Month: January 2019

SAINT HELP: THE BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR PRAYING TO THE SAINTS IN HEAVEN

  • “I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth. I will let fall from heaven a shower of roses.” (Saint Therese of Lisieux)

                                                                       

    Introduction: My brand new 2019 Church calendar is full of feast days for saints who are already in Heaven, and to whom God has given the power – as members of the mystical body of Christ – to greatly aid those of us who are still advancing on our earthly journey. This note touches upon ten points underlying the biblical foundations for such intercessory prayer (and, at a minimum, it certainly makes good sense to pray to a Saint on the day of his or her Feast, and to ask that Saint for a special favor that day consistent with his or her own spiritual journey and gifts).

    1.  In the New Testament (at Hebrews 12:1) we are told that the saints who lived before us form a “great cloud of witnesses” who “surround” us and are therefore keenly interested in the struggles we are enduring as part of the body of Christ. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible states:

    “Images of the faithful departed [in Hebrews 12:1] cheering us on hints at the communion and intercession of the saints. It shows that the Church in heaven is neither cut off from nor disinterested in the pilgrim Church on earth but is actively solictious of her salvation.” 

    2. In the Book of Revelation, where we actually get a glimpse of what is going on up in Heaven, we see the saints (called elders) in Heaven bringing the prayers of God’s holy people on earth before the Lamb, Jesus (see Rev. 5: 8-9). This is an example of the charity that exists between the saints on earth (the church militant) and the saints in Heaven (the church triumphant).

    3. Having died in Christ the saints in Heaven are not dead (we pray to living saints); in fact, they are more alive than ever, being fully united to the infinite merits of Christ. As Jesus said at Mark 12: 26-27, speaking of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our God is not the God of the dead, “but of the living.” And as the author of Hebrews says, “You have come to Mt. Zion…to the heavenly Jerusalem…to the [living] spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12: 22-24). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (at no. 965) states:

    “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.”

    4. We see from the Book of Revelation, which shows us the activities of Heaven, that the saintly martyrs under the altar (in Heaven) cry out to the Lord for vindication (Rev. 6: 9-11). We see here the saints in heaven petitioning the Lord for justice with respect to events taking place on earth.

    5. Another New Testament verse which demonstrates that the saints who lived before us are still active in the body of Christ is Mark 9:4 where, during his transfiguration, Jesus talks with Elijah and Moses.

    6. Some people quote 1 Timothy 2: 5, which states that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, to argue against the doctrine of the intercession of the saints. But in fact if you read the verses immediately before 1 Tim. 2: 5, you will see that Paul clearly sees no conflict between intercessory prayer and Christ’s unique role as the one mediator. For example, at 1 Tim. 2: 1-3 Paul “urges that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men….” Thus, it is clear that Christ’s role as the one mediator empowers those in the body of Christ to act as intercessors.

    7. The saints are powerful intercessors on our behalf because they are joined to God like branches are joined to a vine, forming, in essence, one organism which is kept alive by Christ’s own life. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, puts it this way in the Gospel of John (Chapter 15):

    I am the vine

    You are the branches

    Whoever remains in me, with me in him

    Will bear much fruit

    8. We see in the Book of Revelation that the saints (in this instance, the apostles) assist Jesus even in passing judgment. Revelation 20: 4 states: “Then I saw some thrones [the thrones of the twelve apostles], and I saw those who are given the power to be judges take their seats on then.” The saints, therefore, are not inactive in heaven; they are working with Christ to bring salvation history to its final stages.

    9.  Our mutual prayer for one another is very valuable. As James states in the New Testament: “pray for one another, that you may be healed” (5: 16). Paul, himself, offers up intercessory prayer on behalf of the community (Romans 1: 9). Now, in Heaven, Paul’s prayers united with our own are even more efficacious for the body of Christ. Paul also teaches that the sacrifices of one Christian for the benefit of another are profitable (see 2 Cor. 12: 15 and 2 Tim. 4: 6). Even veneration of the relics of a saint can benefit the body of Christ: It is said of St. Paul that “so remarkable were the miracles worked by God at Paul’s hands that the handkerchiefs or aprons which had touched him were taken to the sick, and they were cured of their illnesses, and evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19: 11-12). The point here is clear: the prayers and sacrifices of one member of the body of Christ can benefit another member. The saints in heaven are members of the body of Christ!

    10.  All genuine prayer is ultimately directed to God (and originates from the grace and prompting of the Holy Spirit). Intercessory prayer is merely the joining of our prayers or needs with the prayers of the saints on earth or in heaven; intercessory prayer is therefore one example of the unity that exists between Christ and all believers (“all of us, in union with Christ, form one body” – Romans 12: 5). To claim that intercessory prayer detracts from our relationship with Christ would be as absurd as claiming that the love of neighbor detracts from the love of God when, in fact, the love of God and the love of neighbor are inseparable commandments (“anyone who says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar” – 1 John 4: 20). The saints in Heaven are fully united to Christ; they do not compete with Jesus for our prayers, but rather in union with Jesus they share in His life as members of the family of God. As the Catechism states:

    “2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.” Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.”

    Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

    References: I have no doubt composed this note from information gathered from having listened to numerous Scott Hahn tapes. See, for example, Dr. Hahn’s tape series, Answering Common Objections. I’m sure other apologetic materials figure in as well. A great spiritual writer states: ”In a certain sense the Feast of All Saints seems to me to be greater than that of Easter or the Ascension because this mystery perfects our Lord. But Jesus as Head is not perfect except in union with all His members, who are the Saints. This Feast is very glorious…for all the excellence of the perfection of the saints is nothing more than an emanation of His Spirit poured forth on them” (Father Olier).

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THE GREAT VALUE OF HUMBLE, PERSEVERING PRAYER ACCORDING TO SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS

512px-Gentile_da_Fabriano_052

(Saint Thomas Aquinas as depicted by Gentile da Fabriano, circa 1400, Public Domain, U.S.A.)

SPEAK LIFE BY WATCHING OVER VERY CAREFULLY WHAT YOU SAY TO OTHER PEOPLE!

                                “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41)

There is a popular Christian song by Toby Mac in which he encourages us to “speak life” to other people who are hurting. In the accompanying video to the song we see broken people brought back to life, so to speak, by encouraging words that speak life. Here are a few words from the song:

So speak life, speak life
To the deadest darkest night
Speak life, speak life
When the sun won’t shine and you don’t know why
Look into the eyes of the broken hearted
Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope

Jesus spoke life, and, moreover, he is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). One day Jesus entered the home of a twelve year old girl who had died, and he spoke words of life to her, commanding her to rise and get up, and amazingly, she did (see Mark 5: 22-43)! Jesus not only spoke words of life, but of Eternal Life, of unceasing life. “In the preaching of Jesus,” says Father Garrigou-Lagrange, “everything is immediately directed to eternal life.” Jesus is the principle of Eternal Life.

God the Father spoke words of life and encouragement to Jesus, saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). Have you spoken life-giving words to your children as the Eternal Father did to Jesus? Speak life…and watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope! Let me say this: the Word of Life spoken by the Father (and from all eternity) is Jesus Christ (“and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” – John 1:14). Jesus is Life. Draw closer to Him.

But how often do we not speak life? Worse than that, how often do we speak words of spiritual death? How often do we hurt other people because of mean or poorly chosen words?

The great Dominican and German mystic, Tauler, gives us this all-important advice:

“We must bridle the old, natural tongue. Children, above all arts, learn the art of guarding your tongue, and be careful about what you say, or no good will ever come of you. See to it that your words are to God’a honor, to your neighbor’s improvement, and to your own peace…. Your conversation should rest upon a solid basis of virtue rather than on glib speaking and subtleties. And you should speak with restraint and advisedly. By ill-considered words you can bring [great harm] on yourselves and on your hearers” (Spiritual Conferences, p. 184).

We should reflect deeply on the life-giving power of kind words. The great spiritual writer, Father Faber, says there is “hardly a power on earth equal to” kind words. He further points out that there are so many “fortunate opportunities” to be kind. When you think about it, the opportunity for great heroism may never come our way, but we can say kind things all day long! And what do kind words cost us (asks Faber)? Virtually nothing! But what is lost if we fail to speak kindly? As Faber points out, kind words are not only remedial, helping those in need of encouragement, they actually produce happiness. He says, “how often have we ourselves been made happy by kind words.” It “would be worth going through fire and water to acquire the right and to find the opportunity of saying kind words.”

Faber says that “not only is kindness due everyone, but a special kindness is due everyone.” And “is there any happiness in the world like the happiness of the disposition made happy by the happiness of others?,” Faber asks. “There is no joy to be compared with it.” “Kindness is the turf of the spiritual world, whereon the sheep of Christ feed quietly beneath the Shepherd’s eye.”

Jesus speaks life. We see throughout the Gospels the tremendous and extraordinary power Jesus possessed to affirm others! People in the presence of the most dire circumstances suddenly find their lives transformed by the dynamic, affirming presence of Jesus. Whether it be the woman at the well, Zacchaeus (the dishonest tax collector), the woman caught in adultery, the man who came to Jesus through an opening in the roof, or the immoral woman who dried Jesus’ feet with her hair, Jesus is authentically open to them, he makes time for them, he affirms and does not condemn them, and ultimately he liberates them from the tyranny of sin. Thus, as one example, he says to the woman caught in adultery: “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11). And Zacchaeus comes away from his encounter with Jesus vowing to make restitution to all those he has defrauded (Luke 19:8).

Dear friend, speak life! And to do this we must learn the art of watching over very carefully what we say so that we are not – once again – “hung by the tongue.” Learn the art of guarding your tongue, and in the process you will become, more and more, a person who speaks life to the benefit of all who share in the grace of your kind and transforming speech!

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. Here is a link to Toby Mac’s song, Speak Life   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeBv9r92VQ0

Spiritual principle: The key and tremendously important spiritual principle being advanced here is watchfulness, whereby we keep a keen spiritual eye on what we are thinking and saying so as to bring our thoughts and speech under the law of Christian charity. Saint Paul says that we “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Image: Raising of Jairus’ Daughter by Ilya Repin (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

References: The quotes from Father Faber are from his famous essay,  “Kindness,” in his book, Spiritual Conferences (TAN). Although a long essay it is well worth reading and meditating on. Faber’s point that a special kindness is due to everyone, if taken to heart, has the power to increase our personal holiness. One word of caution: kindness and praise must be sincere and genuine. A false kindness, a calculated kindness, is easily detected. That is why we should pray to the Holy Spirit for the supernatural growth of the virtue of kindness. I am also relying on a beautiful little book entitled, Born Only Once: The Miracle of Affirmation by Dr. Conrad W. Baars, a Catholic psychiatrist. The great spiritual writer, Father Lallemant, once said:   “Everything in Jesus is a principle of eternal life.”

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ARE YOU BORN AGAIN?

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5)

As you can see from the painting above, the Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3:2). The night, illuminating in its own unique way, will reveal to Nicodemus things that had escaped his attention during the busy day. After all, Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and the “true Light which…enlightens every man” (John 1:9).

But the darkness also symbolizes Nicodemus’ fear and ignorance. Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of night for fear of being seen by his fellow Pharisees. And Nicodemus’ ignorance – his being in the dark –  is seen by his inability to see that Jesus is not talking about a physical rebirth but a spiritual one.

In the “dark night” that spiritual writers talk about enlightenment doesn’t come all at once – no, such illumination is preceded by trials and tribulations, by misunderstandings, and by humiliations of the worst kind. Nevertheless, the scriptures attest that “surely the darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light” (Psalm 139:11), and from “the recesses of the darkness he discloses, and brings the gloom forth to the light” (Job 13:22). In the physical darkness Nicodemus’ own darkness and ignorance is exposed by Jesus, and all of this is nothing short of “sheer grace” for Nicodemus, who will no doubt ponder and reflect deeply on Jesus’ words.

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (3: 3)

Nicodemus:  “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (3:4)

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (3:5)

The commentators agree that there is a mix up here. By saying that a person must be born again, Jesus is using the interpretation of the Greek word anothen which means “from above,” whereas Nicodemus applies the other permissible usage of anothen which means “again”.  As one Bible commentary states:

“The Greek expression can mean either ‘again’ or ‘from above’. Nicodemus takes it to mean ‘again’, as though Jesus requires a physical rebirth to enter the kingdom. This is a misunderstanding. Jesus instead calls for a spiritual rebirth ‘from above’ (CCC 526). The Greek expression always means ‘from above’ elsewhere in John ( see 3:31; 19:11, 23).” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible).

According to one commentary referenced below, the “vast majority” of scholars agree that the “water and the Spirit” mentioned by Jesus in John 3:5 refers to baptism, and the Catholic teaching is that baptism causes an actual spiritual regeneration. “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become ‘a partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1265; see also, 1215, which states “This sacrament is also called ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,’ for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit  without which no one ‘can enter the kingdom of God’.”).”

“Through baptism we have already received the seed of eternal life, for through it we received sanctifying grace which is the radical principle of that life….” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange).

In conclusion, to be born again means to be born from above in the birth of water and the Holy Spirit which is brought about in the sacrament of baptism.

But what happened to Nicodemus? Did his “dark night” ultimately deepen his understanding and lead to his conversion? The Gospel of John tells us that after Jesus had died “Nicodemus…who had first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds’ weight. They [Jospeh of Arimathea and Nicodemus] took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” John further tells us by implication that it was still light out because the Sabbath (sundown Friday) was “close at hand,” so that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid Jesus’ body in a garden “in a new tomb where no one had ever been laid” (see John 19: 38-41).

If, at the beginning of John’s Gospel we encounter Nicodemus in the darkness of night (Chapter 3), by the end of the gospel we find him walking in the light, carrying the blessed body of Jesus (Chapter 19), and lovingly placing it in the tomb of resurrection.

According to Wikipedia, “in the current Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church, Nicodemus is commemorated along with Saint Joseph of Arimathea on August 31.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Jesus and Nicodemus by William Hole (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

References: Ignatius Catholic Study BibleThe Gospel of John (audio presentation) by Scott Hahn; for a more detailed account of why John 3: 5 applies to baptism, see on-line Mark Brumley’s article, “Are Catholics Born Again?”; and  Ascent of Mt. Carmel by Saint John of the Cross (I have in this note made a comparison between the dark night of the soul discussed by Saint John of the Cross and Nicodemus’ experience of darkness, and this could be considered a spiritual or allegorical interpretation). Regarding John 3:5, a commentary at biblestudytools.com says: “Except one be born of water. By far the vast majority of scholars consider the word “water” in this verse as a reference to Christian baptism. The Cambridge Bible says “the outward sign and inward grace of Christian baptism are here clearly given, and an unbiased mind can scarcely avoid seeing this plain fact.”

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THE POWER OF JESUS’ HOLY NAME

“Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2: 9-10)

“Jesus” literally means “he saves.” It is thus a saving name, or rather a name full of saving power.

Why is Jesus’ name more powerful than all other names (indeed, more powerful than all other names combined)? – because Jesus has been resurrected, because Jesus has ascended into Heaven, because Jesus has been crowned Lord of all creation, and because, enthroned in Heaven, Jesus always lives to make intercession for you (Hebrews 7:25). This is power. This is the power of invoking Jesus’ name!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (at 519):

All Christ’s riches “are for every individual and are everybody’s property.” Christ did not live his life for himself but for us, from his Incarnation “for us men and for our salvation” to his death “for our sins” and Resurrection “for our justification”. He is still “our advocate with the Father”, who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25). He remains ever “in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before him all that he lived and suffered for us” (Hebrews 9:25).

Therefore, an easy yet powerful way to grow closer to Jesus is to simply hold His name in great reverence. The basic assumption for this devotion is that Jesus’ name is full of power and grace. The Church apparently agrees with this assessment because it sets aside January 3 as the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. It is a reminder to us to greatly reverence Jesus’ name the rest of the year. What an awesome New Year’s resolution that would be! Imagine the growth in holiness you would experience if you kept that resolution.

Father Paul O’Sullivan writes that the “Holy Name of Jesus fills our souls with a peace and a joy we never had before.” He adds that the “Name of Jesus is the shortest, the easiest and the most powerful of prayers. Everyone can say it, even in the midst of his daily work. God cannot refuse to hear it.”

“The frequent repetition of this Divine name [Jesus],” says Father O’Sullivan, will save you from much suffering and great dangers.” It seems to me the key to this devotion is to say Jesus’ name with great reverence and love, calling to mind – without even having to think about it – all that Jesus is and means to us. This is a formula which will clearly increase our love for Jesus and will maintain us in a spirit of faith. We should never forget that faith is one of the most important virtues in the spiritual life (it is a theological virtue, literally meaning “God-directed”).

Father O’Sullivan encourages us to “understand clearly the meaning and value of the Name of Jesus.” He adds that the “Holy Name of Jesus saves us from innumerable evils and delivers us especially from the power of the devil, who is constantly seeking to do us harm.” He says that “every time we say ‘Jesus,’ we are saying a fervent prayer for…all that we need.”

If you are looking for a simple devotion, filled with power, this is it! Father O’Sullivan assures us that the simple devotion of reverently saying Jesus’ name throughout the day has amazing power. And, as Father Faber states, what do we need more in the spiritual life than “power” to overcome our tepidity and weakness.

“[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). May the most holy name of Jesus be on your lips and in your heart throughout the year.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The Wonders of the Holy Name by Father Paul O’Sullivan (TAN). “With the release of the revised Roman Missal in March 2002, the feast [of the Most Holy Name of Jesus] was restored as an optional memorial in the Ordinary Form on January 3” (from catholicculture.org).

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