Saturday, November 10, 2007

How are Prayers to the Saints really Prayers to God?

I haven't posted in a while - I hope to return to it soon.

This particular piece is the response to a question about why several Catholic events that a woman attended did not involve any prayers to Jesus Himself, but only to saints. The events were things like Bible studies, so that's why I'd say it's ok to just have a few Hail Marys or something. Typically, even in spite of what I said to her, one ought to pray directly to Our Lord during a faith based event, just because of the nature of how we as human beings perceive things. Even though a reality might exist that is different from how things are perceived, nevertheless we God has programmed us to operate according to that perception.

In any case, some others had suggested to this woman that prayer to the saints really is prayer to God. Here is my response:


You've got the right idea that prayers to saints are really prayers to the Lord in some way. And you've probably also got the right idea that you don't get it. I say this because its the sort of thing that, in my experience, people don't "get" until they've been Catholic for a while, or for cradle Catholics, until they really end up considering the issue for a while. This was true of me as well. I came into the Church in 2005, and I, like you, accepted prayers to the saints and Mary, accepted all the Marian stuff, but still in practice there was a certain degree of Marian piety that I was still uncomfortable with.

The reason for this is, I think, that it's based on some very advanced theological concepts. The thing is, unlike in [much of] Protestantism, Catholicism is so organic a faith that literally everything is deeply tied to everything else. You can't seperate this from that, as Protestants often do. My point is that theology in Catholicism is not merely theoretical - that is, not merely about God academically, but it truly is and stems from and leads to (all at once) the actual practice of the faith. Talk to anyone that's been studying the Summa Theologiae for a while and they'll tell you that they don't just get knowledge from it, but in some way - as cold and technical as it is - they get some sort of increase in their spiritual life as well. It's amazing.

Another way of putting this is to say that the Catholic faith is true, which means that the theological truths it teaches are a part of the fabric of reality, a part of the fabric of who we all really are as human beings and creatures of God, and so the more one prays and leads a spiritual life focused, the more one begins to recognize all the truths of the world and of themselves that underly every moment and aspect of existence. It's sortof like those movies where they show you all the stuff that's really going on in nature at every moment all around you but you never notice, except a lot less gross.

Now, so far as your specific question, that underlying reality that really matters is that everything that we have - even our mere existence - is just some way in which we are sharing in God. It is really God's own existence that in a certain way we participate in, as theologians say. That's why we have existence. It's ours, but it's also God's. Yet it's not in a pantheistic way, as if everything in existence isGod, either.

I'm sure you're familiar with 2 Peter 1:4, where it says that through Christ we are made partakers of the Divine Nature. What he's talking about is the concept of Divination, or Theosis as they call it in the east, which means that through Christ, we in some way share in what it is to be God. Athanasius, for instance, said in one of my favorite quotes, "By the participation of the Spirit, we are knit into the Godhead." This was the center of the faith in the early Church. It was everywhere, and every doctrine - even ones that seem so completely unrelated - were understood around the framework of it.

Now basically, Heaven is to participate in God's existence to the fullest extent that a creature can. That's what 2 Peter 1:4 is talking about. Hell, on the other hand, is to participate in God's existence to the least degree a creature can - to participate in existence alone, and have nothing else at all. Those in Hell suffer so much because they exist, but that's all. Everyone's experienced a moment in their life where they feel like they're just existing and that's all, and it's absolutely miserable. Hell is like that, except people who feel that way aren't even close to just existing and really have so much more - so imagine how terrible Hell is!

But Heaven is to participate more and more and more and more in God. It is to have more and more of what He has. We can never, ever become God, because we can never have existence in and of ourselves - that's what God has. But we can have nearly everything else that God has, not because we deserve it, but because He gives it to us. The first time I heard this it sounded crazy, but the thing is, we only exist by literally sharing that which is God's, His existence. For God to share with us any other part of Himself is no different. It's all just God giving to us that which is His, whether its existence, which we all have, or something more. So those who object to concepts of the saints having different "powers" or whatnot really have no ground to stand on. For a saint to have the "power" to bilocate, for instance, isn't any different from me having the "power" to exist and sit on my couch! The only difference is that that saint has become more open to God and shares more in God than I do.

The key to remember in all of this, though, is that that which we share in of God is not something that God creates, that is, something that He makes to give us that is like what He has. That's not possible, because He is all that really is at all. While those who do object to the saints "powers" are wrong in the way I mentioned above, they're actually correct at the same time because their reason for it is that only God has these things. And it's true! When I exist, or when a person speaks in tongues, or when Padre Pio bilocated, it is literally God doing that in us. It's not some power that is like God, but it is God. If it were something else, that would mean something existed on its own apart from God.

So when I am talking to you, I am talking to God in a certain sense, because you exist by virtue of sharing God's existence. Now when I talk to a baptized Christian, I am talking to God in an even fuller sense, because that person by virtue of baptism shares in more of God. This is why Christ said that what we do to the least of his brother's, we do to Him. It's true! It's why St. Paul said that it was no longer him living, but Christ who lives in him. To become more and more holy is simply to become more and more a partaker in God Himself.

So Mary up in Heaven, who partook of God more than anyone, was so emptied of "Mary" and so full of God that when we talk to her, we really are talking so directly to God, even though we're also talking to the human being Mary. Same goes for any other saint, just to a lesser degree as they were not as holy as she and participated in God to different degrees.

It's the same as with good works. The Council of Trent taught that the good works of a Christian are really the good works of the Holy Spirit living in the Christian, but in some mysterious sense that they are also the good works of the Christian at the same time. It's that Catholic "both/and" that everyone talks about. And it hints at that tremendous underlying reality to everything, namely, that everything that exists really is all at once both itself and God. It is itself, but it is God's own existence that it shares. This is one of those things we're never going to come close to grasping until we see God face to face.

So when we pray to Mary or to any saint, we're talking to them, but we're also talking to God, in the same way as when I talk to you or as when I feed my homeless brother. Yet we're also talking to God through them in an even deeper sense, because they share in God so, so deeply. They are so emptied of self and so full of God - so participating in God. Furthermore, you're praying - you're asking for Divine favors. That's what God does, and in asking them to grant these through their intercession, you're appealing to the Divine in them that they have become partakers of. So you're speaking to God, even though you're speaking to a human being, just like when I feed a human being I'm feeding Christ, but in a greater sense.

Now, I don't imagine that the people at these events considered all this. It's possible that just living the Catholic life led them, as it so often does, to an unconscious grasp of this aspect of reality such that what they did seemed perfectly great to them. It's also possible they just weren't very good Catholics and didn't care too much about Jesus. You'd be a better judge of that than I would, since you were there. But I bet they cared plenty about Him .

I know this is a ton to take at once, but I wanted to try to answer your question as best I could. I also prayed first, so I hope the Holy Spirit worked a little bit here. In any case, God bless.

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