Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Mediation of the Saints: Part 1

(Parts 2 and 3 of this ongoing series are completed, with more on the way! 
Check it out: 

Part 2: God Works Through Us
Part 3: Walking Together)

A: Introduction

In this piece I hope to accomplish, step-by-step, an understanding of the saints. In a small part how we should strive to be saintly and in larger part how we should consider those who are called saints in the fullest sense, i.e., those with almighty God in heaven who pray for us and continue, in His friendship, to aid us in many ways. Though I will begin by mentioning mediation I will pick it up in a later part.

I. Who are They?

Christ indeed is “the one mediator between God and the human race” (1 Tim 2:5) but does this mean that God the Father will only listen to Christ? Does not the Lord “have eyes for the just and ears for their cry”? (Ps 34:16). Further still Christ tells us to “ask and it will be given to you” (Mt 7:7). The letter to James further qualifies this when he says “You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2b-3).

What should we ask for and how do we ask rightly? The letter of James further tells us that in order to do this we must be “doers of the word and not hearers only” (1:22). We learn through many venues but the most powerful teachers of faith and love are the saints.

The saints are, in short, exemplary doers of the word. They stand as a model for us in courage, patience, and wise-counsel among other virtues. We are drawn to a truly holy person because it seems like that ‘have it together.’ They exemplify—it’s almost an aura—a love of God and a love of neighbor. This power and aura are displayed by the Apostles themselves. Look at see the circumstances of these examples:

+Phillip runs up to the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah and says ‘Do you understand what you read?’ The man replies, ‘How can I, unless someone instructs me?’ Phillip, filled with the Holy Spirit, instructed him. The eunuch, himself moved by that same Spirit, sought to be baptized immediately. Phillip became a light to a man searching for Christ. (cf. Acts 8:26-40)
Philip instructing the Ethiopian eunuch, pointing to Scripture and pointing to God. His bodily presence and actions making it possible for this man to see both.

+Paul and Barnabas preached at Lystra and healed a crippled man. Their presence and power of spirit and speech drew a large crowd to them. The Greeks there took them to be the gods Zeus and Hermes and began to worship them. But Paul was distraught, saying to them ‘We are flesh and blood just as you are. We have done these works so you might turn from idols and false gods and turn to the living God.’ (cf Acts 14:8-20)
Paul and Barnabas (right) pleading that the Greeks stop worshiping them after healing a crippled man. Men are drawn to great power mixed with great humility, but here too Paul reminds them that they are flesh just as they are.

The Apostles, men moved by the Spirit, proclaimed God to their fellow men. But some men, those confused or unable to see God themselves, found Him through His servants. The living saints do this just as the Apostles did. Some do it through humble service and others through great and powerful works. Saints pray and then go forth having an impact on those around them.

Moving, then, to the blessed Virgin Mary and the saints of past ages, they intercede to Christ for us, asking Him more perfectly than we ever could what we need (this does not deny the Spirit does this for us too). This is because they live with God and have achieved oneness with Him after life here on this earth. For Christ Himself prayed that just as He and the Father were one that “they may also be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:21).

When we ask a saint living here on earth or in heaven to pray for us it is not an affront to Christ or the Spirit, rather it is an act of humility. It is an act of humility because we ask the very proper question “Lord, teach us how to pray just as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1). John the Baptist, one of the chief saints and prophets, taught his disciples to pray and how to live. A saint, in John’s image, lived these words perfectly: “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

Thus, asking the saints for intercession is not ignorance of the power or mediation of Christ. The presence of the saints influenced many to virtue and faith. This is why Paul longs to be with the Corinthians in person and to “fill the deficiencies of your faith” (1 Thes 3:10).

In life the Apostles tirelessly labored for the sake of the faithful and even died for it. Their lives and examples alone filled the deficiencies of the faithful. Their faith and the faith of any saint, however, was not a source of pride. Rather they always pointed to Christ.
Peter, saying he would be unworthy to die as Christ did, was crucified upside down. The Cross itself points to heaven.

In the next section, I will discuss in what manner they pointed to Christ and how a saint effects the work of salvation in the world. I shall begin by looking at the Old Testament and then the New to show that this process is nothing new in the long history of faith. Having introduced saintly intercession it is good to see how the holy prophets interceded to God for the people of Israel. Thereafter I will elaborate on the communion of saints in heaven who work tirelessly on our behalf.