Praying for the Intercession of the Saints
One of the most consoling promises that Jesus has made to us is that whatever we pray for in His name will be granted. He has promised to be our intercessor with the Father. We will never feel abandoned again; we will never feel that we are cut off from the power of God.
If Jesus has made this promise, then why should we bother to pray for the intercession of the saints? Should we not simply pray to Jesus? Should we not trust that He will grant us whatever we need?
What is Prayer
Before we can address that question, there is a more basic question to ask. Does Jesus really grant all those things for which we pray? Very often we pray for something for years and years and we never seem to receive it. If we have the guarantee that whatever we ask in the name of Jesus is to be granted to us, then everyone on earth should have won the lottery by now. What are prayers and how do they work?
At times we approach prayer as if God were a machine and we had to place the proper fuel in that machine to make it work. Our prayers are that fuel, and if we strike the proper mixture of novenas, candles and promises to reform our lives, then God is all but obliged to give us what we want.
At other times, we recognize that God might not grant us what we want. Therefore, our prayers seem more like tokens which we place in a slot machine. We say our prayers and pull the lever, hoping that our three oranges, our miracle, will pop up.
Prayer as Relationship
All of this is to take a very mechanical approach to our relationship with God. God is not a machine which we prime with our prayers. God is Person, and our prayers are communication. Our prayers are expressions of love and trust. In prayer, we join our love to that of God, and we trust that God will respond to our need in the most loving manner possible. This is where some of the confusion lies. We almost always believe that the most loving response to our prayers would be to grant what we want when we want it. God does not always agree with our judgment. God often realizes that we can be more loving people if the response to our prayer is not the miracle that we request. Sometimes we learn patience when our request is not granted, or we learn trust in the midst of suffering, or we learn to persevere in our request.
Yet, we do believe that prayer changes reality. It makes a concrete difference whether or not I pray for something. If I pray for the healing of a person whom I love, the love of my prayer is joined to the love of God and that love visits the person for whom I am praying. Our love, mine and God's, somehow heals that person (even if there is not a physical healing, there is often a spiritual healing). If I pray for rain, then the question of whether it will rain or not becomes a more loving question. These are not scientific equations where a certain sum of prayer produces a particular result. God does not measure the one hundred prayers of the farmers who want rain against the two hundred prayers of the baseball fans who want a sunny day. We are talking about love, and love talk defies exact calculations. Yet, somehow, my prayer does change reality.
Praying as a Community
Because prayer is an expression of love, we often ask others to join us in prayer for a particular need. It is not that we will develop a greater weight of prayer when more than one person is praying for a need. It is that when I express love, I naturally want others to participate in my love. It makes a difference when I am praying together with a friend or with my Church for a particular need. Our love becomes a great chorus of love which rises up to the heavens. The more love that is expressed, the easier it is for us to respond to God's response with love and trust.
This, in fact, is the theory behind indulgences. The one hundred days of an indulgence does not mean that it is worth one hundred days off of our time in purgatory. It means that the Church promises us that it will join all of its prayers to our prayer so that it is as if we were praying for one hundred days. This is a consoling promise, for the Church is telling us that it will always join us when we pray for a particular need.
The Community of Saints
What has been said about wanting our family and friends to join us in prayer for a particular need can also be said of the saints. We can pray to God without asking for the intercession of the saints, but because our prayer is an expression of love, we want everyone in our community of love to join us in our prayer.
But who exactly are saints? At its broadest definition, saints are people who were so in love with God and with their sisters and brothers in this life that they continue to express that love even after their deaths. Their love is stronger than death. They will continue to express love for those who are still on this earth until they are once again one in heaven.
Most of us have experienced this in our own lives. We have a favorite relative, or a husband or a wife who has passed away. At first, we were overwhelmed by the loneliness of separation we felt as if all the love which we had shared had somehow been defeated, and now we were all alone. Then one evening, while we were sitting on the porch, we felt a presence alongside of us. We were not afraid; we did not think it was a ghost or a threatening presence. We simply knew that our loved one was there with us. We began to talk to that person. We hoped that no one would see us, because we were sure that they would think that we had gone out of our minds. Yet, we knew in our hearts that our loved one was present. We began to feel the help of our loved one in difficult times. We no longer felt quite as lonely (although there is no question that we do long for the day when the love we experience will be fulfilled, when we will see each other face to face). Oddly enough, as time goes by and more and more of our loved ones are in heaven, we feel more and more of that consolation, and more and more of the feeling that it is time to join our loved ones so we can all be one again.
What is nicest of all is that this love which we experience with our own personal saints is never hampered by fights or misunderstandings, for now our loved ones see the face of God and they can love us with a love that is as pure as God's own love. All of the weaknesses and confusions of the past are gone, and now only love remains.
The Church's Saints
This experience teaches us what the saints mean for us. The saints are everyone who has gone to heaven. Yet, the Church has chosen certain men and women whom it has officially proclaimed as saints. These are women and men who were so courageous and generous in their love that everyone knows they are in heaven. Their love was so large and expansive that they want to reach out and embrace the whole world. These, in fact, are the two basic requirements for one to be canonized: that there be a devotion to that person and that the intercession of the person be proved through the miracles obtained by praying to that person. When this has been certified, the Church proclaims that these heroes are both examples of lived faith and intercessors in time of need.
The greatest example of this is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was so filled with love that when the invitation was addressed to her to become the mother of the Son of God, she responded with generosity. She interceded for those in need at the wedding Feast of Cana. She continues to intercede for us in our need, and she continues to call us to be closer to God.
This, ultimately, is the most important thing. The saints do not separate us from God's love. They do not get in the way between us and God. They continuously point toward God. They are friends of God, and they want nothing more than for us to be friends of God. But, if I am truly a friend of God, then I should also want to be friends with His friends.
If we think of what all of this means, we realize that the heavens are literally packed with people who love us and who are willing to intercede for us. One of our greatest fears in the modern world is that we will be all alone and lonely. The doctrine of the communion of the saints is the guarantee that we are part of a loving community which even death cannot separate. Our prayer to the saints for their intercession in our times of need, whether it be the saints from our own family or those saints whom the Church has officially proclaimed, is an act of faith in the belief that love is stronger than death.
|By Fr. Jude Winkler, OFM Conv.||To purchase this reflection as a brochure, Click Here|
|©1994 Companions of St. Anthony|