Protestants often wonder why Roman Catholics pray to saints. Are they elevating saints to the place of God? If not, then why bother praying to them? Why talk to a mere human when we can speak directly to God?
Roman Catholics have a good response. When you are in distress, don’t you ask other people to pray for you? That’s all we’re doing. If Protestants often solicit their brothers and sisters to pray or them, why can’t Roman Catholics ask their deceased brothers and sisters to do the same?
I have shared this Roman Catholic perspective with my Protestant community. I have never prayed to a saint, but I do not want to misrepresent my Roman Catholic friends who do.
But yesterday’s canonization of Mother Teresa raised some of the issues that make Protestants nervous. It is true that Roman Catholic theology instructs us to merely “venerate” Mother Teresa rather than “worship” her, and it teaches that her two documented miracles were not caused directly by her but by her intercession to God on the person’s behalf.
But such careful distinctions are easily lost when the two miracles are repeatedly “attributed” to Mother Teresa (without elaborating on her precise role) and when a vial of her blood is displayed for the faithful to “venerate.” Though well-intentioned, it’s easy to see how such devotion to a mere human may detract from our worship of God alone. It also leaves the impression that normal folks need super saints to lobby God on our behalf. God apparently ignored the pleas of Monica Besra to be healed of her stomach tumor until she enlisted the help of Mother Teresa. Now Monica says, “I consider Mother Theresa to be like God. I always pray to her.” This is a problem.
The Protestant answer is to thank God for the altruistic life of Mother Teresa and to assert that ultimately she is no more of a saint than any of us who are united with Christ. In ourselves and as such we all are sinners. In Jesus we all are saints. None of us have special powers with God. We all have full and equal access before him.
Sunday’s canonization should remind all Christians of who we already are and what we already have. We are saints, so let’s live saintly. We may speak to God directly, so let’s do it.
Photo by India7 Network. Via Flickr. Used by permission.