April 17, 2007

Tough Questions - Mary and the Saints

Continuing my series of answers to "21 Tough Questions...", begun last week, I'm answering the charge of idolatry.

The Bible teaches that there is only one Mediator, Jesus Christ, why then is
there a need for Catholics to pray through Mary and the saints? 1 John 2:1

Let's start with that Bible verse. The RSV translation of 1 John 2:1 is nearly identical to the NASB:

My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any
one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the

First, I don't see where that says we have only one advocate; we have an advocate. Even if that passage does imply only one advocate with the Father, we can still have advocates to Jesus (who is, in turn, our advocate to the Father). Mary and the saints, then, act as spiritual middle-men - humbling ourselves by speaking to God through those already given the beatific vision.

Second, I agree with what is implied by the questioner - there is no requirement for additional mediation. We are God's children and can pray to Him directly. When we pray through Mary or the saints, we are not praying to them as a God but asking that they join their prayers with ours. We are expressing our belief that they are in heaven with God, that they can hear us, and that God will listen to their prayers as well as ours. When we pray with the saints, we all - saint and sinner alike - use the same advocate, Jesus Christ; we are adding our voices together to a common goal. A chorus has more impact than a single voice alone.

This question leads to another related issue often taken with Catholicism - the use of icons and other symbols, such as statues and portraits of the saints.

Do we worship those statues and pictures? Certainly not; we have no other god but He we call Father. The Commandments are clear about that.

Why do we have so many icons, then? They are there to remind and to inspire. I keep a picture of my wife, Michelle, on my desk. I don't worship her image; I look at it as a reminder of someone very dear to me. (I can almost hear a smarmy remark from her now, which, I should note, is based on a different interpretation of the word 'worship'.) We use visual cues throughout our daily lives to remind us of what we should be doing - calling that person we miss, picking up milk at the store, or stopping at the corner by that red octagon. Images of the saints are reminders of those dear to us, testimony that sainthood can be achieved by we sinners, and guideposts to direct us through our lives.

I'll end by stealing a metaphor - hopefully a very small sin - from Peter Kreeft, a professor at Boston College. We pray through Mary and the Saints, and we hang pictures and figures on the wall, because we need all the help we can get. We need all the reminders and guidance we can get our hands on. If you believe that all of those things are crutches, you are right. What you might be forgetting is that we're all crippled.

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