A Conversation between a Protestant and a Catholic
….. by Fr. Nelson Lobo OFM Cap.
P: Why do you believe and do things which are not found in the Bible?
C: What do you mean?
P: Worshipping saints! The Bible does not speak of worshipping saints. It is a sin. You are breaking the very first commandment.
C: Please understand that Catholics DO NOT worship the saints. We do not worship them in the sense of equating them with God. We honour and respect them and give them importance in our spiritual life because they are role models for our faith. Their holiness and closeness to God is what we too want to imitate (Heb 6:11-12; 13:7). Everybody needs faith models to get motivated. Besides the saints in heaven have become God’s glorious image (2Cor 3:18) and part of God’s divine nature (2Pt 1:4). In heaven the saints share God’s holiness (Heb 12:10), His glory (Rom 8:17, 1Pt 5:1), His knowledge (1Cor 13:12) and His authority to judge and rule (1Cor 6:2-3, 2Tim 2:12, Rev. 3:21). When we honour the saints we honour God Himself.
P: How is that possible?
C: There is a saying in English. “Imitation is the most sincere form of praise”. Paul knew this very well therefore he wrote to the Corinthians “be imitators of me” (1 Cor 4:16). Ps 19:2 reads “The heavens proclaim the glory of God…”. So when we admire the craftsmanship, we praise the craftsman. When we praise a beautiful painting we admire the painter. When we witness a beautiful scenery we praise the Creator!
P: But why are you praying to them? Can they hear you? Why don’t you pray directly to God like we do?
C: Have you ever asked your friends or relatives to pray for you when you were having a hard time? Why did you choose to ask those persons? You may have chosen someone you could trust, or someone who understood your problem, or someone you felt was close to God. Those are all reasons we ask saints to pray for us in times of trouble. Since saints led holy lives and are close to God in heaven, we feel that their prayers are particularly effective. This is proved by the many miracles witnessed by the faithful after praying to God through the intercession of the saints. The bible itself speaks of saints offering our prayers to God. Read Rev 5:8 “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints”. So if the saints in heaven are offering our prayers to God, then they definitely hear our prayers. They are our intercessors.
P: But your prayers are addressed to God not to the saints?
C: Exactly! Even if our prayers are addressed directly to God it only proves that they can hear us.
P. Saints cannot be intercessors or mediators. 1 Tim 2:5 says “for there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.
C: Praying to saints does not violate Christ’s mediatorship. Christ mediatorship is unique for He is both human and divine. This uniqueness is seen in the new covenant (Heb 9:15, 12:24) just as Moses was the mediator of the old covenant (Gal 3:19-20). 1 Timothy 2 does not say that God wants us only to communicate with Jesus. The passage does not say we should be cautious of asking people to pray for us. The chapter begins requiring intercessory prayer by third parties, indicating that it actually helps bring people to salvation and knowledge of truth. Any mother who prays for her children knows that. We pray for each other, and we don’t say that we are taking God’s place. When we pray for one another we are participating in the mediation, we are not the mediator. Catholics feel that saints in heaven, including Mary, can pray for us just as well (or better) than our friends on earth. See what is said in the preceding verses of that chapter .… First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions…be made for all men…” (1Tim 2:1-4). It’s very clear that such prayers are good and pleasing to God.
P: God can understand all languages in the world but how can the saints? For example you pray to St. Anthony. St. Anthony never set foot in India. He knew Portuguese and Italian and Latin but not Tamil or Malayalam or Konkani. How will he understand your prayers?
C: Saints in heaven are not limited to time and space like us here on earth. This does not suggest that the saints in heaven are omniscient like God. God gives them the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues just the way when they were here on earth some received the gift of bilocation.
P: But why don’t Catholics pray directly to Jesus?
C: Of course we pray to Jesus directly. Our daily mass is exactly that. The Eucharist is about Jesus not the saints. In our liturgical calendar we have many feasts where we address our prayers directly to God. But praying to God directly does not mean it is a bad thing to seek the intercessions of the saints. Whether we are alive or dead all of us belong to Christ. (Rom 14:7-8) Just the way we ask our family and friends to pray for us we can definitely ask the saints to intercede for us. In 1 Tim 2:1-4, Paul strongly encouraged Christians to intercede for many different things. He himself requests prayers from others. Read: Rom 15:30-32; Eph 6:18-20; Col 4:3, 1Thes 5:25, 2 Thes 3:1. He not only asked them to pray for him he also prayed for them (2 Thes 1:11). Jesus himself recommends that we pray for others (Mt. 5:44). Besides in the gospels we read that Jesus healed people depending on the faith of others. Read: Mt. 8:13, 15:28, 17:15-18; Mk 9:17-29; Lk 8:49-55.
By the way, honouring of the saints did not begin in this century. It began with the first Christians in the very first century. Christians were honoring the first Christian martyrs and seeking their intercession. So many were praying to St. Stephen the first martyr. As a matter of fact, this practice came from a long-standing tradition in the Jewish faith of honoring prophets and holy people with shrines. We want to be like the first Christians. We continue the good traditions they have passed on to us.
“Indeed, the saints have ever been, are, and ever will be the greatest benefactors of society, and perfect models for every class and profession, for every state and condition of life, from the simple and uncultured peasant to the master of sciences and letters, from the humble artisan to the commander of armies, from the father of a family to the ruler of peoples and nations, from simple maidens and matrons of the domestic hearth to queens and empresses”. - Pope Pius XI (1922-1939), divines Illius Magistri, par.99.