Wednesday, February 15, 2012
FMI Annual Congress Presentation 2 - Practically Apologetic Part IV of V: The Communion of Saints
Praying to saints and the Fundamentalist accusation…
Christian fundamentalists will claim that Catholics praying to saints is immoral and contrary to scripture, and they base this accusation on two core arguments:
- Jesus the “one mediator” or 1 Timothy 2:5; and
- praying to saints as equated to necromancy which is forbidden by God through scripture
Let’s look at them one by one:
1 Timothy 2:5
Fundamentalists will reliably quote 1 Timothy 2:5 in an attempt to refute the Catholic practice of praying to Mary and the saints (i.e. intercessory prayer) and the sacrament of Reconciliation, i.e. confessing your sins to a priest. The verse reads like this:
"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" - 1 Timothy 2:5
It is suggested and the implication is made that praying to Mary and the saints or by confessing our sins to a priest we ignore Christ's work on the cross for our salvation. So how are we to understand this verse and what does is it really referring to?
The mediation between God and men in 1 Timothy 2:5 speaks (and should only be read in context of) in terms of salvation; redemption. It it not speaking in the context of intercessory prayer or the passing on of divine instruction (paradosis; Mark 3:14, 16:15), else it would be in clear contradiction of the instruction given by Paul and Peter to pray for (James 5:16) and teach each others (2 Timothy 1:13). In other words: we are saved/redeemed by Christ; he alone brings us to God the Father, but it is by humans hands, under the authority of Christ in his commissioning (Matthew 28:19), that others are able to come to him by discovering the fullness of truth in his words (Romans 10:17). Besides, if we read the very beginning of 1 Timothy 2, we see St. Paul has written this:
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour" - 1 Timothy 2:1-3
The fundamentalists argument has no credence whatsoever in light of this; a text without a context is a pretext. We are exhorted by Christ through scripture not only to prayer for one another, but to confess our sins as well:
"Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." - 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
"'If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" - John 20:23
This is an extract of a private message I sent to a fellow Youtube user, an "ex"-Catholic, that claimed that prayers to the saints (e.g. St. Anthony, St. Jerome, St. Joseph, St. Anne, etc.), apart from being idolatry, was necromancy, the "conjuration of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/necromancy) and thus in breach of the Commandments.
This Youtube user referred me to a part of the Old Testament where this takes place and why it is forbidden. I went on to explain why praying to (i.e praying through the saints) is acceptable. In the Old Testament; NECROMANCY is forbidden, i.e. conjuring the dead to commune or attempt dialogue with the deceased. The Lord, in 1 Samuel 28:3-25, abandons King Saul (in disguise) because he has consulted the witch of Endor to commune with the prophet Samuel. God was angry at at King Saul because he failed to wait upon the Lord as God told him to.
When Catholics pray to the saints, we're not actually attempting dialogue with them or expecting them to speak back; we're simply asking them to pray for us because they are close to God; they intercede for us; all supplications are put to God. In light of that: in Mark 15:34-36, as Jesus is hanging on the crucifix, he cries out to God, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which is translated to, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" but the bystanders mishear what Jesus uttered and believed he was crying out to Elijah: "One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink, saying, 'Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down.'" (v36)
Don't you think it's strange, based on what they [mistakenly] heard, that instead of condemning Jesus for attempting to "commune with the dead" by calling out to Elijah, they waited to see if Elijah would actually come and take him down from the cross? Yes, Jesus calls out to his Father, but the bystanders don't hear it that way. Why didn't the bystanders rebuke Jesus for the sin of necromancy if he was calling out to a "dead guy"?
The Youtube user then attempted to make his case with 1 Timothy 2:5, which says this:
"For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus..."
This is all well and good, but Jesus is the "one mediator of God and men" for our Salvation (redemption), and let's not forget what is said in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 right before this brief discourse on Christ as our mediator for Salvation:
"I desire therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men: For kings, and for all that are in high station: that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all piety and chastity. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
Paul, in his letter to Timothy, is actually instructing us to pray for one another so that we may be led to God who wants all men to be saved and "come to knowledge of the truth". Now, you could argue that Paul is exhorting the living to pray for each other, but as the saints in Heaven are no longer bound by the weight of sin as men are on earth (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8), and if the heavenly are aware of the affairs of men (sic.) on earth (Luke 15:10), wouldn't it actually be better for us to ask the saints to intercede for us rather than asking the earthly, those that are in as much need of Salvation as we are?
Ultimately, all prayers are directed to and are answered by God, but this does not mean we cannot have others praying (interceding) for us. If I were to ask you right now to pray for me, would you then be interfering or standing in between myself and God? Don't you then become a mediator? No, certainly not, because I wouldn't come to you to be "saved" (to seek Salvation), but I could come to you to ask you to pray for me as James 5:16 instructs:
"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."
Asking the righteous to pray for us is actually supported in the Old Testament as well:
"The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him." - Proverbs 15:8
"The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous." - Provers 15:29
And more recently...
I had a debate with a pastor of a Baptist church based in California over saintly intercession and devotions to saints. Let me give you a run down of what he assumed Catholics believed about it, and I quote: Catholics do pray to saints. They are taught that they, those who pray, are not worthy to approach God themselves, so they, Roman Catholic Church followers, are taught to pray to the saints to intercede for them. But, you know what? I believe that in God's infinite mercy, He hears their prayers because they are not responsible for what they are taught. "No one goes beyond what they are taught."
Is that what we believe?!?
As Catholics we are fully aware that it is God alone who hears all and answers all prayers, but this does not mean that we cannot have others praying for us. We are, as we read in Hebrews, "... surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses..." (Hebrews 12:1) and who are these "witnesses"? They are they angels and the saints; those who are fully united with Christ in Heaven. And how do they pray for us? God allows them to, for God is God of the living, not the dead (Luke 20:38). Does St. Paul no ask others to pray for him in his letters to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:1-8)? If mere earthly men have the power to pray for others, then why should there be an impediment to those united with Christ in Heaven to pray for us also?
And here’s something fundamentalists often miss about things like Catholics praying to Mary and the saints: NO Catholic is explicitly taught or told that they MUST pray to the saints. We believe it is efficacious to but it is not mandatory. "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (James 5:16).
But then this guy went on to accuse Catholics that we warp the biblical understanding and definition of the term “saint” to suit our own beliefs and doctrines. So let him know how it is… this is what we believe:
There are two different understandings/uses of the word "saints". There are the living saints - Christians - whose desire it is to be sanctified in the Lord; and then there are the saints in Heaven who HAVE been sanctified in the Lord and made fully holy in communion with Christ. And what exactly does Luke 20:38 say about the saints, sanctified in heaven?
“Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” - Luke 20:38
Because God wills it, the sanctified in Heaven hear our prayers through God and they pray with us urging us on to be sanctified ourselves as it says in Hebrews 12:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” - Hebrews 12:1
The angels and saints in Heaven are cheering us on. Why? Because they, as much as our Lord in Heaven, desires us to be fully united with him and experience the beatific vision.