Much criticism has been made about Catholicism and its belief in praying to the saints. Many of us are familiar with at least some names of the saints, most notably Jesus’ apostles along with other major figures in Christian history. But where does this belief stem from, and how did these great figures become saints?
To begin, we are all called as Christians to be saints. This is why, in addition to saints’ feast days, Catholics celebrate All Saints Day on November 1, as a way to celebrate the men and women in our lives who have been great influences. Christ calls us to be holy, and as any study of those who have the title “Saint”, these people had their own struggles in life. A prime example is St. Augustine of Hippo, a man who engaged in sexual immorality before converting, and who later became recognized as a “Doctor of the Church” for his writings on the faith.
The primary reason for the belief in asking the saints for help is the belief in “the communion of saints,” found in the Apostles’ Creed. Those departed brothers and sisters are no less a part of the Christ’s Church than we are who are still living. Thus, asking saints for their intercessions is not nearly so different than asking a friend to pray for us. We also see the saints interceding on our behalf in John’s vision in Revelation 5:8 and 7:9-14. We should be able to take some measure of comfort that our loved ones who are in heaven also may intercede on our behalf!
The communion of saints is something we see (in part) in the letter to the Hebrews, notably chapter 11, which is known as the “faith” chapter. Here, the author goes through various figures we find in the Old Testament, praising them for their faith. Granted, Roman Catholicism only recognizes figures from the New Testament onward (the Eastern rite does have Old Testament saints), but we see how looking to the saints can bolster our own faith.
Here some may ask, “But isn’t that communing with the dead?” Prayer is not holding a séance; we are not seeking to gain information, but rather are asking for help. Also, as Christians we believe in eternal life, so those saints and other departed brothers and sisters are still very much alive with God in heaven. This is another belief of saints: that they are assuredly in heaven.
Another objection may be, “But we should go directly to Jesus with our prayers.” True, our prayers should be focused on Him. But once again, we ask friends to pray for us, and throughout the Bible, we see many people asking others to do the same, such as Paul in his many letters to the churches of the time. The apostle James also writes,
“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.” (James 5:16-18)
We see in Scripture time and again how those who follow God’s will on earth are effective in their prayers. How much more so then are those who have been made worthy to be in God’s presence!
This is something I am still learning about of course. I know only a handful of patron saints, like St. Thomas Aquinas, patron saint of education, or St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, patron saint of teachers, yet I find it comforting that even when I ask others on earth to pray for me, that perhaps my grandparents and other relatives are also praying for me. Perhaps in better understanding this teaching, you can as well.