“What a friend we have in Jesus…” In John chapter 15 Jesus tells his Disciples that he does not consider them servants but friends. Afterwards, he commands them to love one another. The love and friendship of God is both vertical and horizontal, like the cross. This is why Jesus can say, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do it to me.” So, while a relationship with Jesus is obviously paramount, it in no way excludes the importance of other relationships. On the contrary, a relationship with Jesus must include relationships with others. Such is the nature of the Church, the “family of God.” Being a Christian is never only about “Jesus and me.” Whether we sin or behave righteously, it affects others. We are one Body. We are to be friends with Jesus and with each other.
Who among us would hesitate to confide in good friends when life is difficult? Would we think twice about asking friends to pray for us? People commonly post prayer requests on Facebook to “friends” they hardly know. It can be even more consoling when we know that a close friend or a holy person is praying for us. A close friend knows us well and can empathize. A holy person’s prayers are very helpful, according to Scripture. When the person praying for us is both a close friend and a holy person, it is a powerful combination.
Enter the Saints. They are ready and willing to pray for us. They are as holy as can be, and, through Jesus, they know us well. They are family. The fact that they have departed from this life does not exclude them from the family of God, it seals their place in the family. Their love for humanity has been perfected. They are not dead but are more alive in Christ than we are. They are not aloof or disinterested in our present lives. Nor are they secluded in some heavenly, sound-proof chamber that prevents them from knowing our plight. They know our plight, have endured it, and have been victorious through Jesus Christ. They are in Christ, not compartmentalized from him somewhere. Hence, they know us because Jesus knows us. The Saints are friends of God and they perfectly obey the command, “Love one another.” They love Jesus and they love us.
To believe that praying to the Saints is idolatry is like saying that asking your friends to pray for you is idolatry. To “pray” is simply to “ask,” as in, “Pray tell us, how will they fare while you are away?” Just because it is an old use of the word “pray” does not mean it is “idol worship.” We ask (pray) the Saints to pray for us because they are righteous, because they are part of the Body of Christ and because we are commanded in Scripture to pray for one another and to love one another. Nowhere does the Scripture teach us to stop loving and praying with those who are in Heaven. Scripture does tell us it is wrong to participate in the occult practice of conjuring up spirits. Catholicism is not a big séance. The Church does not condone superstition. We do not ask Saint So-and-so to ring bells or make knocking sounds to communicate with us. We simply request their prayer intercession.
We can “know” many Saints and relate to them by virtue of the lives they lived and the writings they may have left behind. We can know of their struggles, their weaknesses, their strengths and their victories. There are Saints from all walks of life and of all ages. Whoever you are, there is a Saint that you can identify with on a personal level. Obviously, Jesus knows what we go through. Because he knows us, he has also provided other friends for our journey. These are friends who have run the race, fought the good fight and won the victory by God’s grace. They have much to teach us.
I encourage you to find a Saint whose life you can relate to on a personal level. While it is inspiring to reflect upon the Saints as great heroes of the Faith, it can be even more helpful to learn how God helped them with their human vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Jesus wants us to know that his command to “be perfect” is not out of reach. Saints are not the exception. Saints are the standard we are called to. We are all called to be Saints. Being more personally acquainted with one who has endured familiar struggles and “made it” is a tremendous spiritual help. That’s what friends are for; to help each other be Saints. If you haven’t done so already, become personally acquainted with a Saint or two.
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens the countenance of a friend. (Proverbs 27:17)