In my church back home, stained-glass portraits of the saints circle the entire sanctuary. I became used to seeing their faces whenever I went to the church for Mass. Each portrait had subtle details that reflected a part of that saint’s story. There were keys in St. Peter’s hands, a faint line of barbed wire in front of St. Maximillian Kolbe, and St. Juan Diego displayed the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in his tilma with flowers spilling out. They were wonderful reminders of the stories I already knew about their lives, but that’s all they were – stories.
There were many lessons I learned from the lives of the saints, but I never thought of them as living witnesses. One day, however, I walked into my parents’ room at night and saw my mom light a St. Jude prayer candle. She told me that he never ignores someone who asks for his help. I learned later that when my dad lost his job and she was working two, she prayed every night that we would be okay.
It was that faith and conviction that made me realize how important the saints really are. Many people confuse the practice of praying to a saint with worshiping them. In Catholic doctrine, there are two different types of prayer of veneration: Latria and Dulia. Latria is the worship that belongs to God alone and should never be given to any other entity. When the Israelites in the Old Testament began to worship false gods and idols, this was Latria being given where it did not belong.
Dulia, on the other hand, is simply the honor and veneration we give to what is holy, to what is set apart. The saints, being in perfect union with God in heaven, are holy. In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, he writes,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”Hebrews 12:1
By their lives, we are given an example of how we are to live as Christians.
However, the saints are not simply people that we honor because of examples they provide; they are deeply involved in the lives of God’s people. St. Therese of Lisieux, a French nun who wrote incredible works about her love for God, stated,
“When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens; I will spend my time in Heaven doing good upon earth.”Saint Therese of Lisieux
This is a perfect description of what the saints do for us here and now. They continuously shower their love and prayers upon us from Heaven. In the letter of James, we read,
“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”James 5:16
Are there any Christians more righteous than those who are perfected in God’s love in Heaven? The saints have no power or grace of their own, but that of God flows through them and upon us. God willed that His message be brought forth through human prophets. He willed that His Son would be born from a human woman. And He willed that His blessings shower the earth from the hands of His saints.
Not only do the saints pray for us, but they intercede before God on our behalf. Now some reject this belief because of 1 Timothy 2:5-6, which reads,
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”1 Timothy 2:5-6
However, these verses do not contradict the teaching on saints. In fact, this passage agrees with that teaching! The Catholic Church affirms that it is Christ who mediates between God and humanity, but the saints participate in the one mediation of Christ because they are His body.
“He is before all things, and in Him, all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.”Colossians 1:17-18
The saints are an extension of Christ’s intercession, not out of necessity, but out of the love Christ has for us. The beginning of that same chapter in 1 Timothy states,
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men.”1 Timothy 2:1
We are to pray for each other and the prayers of the saints are more efficacious because they are closer to God than we are.
With all of this said, we are not required to pray to the saints. There was a common argument that I would hear growing up claiming that “Catholics think they can only pray to God through the saints”. That is the farthest thing from the truth. We give God our Latria, our glory, and praise reserved for Him alone. We are further called to be in relationship with God, and to pray to Him often to foster that relationship. In return, He gives us the saints as a gift – a gift that draws us deeper into the community and into the mystical Body of Christ. The saints serve as examples of the Christian life while praying and interceding for us. They guide us through our journey so that one day we, too, may become saints.
St. Jude, pray for us.