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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Excedrin Headache #4

Wasn't it just last Friday yesterday? Where does the time go? Our answer to the question of marrying a non-Catholic has elicited quite a great response. Be sure and check all the comments from yesterday's post for some great insights and stories.

One woman explained that her husband only knew enough about religion to fit in a thimble, which is why, I suppose, he wanted to know the answer to this question:
I actually have a saint-matching question for you. We were talking about patron saints and my husband wants to know if there is a patron saint of people who don't believe in saints. I told him I didn't know but I knew someone who could find out if there was one. :-)

Since it's Friday and we are cruising into a three day weekend, let's answer this light hearted, if not bone headed, question.

I think your husband does believe in saints. It's just that he doesn't really know what the word saint actually means, or what he really means is that he doesn't believe in is praying "to" saints.

Poor addled thing.

He might think that saints are people who are perfect and since there are no perfect people, there are no saints. And any actually saint would tell you that they were far from perfect and in fact were mentally tortured at their imperfections. No saints were perfect. They were virtuous on a heroic level, though.

Does he think saints are people here on earth (as in, "that woman is a saint!")? Then he is correct. There are no saints.

Saints are people who lived a life of heroic virtue and landed in heaven. Anyone who is dead and in Heaven is a saint.

Does he not believe in Heaven? Poor thing. A lot of people don't believe in Heaven. Are they in for an surprise!

I suspect that what he is trying to say in his impoverished, inarticulate way is that he doesn't believe in praying to saints. He is correct again! We don't believe in that either.

Here is where the rubber meets the road. Does he believe in prayer at all? Many people don't. But if he does and he asks people to pray for him then he's just being pig headed about the saints.

I can't tell you how many people I've met who are pig headed about the saints. I take some responsibility. We often tell people to, "Pray to St. Anthony" when they've lost something, or "Pray to St. Jude" when life becomes impossible. That confuses people, because we are not saying what we mean.

Nobody goes around saying, "Let me call you on my cellular phone." Few people ask for decaffeinated coffee. We call on our "cells" and we ask for "decaf".

When a Catholic person says "Pray to St. Anthony", it's 'decaf' for "Pray for the intercession of St. Anthony". Intercession means prayer. We are asking St. Anthony to pray for us.

It is no different that if I asked you to pray for me, as we believe that in Heaven, as most people who believe in Heaven at all believe, there are people who lived here on earth who are up there (or over there, wherever Heaven is).

So if I'm willing to ask you to pray for me, why in Heaven's name would I not want to ask someone who has achieved Heavenly perfection to pray for me? That's just....dumb.

There, I've said it.

I can't tell you how many times I've had some separated brethren inform me, nose in the air, that they only pray straight to Jesus. "Well, good for you, " I always say. "I pray to Jesus, too." And then I say, "Do you ask other people to pray for you? Do you say things like, 'keep me in your prayers" And they say, "Oh yes, of course." And then I patiently explain that we do not pray to the saints, we simply ask them to pray for us, too, that they are the Church Triumphant, that they are people who have achieved heavenly perfection and they are right there in Heaven next to the Holy Trinity and their prayers must be perfect (since they have achieved Heavenly perfection) and they must be so very good at praying and why wouldn't you ask them to pray for you, if you're going to ask me, or your cousin, or your mom to pray for you, you may as well ask the people in Heaven to pray for you, too.

At this point, without fail, the person to whom I am speaking curls their upper lip and tilts their head back just a little further and repeats, "Well, I only pray to Jesus."

I'd like to say, "Well, fine. But please keep in mind that while you are praying to Jesus, if you ask me to pray for you, I am going to pray to Jesus, too, and if you ask St. Anthony to pray for you, he is going to pray to Jesus as well. I don't know what you have against St. Anthony. You could have the army of Heaven praying to Jesus for you. WE ARE ALL PRAYING TO JESUS. "

But I never do. I just say, "That's very good."

So to answer his bone headed if not light hearted question about what patron saint would be good for people who do not believe in saints, I'm going to go with St. Paul.

St. Paul certainly did not believe in saints. He did not believe in praying to Jesus, either. Ironically, he created the very first saint. St. Paul was in the crowd that stoned St. Stephen, the very first martyr (and the patron saint of headaches, because he got hit in the head with rocks). Martyrs go straight to Heaven.

Of course, there are quite a number of people who used to be saints and then got, well, dumped off the saint list because they never existed in the first place. He could go with St. Philomena, St. Christopher, St. Expeditus, the Fourteen Holy Helpers.....then he wouldn't have to re-think anything.


joannaB73 said...

My thoughts exactly when explaining why we ask Saints to pray for us to my charismatic/evangelical/pentecostal friends. We ask people to pray for us all the time; how much more do we need the intercession of those already in heaven. Plus I could do with the prayers of St Stephen as I get migraines.

Jody Blue said...

I do enjoy reading your blog.

dre said...

My experience when talking with evangelical types about saints is that they don't believe the saints can hear our prayers when they are in heaven, or that they would be interested if they could hear. A typical comment is, "If I were in heaven, I'd be so caught up in the glory of it that I would never care about all the sadness and sickness and sin on earth. I'd just want to praise God forever."

Hmmmmmm......so getting to heaven suddenly makes us selfish????

Tracy said...

Dear Sister MM,

I really enjoy your blog. To take on controversial questions with such wit and good humor...it is refreshing.

So...let me jump in on separated brethren side. As my Catholic friends sometimes forget the _ask for intercession_ phrase, we Protestants, I think, forget to explain that we think that it is best to spend our (limited, usually) prayer time talking to Jesus, rather than being distracted into talking to someone else. Also, we are not at all sure they can hear us anyway, though God can hear anything, anywhere. And should we distract them from the kind of worship described in Revelations to hear us? Not sure that we should. But this is too much to explain off the cuff, so we just repeat, "But I only pray to Jesus."

In any case, none of this detracts from the respect that I have for some good Catholic friends. As the old song says, "We'll understand it better bye and bye."

NCSue said...

I'm a convert and one of those bone-headed people who used to say, "But I only pray to Jesus". Boy howdy, was I ever a snooty ignoramus...

I still don't necessarily think right off of asking the saints to pray on my behalf. But just a short while ago, I had an experience which I wrote about at http://acts17verse28.blogspot.com/2009/05/thank-you-st-anthony.html. I went from somewhat skeptical to becoming a charted member of the St. Anthony fan club.

God bless you, and keep on blogging - it's always a pick-me-up to read what you have to say!

In His love,

NC Sue

Camille said...

A Church Scholar once told me that the word "pray" originally meant "to ask" (I think in a formal sense) so to pray to a saint simply meant to ask something from them. Some time after the reformation, the protestants decided that the word "pray" should only be reserved for He who is worthy of our worship (God). Which was very convenient because they could then turn and say that Catholics worship the saints and Mary because we "pray" to them. The definition of the word changed, just like the definition of many words have changed over the years.

Anonymous said...

As C.S. Lewis said somewhere, if you were applying for a job you would certainly apply to the boss -- but if you knew someone in the office, wouldn't you ask him or her to throw in a good word?

Anna said...

If St. Philomena never existed, than whose intercession were St. Jean-Marie Vianney and Ven. Pauline-Marie Jaricot praying for?

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

we believers are all part of the Body of Christ, neh? The veneration of saints makes it clear to me that we in the Body here on Earth (aka the Church Militant, which is to say the Church Struggling) are aware of those in the Body who are in Heaven (aka the Church Triumphant). Why should we conclude that the Body in Heaven is not aware of the Body on Earth?

The idea that believers in Heaven wouldn't care about us on Earth is even sillier. As dre said, that's really quite selfish. People in Heaven should have so much more of God's love (call it charity, like in the KJV, or agape or caritas) that they should care for us lots, lots more than we are even able to care for them.

@NC Sue,
The technical Catholic nomenclature for the "St. Anthony Fan Club" is (hold your breath, this may frighten you) "The Cult of St. Anthony."

Unfortunately, I have to leave it to dear Sister Mary Martha to explain why this is nothing like drinking Kool-Aid for Jim Jones.

Anonymous said...

there is no st. christopher?!

bill7tx said...

I've got the "tortured by my imperfections" part down pretty good.

It's the "life of heroic virtue" part that gives me trouble. Between sheer cowardice (go look for trouble? me?), a tendency toward bone-idleness (can I do that tomorrow), and frankly not facing many challenges in daily life, I feel totally inadequate to the challenge most of the time. I have a small ikon of St. Maximilian Kolbe above my desk, and feel intimidated every time I look at him. Even St. Therese had chronic illness to contend with. I have a mortgage, a wife who loves me but who stopped going to church/confession/anything sacramental years ago, and two lapsed daughters. Most of my troubles in the life area are of my own making. Tiny, tiny, tiny little crosses, really. And an easy-to-manage problem with diabetes. I worry that having led "a life of somewhat mediocre virtue" isn't going to cut it.

I'm no slacker in my Catholicism, really, but I'm wondering what I've missed, and what I can do about it. All ideas not involving physical self-flagellation welcome.