Who needs the saints, what’s the point? A nicely done video by Fr. Jim Martin, author of My Life With the Saints, which has been endlessly plugged around here, and with good reason. It’s a good way to spend 3 1/2 minutes.
I’ve written before about the Communion of Saints and what it is like to pray with the cloud of witnesses St. Paul tells us are always around us. Christians profess the Communion of Saints in the Apostles Creed, but aside from the Catholics and Orthodox, we don’t actually talk about engaging them in prayer – asking them to pray with and for us. Anglicans recognise the saints, too, but are – I think – a little less pally with them, and the Evangelicals don’t think about them at all. That’s partly because, although there is growing friendship and understanding between Catholics and Evangelicals, there is a tremendous disconnect between them on this issue. Some Evangelicals swear we “worship” the saints instead of God and engage in idolatry, and we Catholics and Orthodox don’t do a very good job of explaining that our engagements with the saints are the farthest things from “worship” but are in fact, fast friendships wherein we pray together.
Also, Evangelicals and many Protestants insist that the canon of saints is unnecessary because “we’re all saints.” Well…okay, but if we believe in eternal life, then it seems sensible to me that those who went before us – now in heaven – are still capable of praying with us and for us, just like anyone else.
The supernatural is the supernatural. I’ve never understood how people can believe that God can Incarnate via a Virgin and rise from the dead, yet not believe that the same God can feed us with his own body and blood – just like He says in John, Chapter 6 – or that once eternal life is entered into, the dead can be alive in heaven but dead to us.
A friend sent me an email today asking for prayers for her dying father, who is a resolute atheist and a man with a rather impoverished spirit. She wrote:
He is one of the stubbornest men alive who has turned his life into a personal Calcutta, a personal hell, from which he will not cooperate one bit to emerge. Of course I pray for his return to health, but I pray more for a crack in that stubborn facade so that he can see God is reaching out, just wanting him to grasp the slightest bit at Love Himself.
The idea of his having created his own personal Calcutta came to me last night and made me begin turning to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) for intercession. If every anyone understood the utter poverty of being unloved, even if it by one’s own choice, it is she.
And this is where the ancient and traditional understanding of the Communion of Saints is brought into dynamic play in our lives. My friend was perfectly right – and likely inspired by the Holy Spirit – to consider that Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, who ministered to “the poorest of the poor” (and who warned the West that the meanest streets in Bombay did not compare with our spiritual poverty and emptiness) would be a powerful ally in prayer.
This is what we do every time we say to another, “please pray for me…” – we engage in the Communion of Saints. And when we ask those who are dead to the world but yet alive to pray for us, for our loved ones, we do it again. When we invite the saints to pray with us, our prayer becomes infused with the wisdom and insight, stout-hearted faith and absolute certainty of knowledge which they bring to it, because they are praying in the light of heaven.
When I pray the rosary at night, I invite my little “prayer group” to pray it with me. The Gang includes St Michael, Cardinal John O’ Connor, Mother Teresa, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Maximillian Kolbe and Richard Neuhaus (he’s new). Others come and go, depending on who or what I am offering the Rosary for. When praying for a friend who is a deacon, I invite in St. Lawrence or St. Stephen (both martyrs); when offering Thanksgiving, I ask Pope John Paul II, St. Philip Neri and St. Therese of Lisieux to pray along. When I am aware that I am failing in love, I ask Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity to pray the rosary with me and for me, because her writings on love have astonished me. When I pray for my nation, I invite Sts. Thomas More and Thomas Becket and all of the North American beatas, saints and others (everyone from Bl. Kateri Teckakwitha to St. Katharine Drexel, to Frs. Solanus Casey and Juniepero Serra, to past presidents and soldiers to pray with me.) Lately, with people worrying about their jobs, St. Joseph – patron saint of workers – is getting a lot of invites, and he never lets me down!
Praying the rosary with The Gang, btw, has created within me a love for the rosary which I could not manage – in 50 years of trying – to cultivate on my own.
Does it sound crazy? Well, alright, then, I’m crazy, but these people pray with me – I can feel them with me and we are together in prayer. Communion and community go hand-in-hand, and prayer is a serious and solid force that can do amazing things.
Tonight, when you’re saying your prayers – try inviting a saint you know to pray along. You don’t have to be Catholic, and the saint doesn’t have to be part of the Canon. You can ask your sweet granny who loved you to pray with you. I am certain she will.