Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Praying to Saints

Note: Before I get started, I'm just going to clarify that when Catholics pray to Saints, we are not worshiping them. Worship is reserved for God alone, as the Catholic Church has always taught and will always teach. And Saints are certainly not God. They are simply people -- real, sinful people -- who sought to live lives of faith and holiness and who are now in Heaven with God.

Moving on: Jeanette asked me tonight what the point of praying to Saints is. I told her that was something I'd often wondered about myself. I tried to give her a decent answer at the time, and maybe this post will help clarify things a little more.

Many non-Catholic Christians have a big problem with the idea of praying to Saints, largely based on 1 Timothy 2:5, which says, "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." By praying to a Saint, Catholics are putting a mediator other than Christ between themselves and God, these Christians argue.

I guess now would be a good time to talk about what Catholics do when we pray to a Saint. I've already said it's not worship, but what is it? Basically, it's asking the Saint to intercede for you, to pray to God on your behalf.

If you think about it, that's really not so different from something that many Christians do all the time. We all go through difficult times in our lives, and during those times of trial it's very common to ask our friends and relatives to pray for us. Now, I've never heard anyone make the objection, based on 1 Timothy 2:5, that this practice is unbiblical. And yet it is practically identical with the practice of praying to the Saints. In both cases you are asking someone other than Christ to pray to God for you.

Of course, the reason you never hear anyone worrying about circumventing or usurping the unique mediation of Christ by asking their friends to pray for them is that asking others to pray for you is a perfectly biblical practice. It's true that Jesus is the one mediator between God and men, but He can effect that mediation however He pleases, and He allows us to participate in His mediation. Jesus has not arranged things such that we cannot intercede or mediate for one another. This is clear enough from moving just a few verses back from 1 Timothy 2:5 to 2:1, where Paul writes, "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men." Indeed, in Romans 15:30, Paul specifically asks others to pray for him: "I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf." James is more explicit still when he tells his readers to "pray for one another" (James 5:16).

So it seems pretty clear to me -- since God inspired Paul to write both that Christ is the one mediator and that we should pray for each other -- that asking a friend to pray for you is not in conflict with 1 Timothy 2:5. And if we can ask our friends to pray for us, why not the Saints? The Saints are our friends in Heaven. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us. They're not dead -- they're more alive than us, and more closely united to God. And since "nothing unclean shall enter" (Revelation 21:27) Heaven, we know that God has made the Saints in Heaven fully righteous. Now, James 5:16 tells us that "the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects," so it seems like the Saints would be good people to have praying for you.

Praying to the Saints is not about circumventing Christ or avoiding Him or replacing Him -- it's about enlisting others who love Him and who know Him far better than we do to pray to Him along with us.

Now, when it comes to how prayer in general works, that is a mystery whose depths I have barely begun to plumb, so you'll have to give me some time if you'd ever like me to speak to that with any kind of clarity. For the time being, since I do not understand it, I must walk by faith in the amazing promises of Christ.

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