Our Brothers and Sisters in Heaven

Even if you are Catholic, you may not have a devotion to the saints. Too much pressure for some.  The saints did things that we don’t want to do.  Yes, we know they did not necessarily want to do those things either.  That’s the point.  They did them anyways!  They were saints!

If you are not completely “one” with Catholic teachings, you may have other reasons for ignoring the saints. For most Protestants, praying to a saint is either useless or considered as wrong as going to a fortune teller.   I once heard a non- Catholic speaker refer to praying to a saint as being warned against in the Bible, stating we are told not to try to contact the dead.

Catholic Teaching on Saints

The saints are our brothers and sisters in heaven.  They love us because they love whatever God loves and they want us get to heaven too.  As a Catholic, understanding the custom of praying to the saints can empower our lives with prayers from heaven and allow us to explain this devotion to others.  First off, we must make a distinction between contacting the dead in an occult manner–often out of curiosity, or to simply communicate with the dead. This is different from communicating via prayer to the communion of Saints. The first practice can lead into a demonic realm occultism.

There is a distinction between occultism and prayer to the communion of Saints. Praying to the angels and saints is taught by the Church to be useful and a worthy practice as a source of spiritual enrichment.   Christians have honored–not worshiped–saints and angels for over 2,000 years.  Such prayers have been found written on the catacombs where the early Christians buried their dead  and worshiped in secret due to persecution.

To pray to a saint is to petition for their help and intercession, knowing that all power in heaven and earth comes from God. They our heavenly relatives; guiding our steps on this earth, inspiring us and praying for us.

Another common argument against praying to the angels and saints is that Scripture says we may only go through Jesus.  “For there is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human…” (1 Tim. 2:5).  However, calling on them is no different than calling a devout Christian and asking for payers.  You are not asking for them to take Jesus’ place as mediator but rather to have their prayers added to yours.

“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effect” (James 5:16).

“God will hear the prayers of the just” (Prov. 15:20).

Who can be more righteous and just than the angels and saints, perfected and in heaven? The more prayers and the more perfect the prayers, joined together with our own to God, multiply and magnify them.

Some say that communication between earth and heaven is not possible.  The Bible supports the teaching that we are one body, that death does not separate us and that communication between those on earth and the souls in the hereafter is possible.  There is no mention of the members of the body separating or getting cut off from one another.

“[T]here may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.  If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;  if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy”  (1 Cor. 12:25-26). (Also see: Rom.12: 4-5, Eph. 3: 17-22, Eph. 4: 4-6.)

The Bible says the saints are looking down on us.   “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” (Heb. 12:1). And we, down below, are looking up to them — as our guides and prayer partners.

Pope John Paul II canonized more Catholic Saints than any previous popes.  During his pontificate, he canonized 382 saints and beatified 1,338 others.  That’s a lot of good examples to follow.  Of course there are many saints in heaven we do not know about since the long process to declare someone a saint is not done on everyone that seemed to live a holy life.  It’s also not possible to know about every canonized saint, but it’s worthwhile to get to become acquainted with at least some of them.

New Saint Book

Brian O’Neel has written the book 39 new Saints You Should Know to introduce us to a few of the newly canonized saints.  One of his motives was to show us that saints are not born but rather made through choosing God above all else.  Many of the saints he included in his book, did not begin life by choosing God either, nor did it always come easy once they did.

For instance, Blessed Bartolo Long (Feb. 10,1883-Oct 26,1926) was a practicing Satanist for a time. He converted and promoted the rosary throughout the rest of his life, and was praying it at the time of his death.

Blessed Marie of Jesus Crucified, was a nun born in 1847 and died in 1878.  She was a sweet well-intentioned child but very clumsy.  For instance, while trying to give her uncle’s caged birds a bath, she accidentally drowned them.  When she refused to marry, she was beaten and eventually worked as a domestic.  A Muslim neighbor befriended her but when she claimed allegiance only to the Catholic Church, he slit her throat.  She recovered and became a nun.  Even though she was illiterate, she went on to write beautiful poetry and often went into ecstasies. She once said, “If you dig a hole for your brother, you will fall into it, it will be for you. But if you make heaven for your brother, it will be for you.”

Many of the saints in Brian’s books lived during modern times.  Some, died as martyrs during WWII. He includes the story of a child martyr, a man that suffered from depression, an African Catechist, a slave who became free, a man considered not smart enough to be priest and many more.  Some of the stories are fairly brief and others more detailed, but Brian explained that researching this project was at times, a formidable task. He often needed to translate materials and write to the postulators promoting canonizations of individual causes.

Brian’s desire to write this book was two-fold. One was born of his own love of the saints. “I’m always amazed by how reading their stories can either inspire me to do better in my walk with Christ or show me where I’ve gone off course in that walk.”  The second impetus was that as Brian began to research some of the recently canonized saints, he was disappointed that even well-read Catholics had never heard of most of them. Through this book, he hopes to introduce Catholics to some of them.

After spending so much time learning about the saints, it’s inevitable that Brian would have a few favorites:  “It’s hard to choose which one I related to the most, but it would be either Bl. Anna Schaeffer or Bl. Franz Jaegerstatter. Anna, because she wanted the prayer to read, “My will be done on earth and in heaven,” and she struggled against a situation that she hated and wanted to change. It didn’t change so she had to eventually learn to accept God’s will and, well, what do you with that? How do you work that out? She did, and it’s a powerful story

“Bl. Franz is the other because he was a dad and a husband and a provider, and he had to make a profound choice that resulted in his death. And given that I’m a husband, dad, and thus provider, I can’t help but put myself in his situation and wonder, ‘Could I do that?’  It’s not just a matter of having the courage to make the sacrifice he did, but would I have the insight to see the situation as clearly as he did so that I could actually make the right choice?”

According to Brian 39 Saints You Should Know is crafted to show that these people were flesh and blood. They struggled against learning disabilities, depression, incest, other terrible life situations, really bad choices, shocking sins, and yet the result of their struggling to overcome these things is that they are now before the beatific vision.

He states: “Man’s capacity for self-delusion knows no bounds.  It’s why men and women all over the globe think without any doubt they’re going to heaven. They think: ‘I’m a good person. That means I’m in.’  And yet whenever I get to thinking that way and then I do a good examination of conscience or do some spiritual reading or read a saint’s story, I often see just how wrong I am.  The saints inspire me to do better or they show me where I’ve gone off course. They’re sort of a compass on our journey toward heaven.

“These people are the ones that won the race. They earned the great prize. They’re hanging out with God … for eternity! And that’s where we all should want to be, that must be our goal, because in the end, nothing else matters.”

Brain said that he hopes people can take away from this book what his buddy, Nick said in an email. “It’s nice to know that us regular folk can become saints, too. It won’t be easy. It’s going to take discipline, struggle, prayer, regular examination of conscience, and frequent recourse to the sacraments. But just as the saints struggled to overcome their particular weaknesses or problems and also did these other things, so can we. With God’s grace, sainthood is not beyond any of us.”

Patti Maguire Armstrong

By

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now. To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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  • Cooky642

    One of my husband’s favorite “shockers” is to tell people that “good people will all end up in hell; only sinners go to heaven” (Matt. 9:13).

    I fell in love with the Communion of Saints when my dear mother-in-law died. Some months later, I received an answer to prayer regarding my marriage that had my mother’s-in-law “fingerprints” all over it. It was the first time I was conscious of “those who had gone on” really being as alive, there, as they were, here (probably more so!).

    Finally, one of the most delightful Scriptures to use on “Bible-thumping Protestants” (and I was one for many years), is Matt. 17:3, where Moses and Elijah appear on Mt. Tabor with Jesus “to talk about His death in Jerusalem”! How can Jesus, Who is God, break the Law of God by talking to Moses and Elijah (both long dead) about His (Jesus’) future? Perhaps the laws against necromancy were not meant to be as broad as some of us have been taught? (I’m not endorsing occultism, here; only pointing out ‘scrupulocity’.)

  • http://youtube.com/Nicecatholicgirl janedoe

    Thank you, Patti.

  • http://www.RaisingCatholicKids.com Mark Armstrong

    And I have no doubt that Patti herself should be nominated for sainthood one day for all she has put up with between me and the kids ;)….great article as always dear! See you at lunch!

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