Praying in Communion with the Saints
Praying with or to the Saints is a traditional way to pray in the strength of “the communion of saints” or those virtuous Christians who have gone before us and who now live eternally in heaven.
1. Become educated about saints.
We Catholics celebrate “All Saints Day” every November 1st. On this holy day we celebrate all who have gone to heaven and look forward to the day that we join them. Because we believe in the communion of saints, we believe we are all connected and belong to the one body of Christ.
Praying with or to a particular saint is a traditional prayer practice in the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Church. It comes from the belief in “the communion of saints” which is stated in the Apostle’s Creed, or the basic statement of faith used in both Catholic and Protestant churches. The theological principle behind the communion of saints is based on the belief that our personal lives do not end at death, but continue on after death into eternity. Therefore, our fellowship or connection with Christians who have preceded us to heaven also somehow mysteriously continues beyond the death of each individual.
The word saint is used in the New Testament to refer to all believers in Christ, such as Paul’s greeting to all in the church at the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians, “To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 1:1 NIV) During the history of Christianity, people began to be inspired and helped by the exemplary lives of Christian of great love, hope and faith. As people began to venerate virtuous Christians, the Catholic Church formulated a formal process of nomination and investigation that leads to declaring a deceased individual a saint.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#962) – “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers.” (Paul VI, CPG § 30)*
2. Learn about the life of a saint who inspires you.
When I first converted to Catholicism over 20 years ago, I was not too comfortable with the idea of praying to saints. Brought up in the Protestant tradition, I had never prayed to saints. I didn’t know anything about them.
My Catholic friends would tell me about their two or three favorite saints that they loved to read about and I would listen politely, but I had no clue as to why they loved these saints so much.
Then a saint found her way into my heart and it all became clear to me.
St. Therese of Lisieux was born in France in 1873. Her mother died when she was only four years old and she became very close to her father. She was the youngest of five girls, all of whom eventually became nuns.
St. Therese felt called to the religious life and entered a Carmelite convent at the young age of fifteen. She died of tuberculosis in 1897 at the age of 24.
St. Therese wrote and taught about a spirituality called the “Little Way.” She wrote about approaching God like a child, with total trust and confidence. Indeed, St. Therese lived that life of total trust and confidence.
St. Therese had a very close relationship with her father. He was so loving and protective and taught her about a God of great tenderness and mercy. And St. Therese taught me.
A friend of mine gave me a copy of St. Therese’s book called Story of A Soul. By the end of the book, I was totally enamored with St. Therese.
My spiritual director felt that my devotion to St. Therese had a lot to do with her relationship with both her earthly father and Heavenly Father. Having been sexually abused by my father throughout my childhood, I did not trust anyone very much. And I had a hard time relating to God as my Father.
Therese had the kind of father I had always wanted. I believe that God led me to Therese so I could learn from her. So I could learn to trust Him and love Him as my Father.
“To call God my Father and to know myself His Child, that is Heaven to me.” – St. Thérèse
3. Let God lead you about how to pray.
I do not often feel the need to pray to saints, but I enjoy learning about them. It is enough for me to know that saints are there, that they are our friends. It is enough for me to know that God loves us so much that he makes it possible for us to communicate with saints. His gift of the saints is just another way God guides us and loves us. When I am attracted to a saint, I discover where God is leading me and what he might be trying to teach me.
4. Do not confuse prayer and worship.
Catholics do not worship saints. We tend to say that we pray to saints, but that may be the wrong choice of words. We do not pray to saints like we pray to God. We communicate with them. We talk to them. We listen to them. We ask for their intercession. But we do not worship saints.
5. Hold a conversation
To me, our communication with saints is no different than having a conversation with my deceased grandparents. Or my baby sister who died when I was only two.
It is no different than writing a letter to the baby I miscarried as I struggled to heal from that loss.
6. Picture a supporting “cloud of witnesses.”
I love this scripture verse from Hebrews – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” – Hebrews 12:1-2
When times are tough, I sometimes picture these saints in heaven all gathered together cheering and encouraging me as I run the race.
7. Thank God for the saints.
Praying to St. Therese and other saints has enriched my prayer life and my relationship with God. I have come to understand that we are not alone in this world. I have come to understand that there are those who look upon the face of God and upon our faces as well.
And for this gift, I thank my Father in heaven.
I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. – St Therese of Lisieux
Copyright Colleen Spiro 2012. All rights reserved.