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Questions & Answers About Mary & the Saints

Is it not wrong to honor saints and angels since the Bible says, “You shall adore the Lord your God, and him alone you shall serve” (see Lk 4:8; Mt 4:10)?

Certain critics misinterpret Catholic teaching on this matter. Catholics adore or worship God alone. He is the one we serve. The honor we show the saints is of a secondary order. It is no more an offense against God than the honor and respect we show our parents and friends.

How can Catholics rationalize such an attitude given the clear Scriptural prohibitions, as in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other”?

There is no deep rationalization here, only common sense and courtesy. Of course, the mindset of those who have refashioned Christianity into a privatized sect, seeking a direct link with Christ while ignoring any semblance of a family of faith– living and dead– would have a hard time appreciating the communion of saints. As I said before, the highest honor and adoration goes to God alone; however, the very fact that we have natural bonds (with blood kin) and supernatural ones (in the family of the Church) demands some level of respect and affection.

What is the difference between showing honor and giving adoration?

Adoration is the term we properly use regarding the highest honor we show and this is directed to God. We recognize his Lordship over all creation. By honoring angels and saints we give glory to God who has worked wondrous deeds and has instilled divine virtues in them.

Does the Bible say that we should honor angels?

Most certainly, it does. Three angels appeared to Abraham. His response was to bow his face to the ground and to honor them (Genesis 18:2; 19:1). Similarly, Joshua raised his eyes and saw what he at first took to be a man, standing over against him, holding a drawn sword and proclaiming, I am “commander of the army of the LORD. . .” (Joshua 5:15). We read in Exodus 23:20-21, God saying: “Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him.”

But, does not St. Paul say, “To God alone is due honor and praise” (see 1 Timothy 1:17)?

The apostle means that the highest honor and praise is reserved to God. Note what he says in Romans 12:10: “Love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”

What does it really mean to pray to saints?

It is a particular kind of prayer. Ultimately, it is a prayer of supplication that finds its ultimate source in God, himself. We are asking the saints to pray for us and with us. Our prayers of adoration are reserved to God, all glory and praise is his.

Does the Bible say it is permissible to ask the saintsto pray for us?

Yes, it does. The Bible tells us that there is a real value in requesting the prayers of people on earth and the prayers of the angels in heaven. This being the case, it is only logical that the saints, who reign with Christ in heaven and who are still a part of our family of faith, can pray and intercede for us. St. Paul makes this request: “I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” (Romans 15:30). He said similar things in Ephesians 6:18 and Thessalonians 5:25.

Does the Bible say anything about angels and saints praying for people who walk the earth?

There is evidence for this. Zechariah 1:12 documents an angel praying for the Jewish people: “O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these seventy years?” God heard and responded to the angel’s prayer, noting that his words were “gracious and comforting” and that he would have mercy on Jerusalem. Note these words from the chief apostle (2 Peter 1:15):

“And I will endeavour that you frequently have after my decease whereby you may keep a memory of these things” (Douay-Rheims).

“And I will see to it that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition).

While the language sounds a bit convoluted, one might claim that the apostle is saying, “And I will do my endeavor that after my death also you may often have prayers whereby you may keep a memory of these things” (2 Peter 1:15).

St. Peter wished to pray for his friends even after his death. The clincher that the saints pray for us is in the Book of Revelation where St. John saw four and twenty ancients who “fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8).

But how can angels and saints be mediators when St. Paul tells us that “There is one mediator between God and men,” and his name is “Christ Jesus” (see 1 Timothy 2:5)?

Jesus is our Mediator. However, this does not rule out secondary intercessors that are assisted and used by Christ. Remember, St. Paul, himself, asked for prayers from his brethren.

Why not pray to God in a direct way, according to the fashion that Jesus taught us?

There are many instances where we do pray directly to God. However, we acknowledge that we do not come to God alone. Just as God called to himself a People of God in the Jewish nation, so too he summons a new people in the Church. We pray with and for one another. Death is no barrier to this solidarity. We beckon the saints to pray for our needs. There is a great humility in this form of prayer. We recognize our unworthiness and ask the saints to obtain for us that which may be just out of our grasp. Both prayer forms are recommended.

But if the dead are either asleep or too far off to hear us, then what use are our petitions?

The saints know rest in the Lord, but this does not mean that they have been relegated, even temporarily, to oblivion. Further, the ties that bind us, particularly our faith and love in Christ, transcend the barrier of death. There is a legitimate mystery here and yet we trust the Word of God, which testifies that angels and saints do, indeed, hear us. “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). The saints have joined the angels of heaven. They hear our voices.

But does not Jeremiah 17:5 say, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man”?

The prophet only meant that trust in men should not displace trust in God. Note that God himself told us to observe and trust his angel (Exodus 23).

Do not Catholics go too far in calling various saints “our hope, our mercy,” etc.?

These are merely signs of affection and thankfulness to our special friends among the saints. Such expressions should not be interpreted crudely as denying the singular place of God and his operation in our lives.

Why do Catholics pay special and heightened honor to the Virgin Mary?

She was chosen by God to be the Mother of our Savior. Should we not honor the mother of the one who has saved the world? Sure we should.

The appearance and the words of the angel honored Mary with titles befitting her dignity: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women.” Is it right to echo the salutation of a heavenly messenger? Certainly it is.

Jesus desired that we take notice of his mother and honor her, saying to John from the cross, “See your mother” (John 19:27). Are we obliged to carry out the last words of our crucified Lord? Without question, this is the case.

The first Christians honored Mary with a most intense and intimate love. Should we do the same as brothers and sisters to Christ, adopted children of the Father, and spiritual children to Mary? Yes, the pattern and connection is clear.

After God himself, Mary is the most perfect model of purity, justice, and holiness for us to imitate. If Mary is the queen of the saints, then is her spiritual perfection worthy of imitation? Quite so.

Those who have honored her have been wondrously rewarded by God; the lame walked, the blind regained their sight, the sick recovered, etc. Practically speaking, we would be fools to ignore such a person and the incredible manner that God continues to use her. In many ways, the miracles and messages attributed to her remind us that God is still very much aware and concerned about our plight.

Again, does it not defame God to give so many honors to a mere creature?

This honor we show her does not degrade God in the least. As a matter of fact, the respect and veneration we show Mary pleases God. We give glory to God in honoring the woman who was so wonderfully made free from sin and who said YES to God for all humanity.

Did the Virgin Mary have other children besides Jesus?

No, the Bible calls her “a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:27). The Scriptures also tell us that she remained a virgin up to the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:25). Her perpetual virginity was an accepted fact in the early Church community, taught by the Nicene Creed and the early fathers as “the glorious EVER virgin Mary.”

But does this conflict with what the evangelist actually says, that Joseph “knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus” (Mt 1:25)?

There is no conflict, just a problem with language and translation. The wording, “until” or “not till” does not mean that her virginity ended at that point or at some time after. It merely stresses again that Jesus was specially conceived by divine intervention. Given that Mary was a sacred vessel for the presence of God, Joseph would do nothing to defile her. After the birth of Christ, and knowing full well the identity of his foster Son, Joseph and Mary lived a virginal marriage. The language here shares some similarity with Genesis 8:7: “. . . and sent forth a raven; and it went to and fro UNTIL the waters were dried up from the earth.” The raven did not return at all. As with the virginity of Mary, it was a perpetual status. The same expression is used in 1 Kings 15:30.

But if Jesus is called Mary’s FIRST BORN, does not this readily imply other children?

No, and again, language is a serious issue in biblical interpretation. The term “first born” was applied to the FIRST BORN of every Jewish woman, regardless of whether other children followed. A case in point is Joshua 17:1. The frequent mention of the brethren of Jesus finds several reliable explanations. There is evidence that in some cases it refers to cousins (especially when a woman other than Mary is mentioned as their mother) and in other instances it may simply be an extension of referring to his followers as his brethren.

Does the Bible say that Mary was always free from original sin?

We read in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The seed is interpreted as Christ Jesus, the woman is the Virgin Mary, and the serpent is Satan. Certain older Catholic renditions translated the last line here as “She shall crush your head.” Thus, in statuary and other imagery, she is often envisioned stepping upon a serpent. This translation peculiarity is fortuitous in that modern scholarship tells us that a more exact rendering would be, “They [all the descendants of the woman] will strike at your head.” The Mother of the Redeemer is now the Mother of the Redeemed. She is the image and model of the Church. The enmity between her sons and daughters against those in league with the devil is a perpetual one. Such an interpretation would not admit to even a momentary moment of reconciliation. She has always been, and always will be, the one made holy by Christ’s saving grace– a favor which reached from the cross backwards through history, to the very moment of her conception– all so that the divine and all-holy one might pass through a sinless vessel. The angel’s salutation affirms this truth, “Hail full of grace.” There is no space or vacuum in her for sin. The angel continues, “blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:26,33). The holiness of Mary distinguishes her from all other women.

Are there any other reasons that might prove that Mary was free from original sin?

It would have been unbecoming of an infinitely pure God to be incarnated in a woman who was or had been under the dominion of sin, even if just for a moment.

Christ takes his flesh from the flesh of Mary; as God and as untouched by sin, he could not assume a sinful flesh.

The Holy Spirit has guided the Church on this matter and thus it can be trusted.

Mary appeared at Lourdes in France and declared herself the IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. As verification of this message, healing water sprung mysteriously from the ground and as a lasting testimony thousands have been cured by it from all kinds of diseases.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Father Joe

    I am 33yrs old and was raised as a catholic and live in Malta but in reality like many people I work and live with, we are not religious at all. On the contrary many people do not like the church they say it is boring and I do not blame them. A year ago I was “born again” I converted just like nicodemes did, although I was born a catholic but never believed in God due to selfishness probably, I have decided to follow Jesus. Reason is after 5 years of pain and suffering in my marriage Jesus has freed me from the devils bondage and now I live very happily with my family. I have changed my views on Christ after entering a charismatic group, I see Jesus as my lord and personal savior. The thing is my leader does not agree with a lot of Catholic doctrine ex: purgatory, intercession of saints and praying for the dead. Is he living in sin?.I do not see him as a sinner because he preaches from the heart and I have seen God work through him and heal many people physically and emotionally in Jesus name. Another thing, I like to watch sermons of Dr Charles Stanley and Dr David Jeremiah I think they are great apostles. Is it right for me to watch them even though they are not catholics? Thank you Father

    FATHER JOE:

    People say that Mass is boring because they are ignorant of the great mystery they witness and receive. It is the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus and the “real presence” of our Lord given as saving food. We also hear the truth of the Gospel, maybe without much in the way of pomp or exaggerated rhetoric, but it is the truth all the same. The problem with such people is not so much what they are getting but what they bring to the Eucharist.

    You say that you had a “born again” experience. Catholics associate spiritual rebirth with faith and baptism. It is more that an emotional high or satisfying feeling. You were made an adopted child of the Father at baptism, given a personal and corporate faith in Jesus Christ. If your parents did their duty, then you were raised in that faith and made it your own with the sacramental life: Confession, Holy Communion, and Confirmation. One might have a spiritual awakening as a Catholic but a Baptist born again experience usually signifies defection from the Church. Indeed, such is implied by your use of the word “conversion.” You may have rediscovered your faith but the word “conversion” would imply that you gave no weight to your Catholic baptism and faith. Such would be grievously wrong. You were bought by Christ and his Cross. The price was paid and the fruits made available in the sacraments. I praise and thank God that you may have escaped spiritual bondage; however, if your Charismatic group is not Catholic, you may be experiencing deception. I do not encourage or support Catholic involvement in any form of non-Catholic Pentecostalism.

    If your group leader is not a Catholic and he has made known basic disagreements with purgatory, saintly intercession, prayers for the dead, etc. then you should distance yourself from the group. We believe in the same Jesus but the faith is not the same. Only God can say if he is in sin. God judges us as to what we know of objective truth. Only he knows our hearts. My problem with all this is less with him and more with you.

    Dr. Charles Stanley and Dr. David Jeremiah are Baptists. Some of what they say has great value. But again they are not Catholic and there are important differences. The latter gives authority to the local church but not to a universal one like Catholicism. Neither of them would acknowledge a Magisterium protected by the Holy Spirit. Being edified by television ministers is one thing; substituting their message for Mass is quite another. Indeed, failure to participate at Sunday Mass is the substance of mortal sin. Neglecting the food of the altar, Catholics risk starving their souls— remember, our Lord told us that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we can have no part of him.

  2. In Hebrews it tells us that there were many who played the role of intercessor. Why were there many? Because death hindered them!

    FATHER JOE: Where in Hebrews do we find this? No, they were many because of the corporate nature of the Church. If you think that death impedes the prayers of the saints then you are in denial about us having a share in Christ’s resurrection. As with a rejection of the real presence in the Eucharist, this is a symptom of a “creeping atheism,” ironic, given that the critics would juxtapose Christ’s uniqueness over creatures. You might not directly deny that Jesus is God but you refuse to believe in the full ramifications of his salvific intervention.

    And what makes Jesus’ special? He has conquered death and ever lives.

    FATHER JOE: Okay, you must mean Hebrews 7:23-27 where the the eternal priesthood of Christ is contrasted to the old levitical priesthood of the Jews: “Those priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office, but he, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away. Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them. It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.” This “intercession” is literally the mediation of Christ. Catholic priests participate in this priesthood but there is only one High Priest in the Catholic-Christian faith. In addition to ordination, there is also our baptismal priesthood which shares in the fruits of Christ’s powerful works. Because Christ is alive, death is no longer a barrier as it was before. Indeed, the dead now can know true union with Christ and a share of his reward.

    We never said Mary or the other saints never played the role of intercession; we said they only played their part till death. This is exactly what the writer of the Hebrews is trying to tell us.

    FATHER JOE: No, it is the opposite. Hebrews is saying that before Jesus, our sacrifices always fell short. They were unable to make the atonement they sought. Jesus makes perfect satisfaction for sin. The prior situation is changed by the paschal mystery of Christ. Now the lines of communication are open. The path is made clear. Everything hinges upon Christ as “the Way and the Truth and the Life.”

    Let me ask you a question; is Aron not a saint?

    FATHER JOE: I suspect that you mean Aaron.

    If yes and I’m sure you will say yes, then why does the writer of Hebrews tell us that his role was only until death? Why doesn’t he tell us that though he dies he will still play that intercessory roll and that his priesthood never changes?

    FATHER JOE: Aaron was appointed a priest in the Old Testament and was the mouthpiece of Moses. His priesthood was of a wholly different order from that of Christ’s eternal priesthood. When Aaron died he probably went to the limbo of the fathers and awaited the coming of the Savior with the other righteous dead. His earthly priesthood was over. This is not the same as simply praying for others. Death does not mean that we stop loving or caring. Catholics make a distinction between the intercession of prayer and the sacrifice of propitiation or satisfaction offered by the Lord. Saintly intercession, or even the prayers of those still living on the earth, have a role to play but alone cannot save you. Only Jesus can save you.

    Why does the writer mention that the others die and their priesthood changes?

    FATHER JOE: The old priesthood has passed away. Sacrifice is an obligation of the creature to the Creator. We were obliged to offer oblations, even though these sacrifices could not achieve what they sought… healing the breach caused by sin.

    Why does he tell us Jesus ever lives and that his priesthood is unchangeable?

    FATHER JOE: It is precisely because the priesthood of Christ is eternal that we know our prayers are efficacious. God hears the prayers of the living and the dead. Indeed, the dead in Christ are more alive than we are. The transition from this world to the next does not destroy the bonds of love. The voices of the Church echo the eternal Word and his intervention on behalf of the world.

  3. Hebrews 7:25 – “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

    Acts 4:12 – “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

    Mary doesn’t make intercession for anybody. Jesus does.

    FATHER JOE:

    Do you think that Catholics have no Bible? “Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Christ is the eternal High Priest who intercedes for us to the Father. This is not the same as the intercession of Mary and the saints. Jesus is the one Mediator. But that does not mean that the saints cannot pray for us. Christ is the bridge from this world to the next, from this veil of tears to the promised shore. Members of the Church assist one another with teaching, worship, healing, etc., so that as many from our community as possible might cross over. Some brothers and sisters lean upon us and others we might have to carry. No one comes to God alone.

    As for Acts 4:12, notice that it is Peter who says these words, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Christ is the essential term of salvation, but in this instance Peter and John are testifying the truth about Jesus. Indeed, Peter is questioned by the Sanhedrin because he has healed a cripple. Jesus is the Savior, but he shares something of his authority and power with his apostles and later with his bishops and priests. Just because Jesus is Lord does not mean that the rest of us have no part to play.

  4. Wondering about the “saint making process”: I thought the “saint candidate” was supposed to be thoroughly investigated with no assumptions be made upfront. But lately I have heard the investigators for the cause of various people on EWTN and it was clear they had decided right away that the person was worthy. Even though the investigation wasn’t finished only their good traits were mentioned. It seemed at if the investigators though the person they were investigating was not just saintly but perfect. I guess I would believe in the process more if the investigators mentioned the person’s minor faults too. Thoughts? Thanks.

    FATHER JOE: The very reason why some names are put forward is because their lives and words inspired others and there are advocates for the person’s holiness of life. The process is to help make sure that all is as it seems. Causes have supporters, but while the so-called devil’s advocate role has been eliminated, there is still a critical and objective investigation. There are various levels of approval: venerable, blessed and finally saint. Two miracles are generally required as further evidence.

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