Looks like I caught a nasty cold over the weekend. I rarely get sick, but when I do, I look/feel like death warmed over. You know the feeling: weakness, headaches, fatigue, sore…symptoms which inhibit an otherwise busy and vibrant daily life.
But thank God, I am blessed, because I happen to be in the company of my wife (a nurse) and two very caring daughters. If I have a new symptom or need something to ease my discomfort, my wife knows just what to do by drawing upon her medical knowledge and experience. My daughters are also there to make me smile even though I am in pain. Their presence and particular skills/characteristics help me confront this nasty cold.
For Catholics, the intercession of the saints works the same way.
Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12-27 the “body of Christ” which is composed of many interdependent parts, all serving the greater whole. None are more important than the other, and none can function properly without its fellow members. This concept deals mainly with our specific gifts and talents, however the implied “body” illustrates the intimate nature of the family of believers to ourselves and Christ.
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.“
We are to pray for one another, anoint one another with oil. Heal our sick, join together in praise of God…and never is there found a distinction between the living and the dead who do this. God is indeed the God of the living (Mark 12: 27) and the living are called to pray for one another. But Andrew, those in heaven are dead, how can the dead pray for us? What is dead is the flesh, our bodies which bear the soul in this earthly realm. Aside from that, God is the “alpha and omega” the beginning and the end. God’s point of view therefore transcends time and space and we are all one in the great narrative event of creation.
So we see from Scripture the importance of prayer for and with one another–the “saints”–regardless of our distinction within time and place because these qualifiers do not matter to a timeless, omnipresent God. So what’s the big beef regarding prayer to the saints in heaven?
1 Timothy 2:5 reads,
“For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus…“
Looks like that ends the argument doesn’t it? No, not really. Catholics acknowledge and insist upon this passage, however the passage does not exclude the participation of others on behalf of ourselves. If you are a Christian, look back at a time when you’ve asked someone to pray with or for you. Maybe you were sick or going through a tough spot in life. If you believe the above verse, why ask someone to pray with you? Because you know that Christ is the one mediator, however we are also called to support one another through prayer, especially seeking those who are close to God or knowledgeable in particular areas (see James 5: 13-16).
That is why today for example, I have prayed to God and asked for comfort and healing in the name of Jesus first, because Christ is my “high priest” and the bearer of my afflictions. I have also asked my wife to help me, my children, and I will eventually ask for your prayers as well. In addition, I will also ask saints in heaven, (such as St. John of God who was known for his selfless service to the sick and poor) who reside close to God and who had earthly experience with the sick and suffering to pray with and for me. The saints are not taking the place of Christ, but joining me in prayer to God for my healing. Devotion is not given to saints, the faithful here only ask for their help just as we would here on earth.
The saints are examples and role models for our daily life, although Christ himself is our supreme example. Saints show us how to live as humans who suffer and triumph as humans toward the feet of Christ. In Christ, we are all one human family whose souls occupy one existence. We must, just as we are called to do, lean on one another and pray together for the strength to successfully navigate this life.
Now I ask for your prayers. You don’t have to be Catholic though because even though I am living as one this month, I am just as fully any of the others I have explored this year. We are all saints of faith as far as I’m concerned.
For my Catholic friends, how do you view the concept of intercession of the saints? Do you have a patron saint?