Can Anybody Hear Me?

I’ve been debating with a Protestant (we’ll call him Joe) on the issue of praying to the Mary and the Saints. He posed an interesting question that I’m not sure how to answer. Here’s the whole exchange.

Me: "…the praying to Mary bit is not worship, so it is not idolatry. It’s like asking a very holy friend to pray for you."

Joe: "I suggest you read 1 Timothy 2:5. (I don’t believe that God wants us praying to anyone besides Him.)

"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" – 1 Timothy 2:5

Me: "I suggest you read Romans 15:30, Philemon 1:4, 1 Timothy 2:1-4 and this Catholic Enclopedia article.? I’m not looking to refight the Reformation.? I just want you to know that no true Catholic gives latria (worship) to anyone but God.? Take a look at the Catechism if you won’t take my word for it. :)"

"I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf" – Romans 15:30

"I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers" – Philemon 1:4

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." – 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Me: "The point is that nearly all Christians believe that asking fellow members of the Body to pray for you or others is not only acceptable, but laudable.? Catholics and Orthodox believe that death is not a barrier between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. We ask the dead (the saints, small ‘s’) to pray for us as we would the living. We generally limit our prayers (really just requests for prayers on our behalf) to those whose lives were so holy we feel assured they are in Heaven (the Saints, big ‘S’). Among these is Christ’s mother. We see Mary as the perfect example of Christian discipleship. We don’t worship her or the Saints. To do that would be heretical and a very grave sin."

Joe: "Here’s a hypothetical situation: The pope, you, and two hundred Catholics in different cities all around the world pray to Mary at the same time. Who does she hear? If you say everyone, you are saying she is omnipresent. That is essentially saying that she is God. Actually, I don’t believe that she hears anyone on this planet who prays to her."

So I ask my St. Blog’s brethren, what’s wrong with the logic behind this question (aside from the fact he probably meant omniscient, rather than omnipresent)?

I suppose, at the very least, he should read this Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Communion of Saints.

Comments 8

  1. Funky Dung wrote:

    Those establish that it is good to prayer to God on behalf of other people, they do not clearly establish that it is good to ask others to pray for you.

    What about the Romans quote?

    Posted 24 Aug 2004 at 6:32 am
  2. Funky Dung wrote:

    Here’s the relevent section of the Catechism.

    Posted 24 Aug 2004 at 7:30 am
  3. h2 wrote:

    I guess (as a non-Catholic Christian) my main question that has never really been answered about this concept is the same one your discussion partner brought up. And while I can concede that time and space may not be the same to eternal entities as they are to humans, I have no clear indication of this, so it’s still hard for me to imagine Mary responding to all the requests being sent her way, assuming those requests have a way of reaching her.

    I don’t necessarily dispute the notion that the saints can hear and respond to us; I’d just like to hear a coherent argument to justify that this is what is meant by the Biblical teachings. I grew up being taught that the saints are defined as those who believe and follow Christ (not an exact definition). A statement telling me to commune with the saints seems to make sense that way, as I can, in fact, physically commune with other like-minded earthly beings without having to suggest they have any supernatural communication capabilities.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia doesn’t seem to define the term “saint.” I hoped it would, just so a non-Catholic like me could clearly understand why the model of “living saints” is so easily dismissed. Obviously, there have been other minds in the past to come up with this same question.

    I’m interested in seeing the responses here, as I would very much like to understand the concept a bit better, at least in Catholic terms.

    Posted 24 Aug 2004 at 7:00 am
  4. John Thompson wrote:

    I think I can counter his point, but I have my own nagging concern as well.

    While she has not become omnipresent, she has become atemporal. Is my understanding as a Catholic.
    Alternatively, from a physics standpoint, the notion of people around the world doing something at the same time is gobbeldy gook that we only percieve because of the extreme limitations of our perception. If one has passed out of the physical world, then time cannot exist as we know it existing.

    My point of contention with you is not theological, I agree with your connclusion but I don’t think that you’ve argued it fully from your quotes. Those establish that it is good to prayer to God on behalf of other people, they do not clearly establish that it is good to ask others to pray for you.
    It is advanced implicitly by the assumption that timothy is setting a good example, but that’s not entirely airtight, and at least needs to be stated explicitly in your argument.

    Posted 24 Aug 2004 at 5:57 am
  5. h2 wrote:

    Thanks. That’s useful information. So assuming that, and taking words at their literal meaning, there really is no worship involved simply because you pray to someone or something. There are several slightly different definitions of the word pray; the one that seems most appropriate is “to make a request in a humble manner.”

    Given this definition, which could be applied to communication with Deity or non-deity. There wouldn’t necessarily be any heresy in saying your praying to anyone, as prayer is, in essence, simply a respectful request.

    I guess some of these words make more sense when we realize words like pray don’t just exist in reference to worship. I think many people (myself included) sometimes gloss over it and assume that to pray to a saint is to worship a saint.

    It kind of makes sense to me that way.

    Posted 24 Aug 2004 at 2:48 pm
  6. Funky Dung wrote:

    The Wikipedia entry

    Posted 24 Aug 2004 at 7:40 am
  7. John Thompson wrote:

    whoops. misread that one.

    Although, I will seize on this to gripe about one of my blog peeves. The practice of listing several quotes at once always annoys me. If the quote is of value, then it’s worth saying what value you place on it.

    But mostly sorry I didn’t read that closer.

    Posted 24 Aug 2004 at 6:40 am
  8. Jerry Nora wrote:

    With regard to an earlier question about Mary receiving multiple prayers, I think she would “hear” these prayers only by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit seems to be the motivator and vehicle for our prayers. Thus, while Mary is not omnipresent or omniscient, God could no doubt package the prayers in some means suitable for her. Likewise, as per John, she is outside of time, as are all who are in heaven, and thus our prayers, while simultaneous to us, could be heard one “at a time” (d’oh, hard to avoid use of the word time) by her or any other saint.

    Posted 25 Aug 2004 at 1:40 am

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