Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Facebook Apologetics: Praying to the Saints, Pt. 1

Recently I joined a Facebook group called "Apologetics: Defending the Faith (and discussion)". The name of the group alone is a mouthful, which is fitting considering that once I began participating in the discussions, I soon wondered if perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew. It only takes a single Catholic to join one of these groups for all the anti-Catholics to come out of the woodwork. But, instead of trying to respond to EVERYTHING, which is simply impossible, I decided to focus on a handful of topics and give those my best effort.

This is the first of the debates I have engaged in so far. I will be posting the remainder every couple of days or so, with the "Facebook Apologetics" main heading. There are several players involved in this series, and they are all very colorful characters, as you will see. Please leave comments and let me know what you think.

Pax Christi,

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The questions that started this debate come from "Terry":
  • does scripture say they hear our prayers, can they hear ALL the prayers and at the same time? Does there intercession intercede that of those among the living (on earth) Will it hurt or hinder my prayer if i dont pray to them?

Well, they don’t have ears so that can’t exactly “hear,” but I do think they have an awareness of our actions and our prayers. St. Paul refers to the saints who came before us as a “great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us as we run the race that is set before us (Heb 12:1). We, or at least the apostles of the Church, are “a spectacle” to them (1 Cor 4:9). Jesus, for His part, tells us that there is great joy among the angels when one sinner repents (cf. Lk 15:7,10) and warns his audience that no one should harm the little ones, for “their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10). The idea seems to be that the angels, as witnesses to the actions of men, will report back to the Lord any wrong-doing that befalls his children.

I think the greatest examples though come from the Book of Revelation, where the angels are seen offering our prayers up to the Father, like incense (cf. Rev 5:8; 8:3-4). Psa 141:2 likens our prayer as “incense before thee,” which tells me that the prayers the angels are offering to the Lord are of the saints on earth, not those in heaven.

If that weren’t enough, there are also many examples in scripture of angels and saints interceding for us, which is basically what they do when they pray for us or bring our intentions to the Lord. Eli'hu the son of Bar'achel the Buzite speaks to Job of “an angel, a mediator, one of the thousand” who will intercede for man, saying to the Lord, “Deliver him from going down into the Pit, I have found a ransom; let his flesh become fresh with youth; let him return to the days of his youthful vigor” (Job 33:23-25). God told Jeremiah that Moses and Samuel came before Him on behalf of the people, but He would not turn His heart towards them (cf. Jer 15:1). Zechariah saw a vision of an angel who pleaded with the Lord to have mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah. “And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me” (Zech 1:12-13). John saw a vision of the saints pleading with the Lord that his vengeance may come upon those who have and will shed the blood of the martyrs (cf. Rev 6:9-11). At any rate, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” It makes perfect sense that they would serve this function.

As for your other questions:

Q: “can they hear ALL the prayers and at the same time?”
A: They can hear all the prayers that are directed to them.

Q: “Does there intercession intercede that of those among the living (on earth)”
A: Does their intercession intercede? I don’t understand your question. Maybe you meant to say, “Does their intercession supersede …” If so, I would say that all prayers that go to God, whether they be by the saints on earth or the saints in heaven, are equally important to him.

Q: “Will it hurt or hinder my prayer if i dont pray to them?”
A: Well, it is true that some people pray more powerfully than others do, in virtue of their greater discernment of God’s will and their greater unity with Himl. James says, “The prayers of the righteous are very powerful in their effects,” and there is no one more righteous than a saint in heaven. That being the case, I do think that neglecting the saints is a missed opportunity to have your petition brought before the Father in a more perfect manner. But, no one is required to pray to the saints, and your prayer life doesn’t depend on utilizing their intercession. So, you either pray to the saints or you don’t. If you do, you will benefit from it.

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