“so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched [Saint Paul] were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” (Acts 19:12)
I had a dream about a faith-filled and holy Protestant man…
He was standing by the road in the throes of a dreadful and deadly illness, barely clinging to life, and crying out, “someone help me.” Suddenly, he sees a kind lady approaching him with Saint Paul’s handkerchief, the one mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, the one that God allowed to heal so many people. As he sees the relic coming close to him, his sense of hope ascends to an incredible height! His family is amazed that such a grace is being given to him. But suddenly something sends him a scruple and he reasons: why should I touch a handkerchief that touched Saint Paul, a mere human? No, I will pray directly to Jesus, lest I steal away Jesus’ glory by honoring Paul. The crowd is urging him to touch the handkerchief but he refuses to do so. Suddenly, Jesus appears to him to calm his fear of offending Him, and says: “My son, be not afraid, it will give me great glory if you touch the handkerchief, for Paul was once my great enemy but through grace he became a mighty image of myself, and his transformation into a saint has given my Father great glory.”
Suddenly the man realizes that by amazing grace Saint Paul has been incorporated into the mystical body of Christ. He – Paul – is a part of Christ’s body. The man sees that God is indeed glorified in His saints (see 2 Thessalonians 1:10). He touches Saint Paul’s relic. He’s healed. His wife is crying tears of joy. And everyone is saying, “praise God!”
What a great mystery the communion of saints is! How much does it tell us about how wonderful our Heavenly Father is! In the historical Protestant faith the model for justification is the courtroom and legal righteousness (imputed), but in the Catholic faith the model for justification is Divine sonship. We truly become sons and daughters of the eternal Father and cry out “Abba,”( Papa). It’s all a family affair. And what gives a Father more glory than allowing his sons and daughters to partake of His own life, and eat at his table, and perform miracles like Jesus did, and bring his children’s prayers to Him (I see the clear influence of listening to many hours of Scott Hahn tapes in the tone and content of this paragraph!).
“To venerate the relics of the saints is a profession of belief in several doctrines of the Catholic faith [including] the belief in the special intercessory power which the saints enjoy in heaven because of their intimate relationship with Christ the King; and… the truth of our closeness to the saints because of our connection in the communion of saints — we as members of the Church militant or pilgrim Church, they as members of the Church triumphant” (Fr. W. Saunders, “Church Teaching on Relics”). The fact that the New Testament identifies, in Paul’s Handkerchief, such a striking example of God’s power working through the relic of a Saint profoundly authenticates the Church’s teaching in this area.
So why pray to a saint in Heaven? : because it shows great confidence in the amazing munificence of the redemption merited by the Precious Blood, that sinners are made into saints and allowed participation in the very Trinitarian life of the omnipotent Creator. How great God is!! Far from detracting from God’s glory, the doctrine of the communion of saints is a rather amazing manifestation of it.
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
P.S. It would be incredulous to think that Saint Paul, now glorified in heaven, has less influence in the Communion of Saints than what he had on earth! If we can pray for each other, consider what the Saints in Heaven can do! Its a beneficial practice to make friends with a new Saint and to be devoted to that Saint for a particular need which corresponds to that Saint’s particular sanctity. See what happens!
Image: Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1482, Public Domain, U.S.A.
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