continuing, abiding awareness of the Lord indwelling” (46); (2) “Disordered and excessive tendencies disappear or are greatly diminished” (47); (3) “A cessation of inner suffering… there now remains nothing to be purified, no abiding selfishness to cause inner pain” (47); (4) “The person is loving God and others in everything that happens, whether it be painful or delightful” (47); (5) The person “coacts with God” now – is intensely aware and sensitive to the direction of the Holy Spirit (see Rm 8:14) and coacts with His promptings; (6) “A fresh new delight in created beauty, a thrilling enjoyment far beyond what a mere naturalist would experience” (48).

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Chapter 5: Heroic Virtue in Action

Whereas ordinary virtues bring a person to perfection in a human manner (an acquired habit), heroic virtues bring a person to perfection in a supernatural manner (an infused gift).

Inner authenticity is paramount to Christ-centered morality” (51).

Traits of Heroic Virtue in Action:

1. Saying Yes to God: “The very taproot of all heroic virtues is the intensity of the personal yes to God in the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love… the strength of this triple faith-hope-love yes to God is primarily a matter of will… proved to be genuine in daily choices and actions” (55).

2. Love for the Church: The saints have a tremendous love for the Church because: (1) Jesus loves her and gave himself to death to make her holy (see Eph 5:25-6); (2) Those who follow her teaching and fully embrace her way of life become saints; (3) the Church is our mother, who teaches us the path and the means to attain our unspeakable destiny, the beatific vision in the risen body.

3. Prompt Action: The saints respond promptly – ASAP – to the divine will, however that will is expressed. They likewise obey their superiors, whether it be the teaching Church or their local directors, with peaceful immediacy.

4. Perfection: The saints practice virtues in a loftier manner with deeper intensity and purer motives (springing from a deeper love).

5. Habitual Response: The saints habitually react heroically, especially in difficult and painful situations.

6. Interconnectedness: “In her canonization process the Church requires that all the virtues be heroic, not simply some of them, and that they be interrelated and influence one another” (63).

7. Seemingly Opposite Virtues: To us, the saints unite what seems to be opposite virtues. As Vatican II said, they are “eager to act and devoted to contemplation” (SC, 2).

Speaking about St. Therese of Lisieux, Fr. Dubay noted: “Human cleverness and strength could not produce so uncommon a gem of femininity, combining warmly expressed affection with a luminous chastity, zealous work with profound contemplative intimacy with God, a robust boldness with genuine humility, strength with tenderness, freedom with discipline. She was God’s work of art” (66).

8. Abiding Joy: The saints have a thoroughly remarkable other-worldly joy, even in the midst of severe trials (see Phil 4:4, Col 1:11-2), a complete and total “joy so glorious that it cannot be described” (1 Peter 1:8). The martyr saints display this well, as they are “full of forgiving love and joy and praise of God as they are being brutally tortured to death” (67).

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Chapter 6: Scriptural Exegetes

The saints, as “privileged possessors of the divine light” (75), are enlightened by the same Holy Spirit (called “assisting enlightenments” by St. John of the Cross) who inspired the Scriptures. By obeying the Magisterium, purifying themselves of all sin (which obscures sight), and continually pondering and living the inspired Word thoroughly, the saints are best suited to understand the Scriptures in the sense the Holy Spirit intended them.

The saints are “living commentaries-in-action” (80), they “see things exactly as they are, neither more nor less” (90).

“The saints “are the great history of the interpretation of the gospel, more genuine and with more power of conviction that all exegesis” (Balthasar).

“The saints are the concrete norms, the ongoing exegesis of Christ throughout time” (Fr. Raymond Gawronski).

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Chapter 7: Marvelous Teachers

The saints, whether they are scholars or not, are marvelous “communicators of the divine message via spoken and written words” (95). The saints are the most effective teachers because they have personally experienced what they communicate to others, they “embody the revealed message – that is, public revelation historically verifiable – with particular examples and applications for all states in life” (100)… “they become superior pictures of what his divine Spirit had in mind when he inspired the Bible” (101). In addition, the saints deep love for truth and profound humility always welcomed contrary points of view.

Chapter 8: Freedom

The saints “enjoy the glorious freedom of goodness” (109) and “are free to live “a life of love” (2 John 1:6), which is a life of growing more beautiful in all of the large and small details of daily life” (111-2) because they have “no enslaving idols, major or minor… no disordered desires” (111).

“There are degrees of personal freedom. We become more or less free to do anything to the degree that we possess an ability or capacity: to play basketball, to sing a song, teach a class; to be patient, chaste, loving, temperate… You are free to do a triple bypass only to the extent that you are competent. Thus, at the root of freedom are knowledge and skills” (109, 8).

One may ask at this point, “When are desires disordered and thus leading to bondage?” There are 3 signs: (1) The thing sought is diverted from its purpose: using speech to gossip, (2) excess: eating too much, (3) making means into ends: using things for their own sakes and not for bringing ourselves and others closer to God and our final destiny (111).

Chapter 9: Spiritualities

Superficial and unfounded “spiritualities” are one of the chief obstacles serious people face today in their pursuit of God. “As the term spirituality is used today, it often refers vaguely to the nonmaterial aspects of human life and especially to hopes and aspirations, sometimes with little or no implications of right or wrong” (114).

“We are not questioning the goodwill of these peoples, and we gladly acknowledge that they show that the human mind and heart cannot be satisfied by visible reality alone. But the need for the transcendent, the divine, can be satisfied only by the solid, historical and public revelation found in the Old and New Testaments, and most of all in the person and teaching of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ” (114).

“The word spirituality in the Catholic community refers to how the gospel is to be lived in a particular state of life” (114).

Chapter 10: Saints Light Fires

The saints’ impact on world history has been and will continue to be that of setting others on fire. Now, these must be people who are “combustible” – that is, open to being set on fire” (119). By their heroic personal witness and teachings, normal and receptive people are powerfully drawn to be set on fire.

“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49). 

The saints “are love-lights in our dark world of mediocrity and even outrageous crime” (129).

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The contemplative intimacy of the saints “begets actions, make it to be” (129) – their work was an overflow of contemplation.

Ex plenitude contemplatonis activus – active, working from a fullness of contemplation” (Catholic medieval formula).

Priests should work ex abundantia contemplationis, “from an abundance of contemplation, to the delight of the whole Church of God” (LG, 41).”

“But let’s remember too that contemplation is not simply a means to action. It is an end in itself, just as genuine love is. This intimacy with God is the top priority in human life, the “one thing” of Psalm 27:4 and Luke 10:38-42. Vatican II recalled the same basic truth: In the Church action is directed and subordinated to contemplation (see SC 2)” (129).

Chapter 11: Icons of Human Love

Genuine Christian love “is a willed, self-sacrificing giving to another, even if attraction and feelings are absent, and even if little or nothing is received in return” (131).

“The perfect icon of love is Jesus crucified: He gave the most complete love and received rejection in return” (131).

Several conclusions follow:

1. It takes deep conversion and a lofty sanctity to love deeply (see 1 Peter 1:22-23). 

2. There is no such thing as love at first sight. 

Genuine love demands sacrifice; it is permanent and self-giving, not merely receiving. The saints are givers, not takers” (132).

“The love of these heroic ones burned because it originated in their enduring love for God and prayerful intimacy with Triune Beauty. Without divine grace and determined motivation, no one can live on their level. Saints live lives of love” (133).

3. “Genuine human love manifests itself most bravely in the whats and whys and hows of the sufferings that come upon all humans sooner or later” (133). 

It is face to face with Christ crucified that the abysmal egoism of what we are accustomed to call love becomes clear” (Balthasar 134).

“The saints teach us by their actions as well as by their words not only why they suffer so willingly but also how to live in and through the vicissitudes of life” (135).

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Chapter 12: Masterpieces of Beauty

The saints are “masterpieces of beauty” insofar as they satisfy the four elements in the standard analysis of beauty:

  1. Wholeness: The saints are whole and complete persons, deeply in love and possessing all the virtues.
  2. Proportion: The saints possess these goodness powers to a heroic degree and thus enjoy a magnificent proportion with love filling their lives without limit.
  3. Unity: The saints lives have a remarkable unity. Their transforming contemplative love binds together into a splendid oneness all of their praying, working, conversing, eating, recreating and resting.
  4. Radiant Form: “Form” refers to the essence, the whatness of a thing. Your radiant form is your human soul in your unique body, which determines what kind of being you are. The radiant form of the saints lies is the Christ form. They put on the Lord Jesus to the nth degree (see Hebrews 1:3).

The saints heroic, selfless love is beauty in action” (140).

The saints are “symphonies of beauty, whole, united, entire, and burning with love” (143).

“Our final conclusion: Art always requires an artist. Beauty does not and cannot happen by random chance… Saints splendor happens through two intellects and two free wills, those of the divine Artist and of the human saying yes to the gifts he gives. Saints have the habit of saying yes, sinners the habit of saying no” (143, 144).

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Chapter 13: Glories of Catholicism

Although the Lord works in anyone who pursues Him in honesty and moral rectitude, “the saints are, as St. Paul observes, a new creation, a revolution, well described by our terms heroes and heroines (see Eph 4:23-4). They are extraordinarily beautiful, divine masterpieces… Because of their sheer attractiveness, the saints are powerful ads for Catholicism. They live the Church’s teaching and her life to the hilt” (145-6).

“The only honest and fair way to evaluate an organization or a movement, secular or religious, is to judge it according to the performance of members who accept its aims, teachings, and principles and live them faithfully” (146).

“The beauty of Christ is spectacularly evident in the lives of the saints. This dazzling beauty is evident, that is, to anyone whose vision is clear of egocentrism” (152).

Since “all of the most eminent physicists of the 20th century agree that BEAUTY is the primary standard for scientific truth… Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman remarked that “you can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity” (153), the saints are immediately convincing of the glories of Catholicism.

“A saint is a woman or man who lives fully what the Church is and teaches. Truth transforms; it is real… Further, the Church’s seven sacraments, themselves issuing from the will of our Lord, are powerhouses of holiness for those who receive them well” (154).Image result for catholic quotes on beauty

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