Thursday, November 1, 2012

For All the Saints

Growing up a Protestant, like my refection last week when I shared that I knew nothing in my youth about Purgatory, indeed the teaching was refuted, so it was the same with the Intercession of the Saints. In the United Methodist Church  we did profess in the Apostle’s Creed "I believe in...the Communion of Saints," and we sang "For All the Saints," which was actually written by an Anglican Bishop in the late 19th century. (Listen HERE You can tell that they are probably Protestant as they are all singing with gusto!)

But although the saints are in heaven, for me as a Protestant youth they weren’t doing anything in particular. When I read the Book of Revelation, I would have read about saints. For example, Revelation 5:8 mentions certain figures in heaven: "Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints."

But Methodists don’t have saints! It was explained to me that the word "saint" was the translation of a Greek word meaning "holy one." Yet it is undeniable that in heaven the prayers of these "holy ones" are present. Are these the prayers only of Christians on earth or does it include the prayers of holy ones who had also died and are in heaven?

I’ve mentioned that when I was in College here at UF, I became interested in understanding why Catholics believe what they do. I met some very religious Catholic College students and others, some with whom I came to live with, who believed in Christ (surprise!) and read the Bible (another surprise) and seemed to differ from my faith only on certain (strange to me at the time) doctrines–like the Intercession of the Saints. Only later would I realize that there is a basic difference of approach to religious matters between Catholics and Protestant. (Episcopalians and Lutherans still had some of the Catholic view on certain things–a kind of Catholic-Protestant hybrid at times). That difference I’ve written about: the Sacramental Approach (Here and Here).

After thinking as thoroughly as I knew how in those College days about this matter of the Saints praying for us and asking for their prayers , I realized that if a Christian dies and goes to heaven, that Christian would be a better Christian than he or she was on earth, because there would be no more temptation to sin or the distractions of this earthly life. And what is it that a Christian is to do? Pray and worship and love God and one’s neighbor.

And it occurred to me that if on earth the Christian prays for others, why not in heaven as well? It would seem strange that a Christian would intercede on earth but not in heaven. And if we would ask a holy Christian on earth to pray for us, why not ask a holy Christian in heaven? And just as on earth we are attracted to certain personalities, why wouldn’t the same hold true about the saints in heaven? I believe that in heaven all love one another perfectly, but we on earth will be drawn more to some saints than to others; thus, our Patron saints or special saints of whom we ask for intercession.

St. Francis
It was in those days of investigation also that I read The Little Flowers of St. Francis. It’s a book of early stories about St. Francis and I was totally charmed by the personality of Francis and his early companions. As you may know, he’s very special to me.

Later I would also come to cherish St. Benedict (My first year at a seminary was St. Meinrad’s with Benedictine monks).

Even though my middle initial "M" stands for a family name, Morris, in the program at my ordination it had Michael as my middle name. I decided St. Michael was being given to me as a special Guardian angel.

St. John the Beloved

And of course, there is my name John. My first Patron Saint is St. John, the Beloved Disciple and Apostle of divine love.

I’ll share a personal detail about my morning prayers. Every morning I pray the Liturgy of the Hours required of priests and religious (recommended to the laity also). I also pray as I put on my medal of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and my Crucifix:

"Father, may I live this day
by the Cross and Resurrection of my Lord Jesus Christ,
and by his Ascension into Heaven,
your sending of the Holy Spirit
and Christ’s  return in Glory.
May I and the parish be consecrated this day
to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
May we have the Intercession of Mary,
the Most Holy Mother of God. (Then a "Hail Mary")
May we have the Intercession of St. Michael, Strong in battle.
May I have the Intercession of St. John, Beloved Disciple:
may I, too, become a beloved disciple of the Lord.
May we have the Intercession of St. Francis and St. Benedict.
O Holy Guardians, pray for us.
O holy men and women of God pray for us."

So you can see I've become quite a Catholic boy when it comes to the saints! I conclude this personal sharing with a quote from our Holy Father Pope Benedict about the saints which sums up some of what I’ve been sharing:

"There are very dear people in the life of each one of us to whom we feel particularly close, some of whom are already in God's embrace while others still share with us the journey through life: they are our parents, relatives and teachers; they are the people to whom we have done good or from whom we have received good; they are people on whom we know we can count.

"Yet it is important also to have "traveling companions" on the journey of our Christian life....I am also thinking of the Virgin Mary and the Saints. Everyone must have some Saint with whom he or she is on familiar terms, to feel close to with prayer and intercession but also to emulate.

"I would therefore like to ask you to become better acquainted with the Saints, starting with those you are called [named] after, by reading their life and their writings. You may rest assured that they will become good guides in order to love the Lord even more and will contribute effective help for your human and Christian development.@ (Pope Benedict, General Audience 8/25/10)