Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why Pray to Saints?


The following is an excellent response to this question that was just posted on Catholics Are Christians! fb page. It is written by Robert Schoeneman.

The key points are asking those in heaven to pray for us  is a practice rooted in Scripture and has been carried on by the Church since the beginning. So much so that when the Church decided to put together its "White Paper" on what it is that Catholics believe, they included this very topic known as the Communion of Saints.
One has to deny both history and Holy Scripture to claim that praying to saints is wrong.

“Why do Catholics pray to dead saints?”

This is a question that was posed to me some time ago by a Protestant. I would propose that Christians who have died in the faith are not dead. As Jesus told the Sadducees:

You err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married, but shall be as the angels of God in heaven. And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken by God, saying to you:  I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.                                                Matthew 22:29-32, Douay-Rheims Version

The saints in Heaven are very much alive. Many Protestants will agree with this (only some groups, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, teach the doctrine of ‘soul sleep’), but will disagree that we can ask them for their intercession, or that they can hear our prayers. To answer this, let’s look at Revelation 6:9-11:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne;  they cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?" Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

This clearly shows that the saints are alive in heaven and that they are aware of events on earth, and also that the Last Judgment has not yet occurred (as they are asking when they will be avenged. We also see in the preceding chapter (Revelation 5:9) about the prayers of the saints being offered in heaven (boldface my emphasis):

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Protestants will quote 1 Timothy 2:5 about Jesus Christ being the “one mediator between God and men” as an objection to the intercession of the saints. It is true that no human being can open the gate to Heaven for us as Jesus did. But we see in the Bible that Jesus delegated authority to the Apostles and their successors, and as members of the Body of Christ, we are to pray for one another.

Protestants will agree that we are to pray for one another, but will ask, why not ask those who are still on earth to pray for us? Catholics certainly do ask their fellow Christians to pray for them, but we do not stop being a member of the Body of Christ when we die; instead we become more radically united with Christ (which is what the Catholic teaching on the Communion of Saints is all about). As the Apostle James says in 5:16 of his epistle, “the fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (NAB). Surely the prayers of those who have gone to Heaven and now see God face to face are very powerful.Another objection to praying to the saints is that it is necromancy, conjuring up the dead to foretell the future, which is forbidden in the Bible. However, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

2115 God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility.
2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.

When we pray to the saints, we are not asking them to foretell the future, but simply asking them to intercede for us, and since they are still joined to the Body of Christ, we have confidence that they can hear and pray for us.

It should also be pointed out that “praying” is not the same as “worshiping”- that is reserved for God alone.  While the word “pray” commonly refers to making a request from a deity, it can also mean to “ask somebody for something, especially earnestly or with passion.”  This is how the word is used in older literature, like Shakespeare.

Chapter 11 of the Epistle to the Hebrews recounts the faithfulness of the heroes of the Old Testament. The author continues in Chapter 12:1 (boldface my emphasis):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

The sacred writer uses the image of an arena with crowds of cheering fans watching the action. As this passage shows, the saints are not simply passive in heaven, but actively rooting for us. As St Thérèse of Lisieux said before she died, "I want to spend my Heaven doing good on earth." Blessed Miguel Pro, the Mexican priest martyred by the Mexican Government in the ‘30s, wrote that he felt martyrdom would be his key to heaven, and if granted, told his friends that if he were allowed this favor, his friends should get their petitions ready, “because from heaven he would deal out favors as if they were a deck of cards.” This is the beautiful thing about the Catholic doctrine of praying to the saints, to have a whole family of holy men and women interceding for us and helping us on our journey to heaven. (Author Robert Schoeneman)


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