From the beginning, Christians have sought the prayers of those in heaven
Q: When I was growing up in the church, we were taught to go to specific saints for specific requests — St. Anthony if we had lost something, for instance. But why do we even go to the saints asking for their intercessions in the first place?
A: Thank you for your question! I would like to begin answering with a powerful story. In 2011, Floribeth Mora Diaz, a Costa Rican mother of four, was suffering from an inoperable brain aneurism. Her doctors told her that they didn’t see any reason to continue treatment and gave her about a month to live.
One day shortly after receiving that tragic news, she was lying on her bed holding a magazine with a photo of Pope John Paul II on the cover. She began to pray to him that she might be cured of her aneurism. On the day that St. John Paul II was beatified, May 1, 2011, he appeared to her in a vision. When she awoke, she heard his voice say to her, “Get up and don’t be afraid.”
This was accompanied by a profound sense of peace and healing, and she was cured of her aneurism on that day. The healing was approved as the second miracle needed for John Paul’s canonization. This is an amazing story of a miracle attributed to the intercessions of a saint happening in our own day.
As we know, praying for one another is an important part of our Christian faith. As a priest, I get prayer requests pretty much every day. The necessity of praying for one another is deeply rooted in Scripture. St. Paul, for instance, continually asked the Christian communities to pray for him and for one another. In his Letter to the Romans he says, “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in the struggle by your prayers to God on my behalf.” (Romans 15:30) And in the Acts of the Apostles it says, “Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.” (Acts 12:5)
In chapter 5 of Revelation we find this sense of the living praying for one another being transferred to the “saints” in heaven: “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.” (Revelation 5:8)
From the very beginning, the Christian community sought the prayers of those who were believed to be in heaven. In the third century St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote, “Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides [of death] always pray for one another.”
The church realized from the beginning that death really wasn’t a separation. The faithful who passed on continued to be members of the community, and their prayers and intercessions were counted upon just as were those from the living.
Praying for one another, or intercessory prayer, is an important part of our Christian vocation in following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this point clearly: “Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did.” (CCC 2634)
For us, following in Jesus’ footsteps means not only seeking to live as he did, but also to pray as he did. Much of Jesus’ prayer throughout the Gospels was prayer of intercession.
Because the saints continue being members of our Christian family and because they continue living their Christian vocations (there are no breaks in heaven!) they continue interceding for us.
That certain saints are seen as “experts” with certain difficulties and challenges, such as St. Anthony with lost items or St. Gianna Beretta Molla in helping couples experiencing difficulty conceiving, is also an important part of our Catholic tradition and developed over time as a part of the church’s lived experience.
May God’s blessings be with you today and always!
Northwest Catholic - October 2014