First and foremost, the Citizen wishes to apologize for the spelling in the title. It was an attempt to recapture that drawl of the fundamentalist who has been indoctrinated to think of Catholicism as a cult. The nuances of that phrase has stuck with me for better than two decades. With the news of the impending beatification of Pope John Paul II, this question seems to be coming back in conversations, tweets, blogs, comments, posts, and other venues of communication. While on twitter no one can hear you drawl, those slow, sonorous, contemptible words ring again in my mind.
Catholics pray to God. Period.
2654 Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.
Christ taught us all how to pray, giving us the ‘Our Father’. In the Garden, his prayers were desperate, fearful, sorrowful, and – finally – accepting of the burden of our sins. In those prayers and the Passion, Christ served as the perfect example for how we need to look for strength, for comfort, for guidance, and for grace from the only true wellspring of all that is good, holy, and pure.
Then why do we have medals and statues, prayer cards, books, icons, and shrines to men and women? Why don’t we just pray to God and cut out the middle man? The answer is simple, actually.
Sainthood is the goal of every Christian. It is the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow of life. It is – or should be – the passionate goal, the earnest desire, the most cherished pursuit of every Catholic. According to the Catholic Church, a saint is simply someone the Church is sure has achieved this grace and dwells in Heaven. So, many of our deceased friends and family members – hopefully – are saints. The rest are working on it.
Think of a saint the same way you would think of an alumnus. My wife and I receive newsletters and calls for donation from our respective colleges on a regular basis. They expect that we may be willing to donate time, talent, and money out of fond memories of our time at our alma mater. Perhaps there is a school or a group or a program that has special significance for us. And in many cases, the college is right. Alums often are generous and attentive patrons, eager to help those students who follow in their footsteps.
This is why there are saints for every imaginable profession, disease, cause, nation or region…the list is endless. We approach the Saints in our prayers because we feel a connection to them. They suffered what we are suffering, they cared about what we care about, they felt the pains and trials of spirit we feel. They are the alums of this university we call the world.
When we call on the saints, we aren’t praying TO them; we are asking for their help – Catholics call it intercession. Why not just pray directly to God? Most of us have had problems we felt reluctant to bring to a parent. So we turn to a friend, a teacher, a counselor, a pastor…someone we are more comfortable approaching. As a teacher, I often find myself becoming a link in a chain. Students approach me with a problem. Sometimes I can just listen. Sometimes I can offer advice. Sometimes, I kick it upstairs, contacting parents, administrators, or counselors. Saints serve the same function.
“Why do we worship Mary?” We don’t. She – and the vast choir of other saints – serve as sources of inspiration and comfort. They represent an avenue to God that may be more comfortable for us. They are people who we can more readily identify with – they shared our pains, our weakness, our fears. They are important links in the chain.
God doesn’t need saints – He is perfect and omniscient. Those of his children who have achieved the grace of Heaven are our prayer warriors. Our exemplars. Our heroes. Our inspiration. Our alumni.
I look forward to the recognition of John Paul II to the ranks of alums who have ‘made good’.