Archive for Prayer

Breaking Catholic: Part 7–Saints

 

 saint n.

1. (Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) a person who after death is formally recognized by a Christian Church, esp the Roman Catholic Church, as having attained, through holy deeds or behaviour, a specially exalted place in heaven and the right to veneration

2. a person of exceptional holiness or goodness

3. (Christian Religious Writings / Bible) (plural) Bible the collective body of those who are righteous in God’s sight

vb.

(Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) (tr) to canonize; recognize formally as a saint

[from Old French, from Latin sanctus holy, from sanc?re to hallow][1]

 

The Bible refers to any believer in Jesus Christ as a “saint.”

 

But to be a “Saint,” you have to have the stamp of approval of a specific group of 123 religious leaders of the Catholic church, now known as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, through the process called canonization,[2] which generally goes like this.

 

First, a Postulator investigates the candidate’s life at their local diocese, the district under the care of a bishop, at least five years after the candidate’s death (lately, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II have gotten the fast track, however).  At this stage, candidates are referred to as “Servants of God.”

 

The formal argument for sainthood, called the prositio, contains the Servant of God’s life story (informatio) and documents and testimonies (summarium).  After the prositio is approved, the Pope bestows the title of “Venerable.”

 

A Martyr can go directly from here to Blessed, a process known as beatification.  For others, a miracle is required, either performed by the candidate during his or her lifetime, or through posthumous intercession.

 

In the past, this “apostolic phase” involved the Postulator pleading the case again, while a Promoter General of the Faith, also known as the Devil’s Advocate (hence the term), would provide the argument against canonization.  The role of the Devil’s Advocate was done away with in 1983 when Pope Paul VI streamlined the canonization process.[3]

 

For canonization, a second miracle is required.  The most common miracles cited are medical in nature.  Other alleged supernatural events, such as visitations from the Virgin Mary, stigmata, levitation, bilocation, etc. are frowned upon by the papacy, as they are considered easy to fake.[4]

 

The canonization process is lengthy, expensive and convoluted.  In some cases, it can even take centuries.  In his book Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why, Kenneth L. Woodward estimates that Mother Katharine Drexel’s 36-year cause for canonization cost over $1 million.

 

All this to say that a great deal of time, effort and money go into the expedition of declaring someone to be officially in heaven and “entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth.”

 

“So what’s the problem?” you may ask.

 

The problem is that none of this is necessary.  As it is written:

 

Only, as before the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; when we do not know what prayer to offer, to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us, with groans beyond all utterance:  and God, who can read our hearts, knows well what the Spirit’s intent is; for indeed it is according to the mind of God that he makes intercession for the saints. (Romans 8:26-27 Knox)

And also:

 

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34 ESV)

In other words, your prayers to God the Father are carried by God the Holy Spirit directly to Jesus (God the Son), who intercedes DIRECTLY WITH HIS FATHER!  No gatekeeper, no secretary, no calling ahead for an appointment.  Straight into the Throne Room with no red tape!

 

So naturally, this raises the question: If all believers in Christ have a direct hotline to the living God, then why do Catholics insist on praying to dead people?  God wouldn’t even hear a prayer that was offered to someone else, would he?

 

Actually, the evidence would seem to indicate otherwise.  Here is one example to which I can personally testify.

 

A devout Catholic couple in the area where I live had been married, and childless, for seven years.  The wife was told that she was barren.  Rather than accept that fate, she and her husband prayed fervently to St. Gerard, the patron saint of unborn children, to intercede.  Fourteen kids later, one might say that their prayers were very effective indeed.

 

This would seem to imply that a prayer offered in sincere faith, the best way one knows how to pray, is honored by God.  Therefore, who am I to tell a Catholic praying to a saint that they’re “doing it wrong”?

 

No, my problem isn’t with the praying.  My problem is the superciliousness of the church leaders in their authoritative exaltation of people to sainthood in the first place.

 

Now I suppose you could argue that it’s better to be judgmental in a positive sense, by officially declaring them to be in heaven, than the alternative—condemning them to hell.  However, in either case, you can’t avoid the reality that judgment of ANY soul’s eternal destiny and reward, or lack thereof, belongs to God alone.

 

What arrogance to think that a group of human beings is qualified to judge what rank people have in heaven and what rights and special abilities they have when no one, besides Jesus Himself, ever came down from heaven!

 

But I suppose it makes sense that a group that has declared itself “infallible[5]” would consider itself worthy to judge such matters.  It appears the Pope, the Bishops, the General Council and all the Magisterium didn’t get the memo that nobody’s perfect.

 

But back to the saints.  I find it spellbindingly ironic that the “infallible” church does not actually consider those it canonizes to be infallible.

 

Just “good enough,” I guess.

 

(So how good is “good enough?”  Stick around for Part 8–Good Works)

 

[1] Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

[2] http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/csaints/documents/rc_con_csaints_pro_20051996_en.html

[3] http://werewolf.co.nz/2010/10/saving-a-nation-of-sinners/

[4] http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2010/06/the_vatican_loves_a_good_story.single.html

[5] Vatican II explained the doctrine of infallibility as follows: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25).

Deliverance

 

 

No, not THAT kind of Deliverance!
 

 

 

(Yeah, that’s more like it.)

 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation that seemed hopeless?  Did you pray to God for deliverance?  I have found myself in that place on numerous occasions.

 

God always answers prayers for deliverance, but sometimes it’s not the answer we were expecting.  We have a tendency to treat God like an ATM—swipe our prayer card, and out come the blessings.

 

But sometimes the answer is “no.”  And sometimes it’s “not yet.”  And sometimes, it’s “Yes, but not the way you’re thinking.”

 

God wants us to live life to the full; however, He is always more interested in our holiness than our happiness.  We would love for our deliverance from trials and tribulations to be as quick and painless as possible.

 

But more often than not, God’s plan is to deliver us through the trial, rather than from it.  And painless isn’t always part of the plan.  In fact, sometimes the pain is the plan.

 

The trials we undergo may seem like the end of the world while they’re happening, and yet, we always come out the other side, maybe not totally unscathed, but still standing nonetheless.  We may have some scar tissue, but we also frequently have a sense of liberation.  We got THROUGH this!  And it didn’t kill us!

 

Here’s the thing about deliverance though.  The process of being delivered through a trial is supposed to be a lesson about reliance on God’s strength when our own is failing.

 

After all, why did we cry out to Him in the first place?  Because we knew that we were at the end of ourselves and it was only His strength that could deliver us.

 

So naturally, what do we do first when the next trial comes along?  That’s right, we try to fix our own problems and rely on our own strength.  Again.  Although we know we should never take God’s deliverance for granted, we do it anyway, because it is in our nature to forget things like that.

 

Fortunately God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, anticipates this, and is always there to pick up the pieces AGAIN (and again, and again).  What a great thing it is to know that we can always fall back on His patience and mercy!

 

Still, I think we ought to make more of an intentional effort to remember why God delivers us in the first place—because He is with us, and He is for us.  If He was in our corner the last time we had a problem, and we know that He doesn’t change, then it makes sense that He will go to bat for us again the next time we have a problem. 

  

So instead of having a high-speed come-apart the next time life beats us down or backs us up against the wall, we should approach our trial with confidence, knowing that we will be delivered, and that we won’t have to rely on our own strength to get it done.

 

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 2: PRaise and PRayer

 

 

 

PRAISE AND PRAYER

 

God must come first, because He is first.  When you put God first in your life, you are not doing Him a favor; you are doing yourself one.  As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

 

 “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33 NIV)

 

So what is the best way to keep God on top of the list?  Well, the obvious answer is to pray.  But how?

 

Too often, our prayers sound like we are making God into our own personal vending machine.  We need or want something, so we push our prayer button and expect that we will receive an immediate answer to our prayers, all wrapped up like a Three Musketeers. 

 

Since we wouldn’t be asking God for something if we didn’t believe he was capable, and willing, to provide it,  why not start our prayer by praising Him for being that kind of a God? 

If we need His help, He is obviously greater than we are.  Starting our prayer time by meditating on just how much greater He is puts us in an appropriate posture for prayer.

 

Of course, once we’re there, standing in the glory of His greatness, we realize how unworthy we are.  This is a good opportunity for confession. 

You can’t help but call to mind where you’ve missed the mark when you have entered the presence of the Most Holy One.  But that’s just it.  Even though we have missed the mark, and will do so again, He still welcomes us into His presence. 

 

Once we begin thanking Him just for paying attention to us at all, we become more aware of all the ways, great and small, that He is acting in our lives.  Thank Him for all of those things, because He didn’t have to do any of them. 

I have found that the joy of the Lord comes to me in the course of my thanksgiving.  As David wrote:

 

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.  My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” (Psalm 28:7 NIV)

 

It is through this strength that we finally get around to presenting our requests to the Lord.  Because now, instead of feeling confused and helpless and needy, we are renewed and refueled. 

(Next–Part 3–PRotect)