Wednesday, January 20, 2016

4 Reasons Every Christian Should Pray to the Saints

November, for the Catholic Church, is a time to especially reflect upon our relationship with those who have "run the race" (cf. 2 Tim 4:7) before us. Whether that be the Church Suffering, those being prepared for Heavenly glory by being purified after their deaths of all desire for sin, or the Church Triumphant, those already experiencing the ultimate joy of human existence - the beatific vision, we are called to turn our minds toward those who's time has come and gone. In that spirit, I wanted to address some common concerns I've heard Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian express over the Catholic practice of asking the saints for their prayers. Here are four good reason to start praying to the saints.

Reason 1 - The Saints Are Alive Not Dead.
Do We Look Dead?

One common concern raised by non-Catholic (potential Catholic!) Christians, that in praying to those Christians that have gone before us we are breaking God's command to not commune with the dead (cf. Deut. 18:11). Which leads us to ask, are the saved dead?

Our non-Catholic friends might be surprised to hear the Bible tell them, 
"you are wrong, because you know neither scriptures nor the power of God... have you not read what was said to you by God, '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 (Matt 22:29-32)
Asking for their prayers, then, is not communing with the dead. Allow me to repeat that - the saved are not dead - they are more alive than we are. 

To further make this point, when Jesus appears in His glory on the Mount of the Transfiguration He is speaking to two "dead" people, Moses and Elijah (cf. Matt 17:3). This clearly demonstrates the true heavenly reality, one in which the saved are interacting with God on behalf of the Church.

But it is not just of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets who are not "dead." Jesus, as always, shows a greater reality is present under the New Covenant than was ever dreamed of under the Old. In fact, Jesus refutes the non-Catholic's position in one of their favorite Bible verses to quote, John 3:16.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
Claiming that the saved are dead, thus fall under the prohibition in Deuteronomy, is calling Jesus a liar - it's saying no, those who believe in you will perish. As Jesus doesn't just tell the truth, but is the truth, I think I'll side with Him over his evangelical and Protestant followers on this one.

That the saints are alive and praying for those of us on Earth is witnessed by St. John in the Apocalypse.
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 (5:8)
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, voices, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. (Rev 8:1-5) 
Thus the prayers of the saints have (quite dramatic) effects upon the Earth, upon those Christians still living.

Reason 2 - We are Meant to Pray for Each Other
But, someone will object citing 1 Timothy 2:5, Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. Even if the saints are alive, we still shouldn't ask them to pray for us. When this verse is brought up, I can only say, you’re 100% right that Jesus is a unique mediator between God and man, but He allows us to pray for each other through His mediation. Don’t you ever ask your pastor or your mother or a friend to pray for you? It is no different with the saints. They pray for us just as our friends on Earth do. You quote 1 Timothy 2:5, if you would read the first five verses of the same chapter you’d see that we are not only able to pray for each other, but the Bible commands us to! 

“1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. 3 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:1-6).
St. Paul isn't contradicting himself here. He isn't saying, in verses 1-4, to pray for others and then saying all such prayers are pointless because only Jesus can mediate between God and man. Rather Ouhe is showing us how our prayers can be effective. Out puny prayers work, not in opposition to, but because of the unique mediation of Jesus Christ. My prayer for you (or Our Lady's prayer for me) works because it participates in Jesus' mediation.

The Bible, then, tells us not to only pray to Jesus, but to pray for each other - which includes asking each other for prayers. As the saved are still alive, we can ask not only our pastor or our best friend to pray for us, but also St. Paul himself! Praying to those saved in Jesus, then, is a powerful way to extend our "church prayer list" to Heaven itself!
Prayer is a Work of Mercy

Reason 3 - The Prayers of the Saints are More Powerful than Ours
Still some might object that asking for the prayers to those in Eternal Life is pointless, why not just ask those we know in this life to pray for us? The answer is simple, their prayers are more powerful than ours.

We learn in James 5:16 that
The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
And, in Revelation 21:27, we learn
nothing unclean shall enter it (Heaven), nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Thus those who have entered Heaven are righteous, which means their prayers have "great power." Those of us here on Earth on the other hand
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)
making our prayers less powerful. I don't know about you, but I'll take the more powerful prayers of the saved please. If that wasn't enough, the saints can pray for us non-stop (they don't have to go to work or go to sleep) making them the ultimate resource for prayer. Do we have to take advantage of these powerful prayers? Do we have to be friends with the saved? No, but why wouldn't we want to be?
He Wants to Help You!

Reason 4 - The Saints Want to Pray for Us
But would the saints even want to pray for us, some might ask. Would they care about people they never met, who live centuries (even millennia) after they've passed into the next life? The Bible tells us they absolutely would. As we saw above, nothing unclean can enter Heaven - the saints have been purified of the self-love and pride that brings sin into our world. They thus can, and do, follow God's commandments perfectly (there is no sin in Heaven). Following God's commands includes following the greatest commandments,
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”  Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12:28-31)
The saints love us. They will our good, including our greatest good - salvation. They are able to pray for us, their prayers are powerful, and they want to pray for us, the only thing lacking is our willingness to want them to pray for us.

A Question for Non-Catholic Christians
Which leaves me asking a question to our "separated brothers,"

1. The Bible says we are to pray for each other (1 Tim 2: 1-6)
2. The Bible says the saved are still alive (Jn 3:16)
3. The Bible shows the saved before the throne of God offering prayers for those still on Earth (Rev 8-1:5)
4 The Bible shows the saved speak to Jesus (see the Transfiguration, Matt 17 where Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus)
5 The Bible says the union of those who believe is so strong that we are one body (1 Cor 10:17)

All of which shows that there is no division in Christ - that those who are in Christ on Earth are still connected with (in communion with) those who have already gone on to meet their reward. 

My question then - where does the Bible say that those who are in Eternal Life can’t pray for us? 

Or think of it like this. If you were to die in Christ tonight, would you stop wanting to ask Jesus to help your loved ones? I wouldn’t. Seeing Jesus face to face would only make me want to pray more for those I love - especially those who don’t believe. Why would the saints be any different? Why not make use of their powerful prayers - it might just change your life. And remember, asking a saint for their prayers is not something we do "instead of praying to Jesus" anymore than asking your mom to pray for you is. We ought to seek the prayers of others, pray for others ourselves, and pray to Jesus for our own intentions and needs. It's "both/and" not "either/or."