Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Why do you pray to a statue?

Huh? Pray to a statue?  Well that sure does sound like a bizarre practice - doesn't it.  I can assure you I have never, ever prayed to a statue.  Having cleared that up, I can equally assure you that I count among my closest friends a Bishop from North Africa who lived in the 4th century, an 11 year old Italian peasant girl who was brutally martyred, and a globe-trotting, baby-kissing, truth-preaching Polish Pope. They are my "go-to" people for back-up prayers and spiritual advice. Ok, so these are not exactly people I met at the local homeschool group, but they are some of the best friends a girl could ask for.  And they most certainly are NOT statues. 

The Communion of Saints is one of the most mysterious aspects of what it means to be Catholic.  Even for cradle Catholics it is puzzling to think that people who lived hundreds of years ago and thousands of miles away can be some of our closest friends and greatest spiritual mentors. Misunderstandings of Catholics' devotion to the saints is a often a stumbling block to other Christians, and one of the most common questions asked of Catholics by Christians of other denominations.

As Catholics we profess our belief in the Communion of Saints every Sunday at Mass when we recite the Nicene Creed.  What does this belief entail? The Baltimore Catechism tells us that "by the Communion of Saints is meant the union of the faithful on earth, the blessed in heaven and the souls in purgatory with Christ as their head." (#170) We are not alone in our journey home to heaven. Instead we are united in Christ with those "saints" who have gone before us, whether they are in heaven or purgatory. And we ourselves are "saints', initiated into the Body of Christ at our Baptism and called to live out this reality in a deeper and deeper way throughout our lives.

Henri de Lubac, in his book, the Splendor of the Church highlights the significance of these other dimensions of the Church in the life of each Christian saying:
"It is vitally important that we should all become aware of these "dimensions" of the Church. For the more lively our sense of them, the greater will be the amplification of our own existence; and this is the way in which we shall realize fully in ourselves and for ourselves the title of "Catholic" which we bear as individuals."

Our relationship with the saints has nothing to do with praying to statues. Instead it has to do with acknowledging the reality that we are part of a much larger family than we can actually see. We ask the saints in heaven to pray for us at the throne of the Lord much in the same way we would ask our friend to say a prayer for us. We look to the example of their holy lives in order to help us grow in holiness.

As for the statues - they serve as reminders of these holy men and women, in the same way that a photograph of a loved one reminds us of their presence. My house is adorned with these holy images, which sit alongside the pictures of my beloved Grandparents who have passed into eternal life.  They stir up love in my heart for my heavenly friends, and a reminder that their true, spiritual presence is always with me.

Saint Augustine, Pray for us.
Saint Maria Goretti, Pray for us.
Saint John Paul II, Pray for us.

DeLubac, Henri, Splendor of the Church(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006) 52-53

*Church militant in this world, Church Suffering in purgatory, and the Church Triumphant in heaven.

Read more related posts her:
The Moral Theology of St. Maria Goretti

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