Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Prayers to the Saints: Part 3

It looks like my 4-step defense of prayers to the saints has sparked a debate between James and I. Here is my response to his most recent comment. Also see Part 1 (the post that started it all) and Part 2.

Pax Christi,
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Thank you for your explanations to my question about praying to the saints. I found your answers very profound - but not convincing!
How about the part where I explain how the saints can hear our prayers w/o being omniscient/omnipresent, and even if they were, this wouldn't make them Gods? You seem to have moved on to the angels-saints distinction, and to some nice little anecdotes that don't prove anything ;)

You are rather liberal in equating saints with angels. Yes, angels are at our disposal and aid, but saints - that is, people once living on earth and now in heaven -do not move between heaven and earth like angels, except in exceptionsl cases such as at the transfiguration. (Remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus)
Well, even though Samuel did appear to Saul in 1 Sam 28, and there have been several apparitions of Mary that no doctors or scientists have been able to explain, I never mentioned saints moving between heaven and earth so I'm not sure why you're bringing that up. They don't have to move between heaven and earth in order to hear our prayers anyway, so even if they weren't able to do this, it wouldn't really matter.

Btw, no one has ever called me "rather liberal" before! Haha, I guess there's a first time for everything.

You give many reasons for praying to saints. I offer just two reasons why I don't.
1. Saints fall in and out of fashion. For example, St George the patron saint of England, has been dismissed by most serious scholars as a figment of the medieval imagination. St Philomena is currently under review - and there are many more in the same catagory. So how is it possible to pray to a saint sanctioned by the church in one era and dismissed in another?
Saints may grow and wane in popularity, but they are never de-canonized. Even when it is found that no solid historical evidence exists about the life of a saint, this does not then mean that the person in question ceases to be a saint, nor are Catholics ever discouraged from praying to him. The canonization of a holy man or woman is infallible, and cannot be revoked.

2. I remember hearing the story about a soldier who wanted to speak with President Lincoln. Of course, when he arrived at the White House he was told he couldn't just walk in and expect to speak with the president. He would have to make an appointment with his senator and congressman. He should speak to their secretaries, write a letter and make a request.
He left the White House downhearted, clutching a handful of forms and request slips.
A young boy saw him and asked what was wrong. When the soldier told the boy, he grabbed the soldier's hand and marched up to the White House gates which opened wide and the pair walked past security. The boy then opened the front door of the White House. He then took the soldier along a corridor and then another and no-one questioned or stopped them. Suddenly, they came to a large door and the soldier just knew that was the door to the Oval Office.
The boy opened the door and there was Abraham Lincoln sitting at his desk. The president looked up, saw the soldier then the boy and said: "Robert, son, what can I do for you."
The boy smiled at the president and said: "Dad, this soldier needs to speak with you."
You see, the Son has direct access to the Father.
That's a cute story, but it doesn't really prove anything. Catholics too believe that the Son has direct access to the Father. No one is denying that. Praying to saints does not implicitly reveal some secret belief that we can only gain access to God through the saints, or that Jesus isn't good enough to pray to. Protestants like to assume that, but it's not true.

Let me ask you this: If Jesus has direct access to the Father, and, b/c of his salvation, we do to....why do you ask other people to pray for you? Why not just cut out the middle man and pray to the Father, or to Jesus yourself? I imagine you would respond by saying that you do both: you ask other people to pray for you AND you pray to God yourself. Perhaps you would also say that you don't consider the request you made to your neighbor to detract from Jesus' sole mediatorship or your direct access to God.

Well, we don't either. The saints are members of the Body just as much as the person sitting in the pew next to you. If I can ask the person in the pew to pray for me, then I can ask a saint in heaven to pray for me too. It all goes back to the syllogism that I provided in my original post. I suggest that you read over it again.

I know Catholics who venerate saints, who confuse devotion with worship. They actually do pray TO a statue, touching it like a good luck charm.
And how do you know that? Did they tell you that? From my experience dialoguing with Protestants, it's more likely that you saw someone kneeling in front of a statue and you simply assumed that's what they were doing. Such assumptions are dangerous b/c they are based on inference and conjecture, instead of on the actual motivations for the posture.

The proximity of a statue to me, in a kneeling position, does not necessarily prove that I am praying to the statue. Kneeling is the posture of prayer. If I wish to pray to Mary, it is often helpful to kneel in the presence of a statue or painting of Mary. Such things can act as visual aids, helping me to focus my thoughts on my prayer to her.

The intent is not to pray to the statue/image but to pray to Mary herself, the image being there to help me focus my prayer. Protestants do the same type of thing when they pray clutching a Bible. I've also seen Protestants kneel in front of a Cross in their church and pray. Does this mean they are praying to the Bible or to the Cross? Of course not. It just helps them to focus their prayer when they have these things close to them.

Now, in every religion, there are ignorant adherents who unknowingly fall into abuse. So, I'm sure there are Catholics somewhere who actually pray TO statues. But, this is an abuse and it is not the teaching or practice of the Church. To attempt to refute the Church based on the actions of people who are not even following the Church is basically to tear down a strawman, and that's a logical fallacy.

I remember standing in Westminster Cathedral, London, the seat of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. The tabernacle in which Catholics believe is Jesus Christ, body, soul and divinity was looking lonely in the sanctuary. But beside me near a large statue of St Andrew (I think it was him) a queue of Catholics was standing, waiting to touch the foot of this giant plaster statue, whispering a prayer and then bowing their heads, giving the plaster foot a final pat before leaving.
Now, if you actually believe the tabernacle contains Jesus, body, soul and divinity, why on earth or in heaven, would you rub a plaster statue's big toe? You would be prostrate in front of the tabernacle.
The touching of a statue of a saint is a symbol of the respect and admiration we have for them, as holy men and women who ran the race to completion and won the imperishable wreath. It can be very heart-warming to ponder the lives of these saints, and it is good to appreciate them for being such amazing role models for us. Since we obviously can't hug them ourselves, we make a gesture of appreciation towards a statue or image of them. Again, the gesture is not for the statue, but for the saint symbolized by it.

The reason you didn't see a bunch of people rubbing all over the tabernacle is b/c the area around the tabernacle and the altar is holy. It's the place where the priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and it calls for due reserve. The tabernacle is very much like the Ark of the Covenant, which could not even be touched b/c of the Presence of God found within it.

Now, don't take from this that Catholics feel that Jesus is unapproachable. After all, when we celebrate the Eucharist, we step right up to his table and he comes to dwell in us in a substantial way. It's just that, out of respect and adoration for his Presence in the tabernacle, we kneel and/or genuflect before it instead of trying to touch it.

Also note that, when a parish has an adoration chapel where the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance, the people will go there to adore Jesus in the Eucharist instead of the main sanctuary (although you could kneel in the sanctuary and adore Christ just as well). So, that could also explain why no one was lined up in front of the tabernacle, although I have no doubt that, as a sign of their respect for the Presence in the tabernacle, they genuflected whenever they walked by it.

This is the problem with saintly devotion. It becomes a faith, a religion, a diversion in itself and deprives the masses of a deep, personal and loving relationship with Jesus, the one Mediator with the Father. If Jesus told us to go to Him, why not take Him at His word?
More assumptions on your part, my friend. When you ask one of your brothers in Christ on earth to pray for you, does that become a "diversion in itself" that "deprives" you of "a deep, personal and loving relationship with Jesus"? Of course not! Well, the same thing applies here. The saints do not interfere with my relationship with Christ anymore than your fellow brothers in Christ do.

We know full and well that Jesus is the one mediator. Trust me, it's the first verse that Protestants run to in this debate. We are VERY FAMILIAR with it. Bit, if you will think for a moment about what it means that Jesus is the "one mediator", I think you will realize how pointless it is to bring this verse to the table.

Jesus is the "one mediator" in the sense that he was the only one who could reconcile man with God. But, the saints aren't even trying to do that! They are just praying for us (like your brothers do) and we are just asking for their prayers (like you do)! The verse doesn't even apply to what we are discussing. The only reason you used it was b/c you see the saints as "mediators", but the verse itself is affirming a perogative of Jesus that I have not once claimed for the saints. See what I mean? If the saints are "mediators", it is no more than your brother is a "mediator" whenever he prays for you.

Pax Christi,


  1. Is that James Hastings?? He's over at the pillars too. I was coming over here for some help.....

    Too bad he misses the point entirely and refuses to open his heart.


  2. Yea, that's him. I saw his comment on your blog. It looks like this is his pet issue. Don't worry about it. I'll respond to him over there for you.

  3. Kewl! Thanks
    Hugs bunches,

  4. Hi Nicholas,

    Thank you for your further explanations. It is refreshing to encounter such erudition on this topic. Clearly, you think and read much on the matter of praying to the saints. I applaud your logic and your personal convictions.
    Let me outline my position here. I am not an outsider, a Protestant gazing into the Catholic world, blinded by mis-information and ignorance.
    I was a Catholic for some forty years. I was taught by Marist Brothers and was in the Legion of Mary for 15 years. Two of my aunts were nuns, two uncles Marists and my oldest sister is a Daughter of Charity of St Vincet de Paul. My brother is a daily communicant, and daily Rosary man and a devout Catholic. You see, I come from a very Catholic background.
    I am anxious therefore, not to say anything that may offend you as a devout Catholic. My prayer is you walk true in your Catholic faith. I have no desire to 'convert' you to become an Evangelical as I am. (I am a member of the Pioneer group of churches.)
    Neither am I anti-Catholic. I am a big supporter of the Catholic charismatic group, Flame Ministries (www.flameministries.org) All the literature produced by Flame carries an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat. I also support Cor et Lumen Christi, a similar charismatic group based in England with a devotion to the Eucharist.
    It was through the charismatic groups that I discovered a real relationship with Jesus. In forty years as a Catholic, I honestly never knew Him. He wasn't taught in Catholic school. A good Catholic friend of mine who is a member of charismatic renewal in Scotland and at least 20 years older than me ( I am 48), told me when she was at school the Holy Spirit was 'an unknown name tagged on at the end of the sign of the cross."
    In the many Catholic parishes I attended, there was never any Bible study. It simply was not encouraged, yet we know faith comes through hearing the Word of God. (an Sunday Mass readings are not enough)
    There were plenty of devotions to saints and Mary, such as the Legion of Mary. But I was never taught about the Holy Spirit either. I knew more about authors like Louis de Montfort, than I did about Paul. I read more on the story of Fatima than anything about the Holy Spirit.
    I knew nothing of the promises won for me by the life, death and ressurection of Jesus. I knew nothing of our covenant rights dating back to Abraham. I learned all of this and more through the charismatic movement.
    I believed healing was restricted to Lourdes and suffering was not only the norm, but something to be saught. Then I heard Fr Bob deGrandis say: "The Catholic church has a huge theology on suffering, but not on healing."
    Now, I see people healed - in every sense of that word - all the time. I could tell you of numerous healing I have received.
    Recently, a Catholic friend who (by the power of the Holy Spirit, not his own authority) has raised the dead, cured cancer, depression, lack and every spiritual ailment, told me: "Why is it most Catholics believe they have to wait until a good Catholic like Pope John Paul dies before they can expect a miracle?"
    Nicholas, often Catholics tell me to 'open my heart' or 'come back to the true Faith' when they discover I am an ex-Catholic.
    I honestly believe my eyes are open like never before and my faith so very true in the church of which I am a member.
    I have enjoyed our debate. I thank you for allowing me so much space on your blog.
    I will pull out now and allow you to get on with your work. Let me end with something that may surprise you.
    As an Evangelical, I believe John Paul and Mother Teresa are in heaven. You may do so too, but officially you cannot state that until the Vatican declares them saints.
    You see, as an Evangelical, I do believe Catholics will get to heaven but you will be the last denomination there. That is because you Catholics prefer the long road - suffering, devotion, suffering, Rosaries, suffering, veneration and some more mortification.
    We Evangelicals will see you coming in the distance and we'll get the coffee ready. We won't ask you 'what kept you' because we will know. But by then it won't matter, because we will all be at the Great Feast with Him alone.




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