According to the teachings of the Jewish faith, the lives of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs had many purposes. There were immediate, earthly goals that each accomplished for God and His kingdom and there were generational, eternal goals that each accomplished as well.
Most people are familiar with the ways in which the Matriarchs (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah) and Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph) set the stage from which the three monotheistic faiths emerged. However, few people are aware of the ways in which these same Matriarchs and Patriarchs are understood to have created the “connections” between God in heaven and His people on earth below. Indeed, delving into the teachings of the Jewish faith we find that these same people who forged a relationship with the one, true God while on earth are also the same people who became, based upon their calling, the first heavenly “intercessors” with specific areas of “expertise.”
In a previous Jewish roots column I examined the ways the Jewish faith gives us both written and oral law. It is in the exegesis of Torah that the ways in which the Matriarchs and Patriarchs opened up the heavens for us are made known. A Catholic can easily identify the importance of such supporting documents of the Torah — i.e. Talmud, Mishnah, and various authoritative rabbinical writings — when he or she recognizes our own faith’s reliance on such critical documents as Humanae Vitae, Mulieris Dignitatem, and so many of the other great works of our popes. Indeed, these writings reflect papal efforts to clarify Scripture and to make known the ways God’s Word is to be understood and followed. When we read such scholarly works we can more clearly see how the teachings of our faith — and choosing to follow them or not — ultimately impacts our lives.
Torah describes Abraham’s circumcision and healing in the heat of the day where, even in the midst of his own pain, he cared for travelling strangers who appeared at his tent. It is then extrapolated and taught by rabbinic scholars that Abraham became the intercessor for the times in our lives when we need to exhibit more mercy, kindness, and generosity towards others.
Likewise, Sarah was known to have been a great convertor of her pagan neighbors to the monotheistic faith of Judaism. In that way she served God while on earth but also became an intercessor for the times in our lives when we are called to bear witness to God. Sarah can be called upon to help us gain strength and courage in situations where being a witness is neither easy nor popular because she was given the same strength and courage in similar circumstances. Sarah would also be an intercessor for a woman who is trying to get pregnant as she, herself, experienced many years of being barren.
Catholics have always had a great reliance on the angels and saints. The Catechism teaches that intercession can and should be an integral part of our daily lives. The Lord has given us great resources in the way in which saints have special gifts that help us in our earthly journey. CCC #2683 states:
The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today (emphasis mine). They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.” Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.
The Virgin Mother, one of our most cherished intercessors, would have known the teachings of her Jewish faith and may well have called upon the intercession of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs to give her strength as her heart was pierced, just as Simon had foretold. When we, as Catholics, ask Mary to “pray for us now and at the hour of our death” we are asking for the intercession of our Jewish mother whose own faith would have given her the same sort of intercessory love, strength, and compassion that she now gives.
Relying on the intercession of Mary — and the great cloud of witnesses -– is beautifully and theologically rooted in the Jewish faith.