One difference between Catholics and Protestants is this idea of the “Saints.” I don’t want this to be a sticking point for anyone reading this blog. Before I converted, I also was a bit hung up on the notion. Let me try to simplify this for you. Saints are simply those who lived before us who, more often than not, did it right. If you’re protestant, let me introduce you to a few Saints that you already know (but may have not realized.) Hopefully we can diffuse the drama that’s contained in this particular debate between those of us who all embrace the title “Christian.”
First, we have Abraham. The Bible explicitly says that Abraham was saved (and St. Paul repeats this). Abraham loved, trusted, and (most importantly) obeyed God. You see small areas through his life where he screwed up. But, in the overall equation, he had faith in and obeyed God. We study Abraham’s story: how he almost sacrificed Isaac (but God spared him that), how he traveled thousands of miles on camel, and how he consistently chose to believe and obey God. The deeper you dive into the life of Abraham, the more there is to learn from.
Next, we have an array of Old Testament heroes: Noah, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David, Elijah, Elisha, (really, all the prophets), etc. Some are not well known, like Hezekiah. Some have entire books of the Bible that they’ve written or are about them. There’s one consistent theme: They all trust and obey God (though not perfectly – they’re still human after all.) Each of them has struggles they go through. Reading about their struggles, and how God helped overcome those struggles, will inspire all of us to live better lives and better allow God to help us overcome our own struggles.
As we move into the New Testament, we see a similar trend. Almost every Christian hails the original 12 apostles with a special view. John the Baptist clearly was special. When Jesus is in the Garden of Gasthemene, he is visited by Moses and Elijah. Jesus is friends with these men, he converses with them. They’re not dead and missing; they’re so present that Peter wants to build a tent for them.
“The Saints” are simply those who have lived their lives in accord with God. We believe the saints are those who have been saved. Catholics view these stories as a panorama of good examples. Not only do their stories warm the heart, they are inspirational and educational. It’s not only people from the Bible who are “Saints.” Catholics recognize thousands upon thousands of them: Most whose name you’ve never heard of. Married, single, young, old, eveything! There are Saints of all flavors of people, all walks of live – as it should be!
Read the story of St. Augustine. For the first 30 years of his life he lived a very sinful life in almost every regards. With the help of the prayers of his mother (also a saint), he had a radical conversion to Christianity and became a great theological mind. Read the story of St. Patrick. Yes, he went to Ireland. What he did there, what God did through him there, is amazing and inspirational. Explore the saints and you’ll find a powerful testimony to the power of Christ.
At this point, many Protestants may respond “Ok, I get that you Catholics like to give a special medal of recognition to some people who did a really great job obeying God, but what’s the deal with praying to them???” Again, this is simple. Have you ever asked someone else to pray for you? Of course, this is quite likely; Christians commonly do it. I ask my wife to pray for a particular challenge I have at work regularly. I ask my male friends to pray that I overcome particular challenges we men all face. I recently asked my pastor to pray for my family as I went into a hunting trip. I just asked a good motivational speaker (Hi Richard!) whom I had the fortune to have dinner with the pray for my struggle with anger.
Why did I ask all these people to pray for me? I need help! I need all the prayers I can get. I’m a fallen sinner with a consistent history of screwing it up. Now, take the next step. Catholics don’t limit ourselves only to those who are still on the earth. I ask those who are in heaven now to pray for me too. If someone is in heaven, it’s fair to say they are a “friend” of Jesus. I don’t intend to diminish the Glory and Honor that is due to Jesus Christ alone, as part of the Godhead. He can and does hear me. He also likes it when we pray for each other.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have some accomplished friends asking for the same thing I’m asking for? Have you ever had a situation in life where your request was denied, but the same request coming from someone more senior was granted? I know that I don’t ask for things in the way I should (see Romans 8:26-27). But the “Spirit intercedes for God’s People [or some translations say “Saints”], in accordance with the Will of God.” There are two ways to read “God’s people”. One is for the God’s People still living on earth. The other is for those who have passed on, who are petitioning for us who are still here.
In every other aspect of life, we all rush to celebrate greatness. When a fireman heroically saves someone from a fire, or a research science team finds a cure to some disease we all dance and cheer. Let’s dance and cheer for these spiritual heroes too. Even if you aren’t yet comfortable “praying” to them yet, just step back and say “ok, I guess in our world, we could certainly have a WORSE role model!”
So, explore these “saints!” They’re better than the best superhero comics. Learn their stories, teach them to your kids. It’s much better than knowing the stories of Batman, Spiderman, and Ironman – not that those are intrinsically bad, but they’re just not as wholesome and good.
If you want to read more, take a look at this fantastic article written by my beautiful wife, posted over at Catholic365:
Question for my audience: Which Christian Role models do you most admire, and what part of their story is most motivating to you?