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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why do we Pray to Saints?

Why Do We Pray to Saints?

I was asked by a Baptist friend recently a question that many of us have fielded from our Protestant friends and neighbors: “Why do Catholics pray to Saints, instead of just going directly to Jesus?”  First it must be pointed out that we Catholics do pray directly to Jesus, all the time.  Sometimes our friends don’t realize that.  But even if they do, oftentimes they have a concern that by praying to Saints, we are violating 1Tim 2:5, which states that “there is also one Mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, Himself human.”  Other times we may even be scorned as idolators.
Whatever the context of the question, if the inquirer is asking with sincerity, it provides a wonderful opportunity for us to witness to one of the great treasures of our Faith: the Communion of Saints.  And since our first pope admonishes us to be prepared to explain our Faith (1 Pet. 3:15), I thought I would share my answer here.
My friend, though charitable, clearly disapproved of the practice of praying to Saints.  The first thing I pointed out to her is that she asks me to pray for her all the time.  When Catholics pray to Saints, that is exactly what we are doing.  In fact, sometimes she even asks me to ask others to pray for her intentions.  (I have never asked St. Francis to ask St. Joseph to pray for me.)  The response to every invocation of a Saint is, “Pray for us.”  We use the word “pray” in the traditional sense of “to ask.”  We ask the Saints to pray to God for us, just as my friend asks me to pray for her.
Why does she do that?  She certainly prays for her own intentions.  Why does she want me to pray for her?  Because she understands the power of prayer.  Am I challenging Jesus’s role as Mediator because I intercede for her with my prayers?  No, because I approach that one Mediator, just as she does on her own behalf.  She is following the guidance of St. Paul, who repeatedly asks us to pray for each other.  That is exactly what we do as Catholics when we ask the Saints to pray for us.  Scripture tells us that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful (James 5:16).  If my prayers are worthwhile, how much more powerful are those of the Saints, in glory, beholding the Face of God?
Most of our Protestant friends, if they are honest, will acknowledge, once they understand it, that when we “pray” to Saints, we are not violating 1Tim 2:5.  But most likely, objections will still remain.  The most common is, “But the Saints are dead.  They can’t hear you, and we are not supposed to communicate with the dead.”
Jesus answered this objection when confronted by the Sadducees.  He reminded them that God told Moses that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  “He is God not of the dead, but of the living,” Jesus said (Mt. 22:32).  He used it as a proof of the resurrection.  St. Paul also teaches us that death can not separate us from the Love of God (Rom. 8:39).  We remain part of the Body of Christ.  The Saints in Heaven are more alive than you or I, and in Christ’s Body, we are united to them.
It is also important to point out that the necromancy condemned in the Old Testament refers to conjuring up the spirits of the dead, as in séances.  This is absolutely forbidden to Catholics and has no relation to the prayer, “St. Therese, pray for us!”
But do the Saints care?  Are they invested in or aware of, our lives?  And do they pray for us?  Why do we assume that?  These are questions we may still be asked, even once our friends are convinced that we don’t practice necromancy after all.
The Saints do hear us; they do care; and they do pray for us.  How do we know that?  There are three main sources we can use to demonstrate this truth.
The first is Sacred Tradition.  Our non-Catholic friends won’t be interested in the Magisterium of the Church, but many are interested in the practice of the early Christians.  We have records of prayers to the early Saints and martyrs that date to the first century.  That is a powerful witness.
The second witness is that of miracles.  There have been countless verified miracles attributed to the intercession of the Saints.  The Saints, of course, don’t do miracles by their power, but God clearly uses them as channels of His miraculous Power.
Third, we hit ‘em where it hurts: the Scripture.  In Hebrews 12:1, after listing many of the heroes of the Old Testament, the author tells us that we are surrounded by this “cloud of witnesses.”  The Saints are aware of our lives.  In Luke 15:7, Jesus tells us there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one repentant sinner than ninety-nine righteous men.  The Saints care.  And finally, in Revelation 5:8, St. John sees Saints offering bowls of incense to God, “which are the prayers of the holy ones.”  The Saints are offering our prayers to God, just as I do when I pray for someone else’s intentions.
If the conversation has gotten this far, chances are you’ve cleared up a lot of misconceptions, and bridged the intolerable gap, just a little, that separates Christian from Christian.
A Word About Devotion
Most likely, our Protestant brothers and sisters, when they understand what is meant by “praying to the Saints,” and have learned the basis for why we do it, will have no serious objections to it.  But they may still be put off by the devotion we have to the Saints.  Why do we do that?  Aren’t we giving them honor that is due to God alone?
No we are not.  If we are, then our devotion is disordered, and not what the Church recommends.  We do not “worship” the Saints.  We worship God alone.  The Saints are human beings, and not God.
Note:  We must not be put off by older texts that use words slightly differently.  “Worship” comes from “worth-ship,” to show the worth of.  In the past, a man would be expected to worship his wife, but adoration was for God alone.  Today, we speak of adoring our wives, but worshiping God alone.  The semantics have changed; the concepts have not.
We are devoted to the Saints.  We have statues and pictures of them, and we love them.  Guess what?  I’m devoted to my wife.  I have more pictures of her in my house than any Saint, and I can see her in person by just turning my head to look at her.  On my computer at work, the desktop is a picture of my kids.  I can’t open a file or send an email without looking at their image.  Talk about idolatry!
No Protestant would have a problem with that.  They are my family and I love them.  I like having their pictures around to call them to my mind and my heart.  None of this challenges the place that God has in my heart.  This is the exact reason we have images of the Saints, our family in Christ, in our houses and in our churches.