Here is a quick explanation of how to understand the reality of deceased Christian saints and their role in the occurrence of miracles in present times. Now, when I say saints, I do not mean the individuals who form the body of the faithful even though Christians have great comfort and assurance that those true to the faith are “all saints,” just as they belong to the commonality of priesthood. In this particular blog posting I am referring to those individuals who are declared saints because of their extraordinary sanctity (remember, this being living life in service to God and keeping one’s purpose holy as best as possible, whether of the laity or ministry) and who have demonstrated extraordinary gifts from God through grace, such as martyrdom or the performing of miracles when they were alive. For example one of the disciples of Jesus, Stephen, became the first martyr after Christ’s death and resurrection, as detailed in the Book of Acts, thus he is in the rolls, “canonized,” St. Stephen. In modern times, however, there has grown increased confusion among many (mostly due to poor faith formation and inter-denominational resentment and misunderstanding) about 1) why do “Catholics pray ‘to’ saints when one should only pray to God and 2) how can dead saints perform miracles. I will clear this up for you here.
First of all, all Christians who study the scripture recognize that only God performs miracles. God has freely, as is His right, chosen human instruments to perform miracles. It is the human hands and the human faith that put the miracle in motion, but God is the cause, the source and the fuel of the miracle. This was true when Moses performed miracles (and you can read in the scriptures how God gives Moses precise instructions what to do), when the prophets performed miracles and in its culmination, when the Son of God, Jesus Christ, performed miracles. By the way this is one of my reflective types of blogs where I’m not going to leaf through the Bible for references, since I know that you can find them yourself J
We know that Jesus Christ performed miracles at God’s behest because there is extensive dialogue where the preparation that Jesus made (such as praying and fasting) is documented in the Gospel and, further, how Jesus coaches the Apostles and the disciples when they are also called upon to perform miracles, such as the casting out of demons. So you can read those parts of the Gospel and recognize that Jesus was given fullness of miracle fulfillment by God, from God alone, so that Jesus’ authority was unquestionable. Jesus would, for example, move into a village or region and cure all of the sick who were brought to him. Yet you can read that there are times Jesus both cannot and will not perform miracles because there was so little faith by the people.
This does not mean that Jesus’ “magic” or “tricks” were not working, or that his ability to perform miracles was less than perfect. This means quite obviously that God would not reward those of no or little faith with the incredible gift of a miracle. Why in the world would God, through Jesus, perform miracles where people were openly of no or little faith. Ironically, as you recall from the scriptures, it was in Jesus’ own hometown where he could do the least in miracles because of their low faith and open disbelief. This is, by the way, as an aside, instructive for you to understand another example of how the Bible teaches what really happened even when it doesn’t detail specifics. What I mean is that by using faith and reasoning you can better understand the “mystery” of “how Jesus spent the first thirty years of his life.” Well, duh, obviously he was not performing miracles, or the belief of his hometown would be higher than elsewhere, rather than lower. So when the scriptures report that Jesus followed in his earthly father Joseph’s footsteps and was a carpenter, well that is what he was doing. The Bible does not need to say “Jesus was a carpenter and because it was not yet time for his public ministry he did not perform any miracles.” I mean, a little common sense, please!
Jesus started performing miracles during his public ministry because that is when God gave him the authority to speak and preach for Him and also to demonstrate as a gesture of faith that he is indeed who he claimed to be, and this was through miracles. Jesus explains that himself, praising those who believe after seeing a miracle, but praising even more those who believe without seeing a miracle.
Therefore Jesus accordingly was empowered by God to allow certain Apostles and disciples the ability to perform miracles. This was greatly increased after Jesus died and resurrected, just as he said would happen, because he sent from God the Holy Spirit to aid them at Pentecost. This is another way for you to see what the Bible does not have to explicitly detail for you that the ability to perform miracles comes from God through the Holy Spirit. Neither St. Peter nor St. Paul’s miracles were of their own doing, of course, but they “worked” because of their faith, their understanding of what to do as Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit have taught them, and also using the power of God through the Holy Spirit. Performing miracles is neither in the “DNA” nor is it “talent.” The reverential authors of each book or epistle in the Bible frequently acknowledge and glorify that what they do is through the Holy Spirit from God, not their own ability.
So you can read in both the Old Testament and the New Testament many examples of God giving the instructions and the authority and the grace to the prophets and the early Christians to perform miracles where it is necessary to be done in order to increase faith and win souls. God does not confer miracles as shortcuts through the difficult realities of life. How do we know that? We know that Jesus cured many who were crippled and lame. If God intended this to be a “shortcut” through a difficulty of life, God would simply have allowed Jesus to miraculously forbid all human bodies to ever have broken or twisted limbs again. If miracles were for anything other than increasing the people’s faith, when Jesus cured the woman of the hemorrhage he could have simply miraculously changed the chemistry and biology of how blood clots or does not for everyone all at once. It is abundantly clear throughout the Bible and most particularly through the many words and deeds, with explanations, of Jesus that the performing of miracles exists at all in order to periodically reinforce faith.
This is because human beings are such limited broken vessels that God, of course, knows that they need visible signs through the ages. Even the Apostles, who had every reason to have ironclad faith since they saw the progression of the thousands of miracles that Jesus performed, would be “wowed” by a particular one and have a further strengthening of faith. I am thinking of how awed they were when Jesus calmed the stormy seas, and walked on the water, even though they had already seen much of the power of God that he exhibited beforehand. No, God most certainly does not allow miracles just for some few, or the many, to have shortcuts through normal difficulties of life, such as illness. God uses miracles as the instrument of faith that he knows human beings always crave and always must have on a periodic basis in order to believe what they cannot see, which is God and His heavenly Kingdom at work.
Now that you understand more clearly how to interpret the very real miracles that are documented in the scriptures by Jesus, the prophets and the saints while they lived, now you can better understand how God allows participation by deceased saints in miracles to strengthen faith.
Again, one must use all: scripture, faith and reasoning in order to understand, as much as possible, God’s ways and his will in these matters. Examine the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse. God “delegates,” to use a modern term, roles to individual angels. Why is that? I mean, if God is all powerful, which does God have angels perform certain tasks for him? Why doesn’t God just chastise using his own hands the disbelievers on earth during the final days? No one can really say why God does what he does and that is not the point. One is supposed to, like good and observant children, observe what God does and says and learn more about him accordingly. We learn from the Book of Revelation that even in heaven God assigns tasks, for whatever reasons he has, to individual angels! All of the power and the determination of what is to be done is entirely God’s; the miracles and the chastisements are all God’s will, all God’s power, and all God’s implementation. For whatever reasons God has, however, even in heaven God uses individual angels to accomplish his will.
That is an important fact of knowledge one must glean from the scriptures. We can all understand why God sends angels in those extraordinary times that form the scriptures of our faith history to speak to humans directly, as when Gabriel came to speak to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Why, though, would God in heaven delegate activity to angels in heaven? Because that is how it is in heaven. God’s will animates and keeps alive all the eternal spirits who live in heaven, both angels and humans who achieve salvation in paradise. We all know that God created humans in the first place to know him, to love him and to serve him. Does this service stop in heaven, when those blessed by being in heaven are closer to him than ever? Of course not, since that does not even make sense, to think that when alive humans know, love and serve God but when in heaven they know and love him but no longer serve him! Because it is not necessary for faith to know the details of how and why, God does not include the details in the scripture. But we do observe in the Book of Revelation that 1) angels perform tasks for God in heaven and 2) St. John is able to see some humans in heaven, specifically the elders before the throne who cast their crowns down in front of God and worship him.
Having a crown means a person is kingly and glorified. To take one’s crown off and cast it at the feet of another means that one is in total service to the other. That is the message of why St. John was permitted to see that activity in front of the throne, so that he can transmit through what he saw increased faith that 1) humans are indeed in heaven and 2) they continue to serve God.
So, no, it is “not in the scripture” that “dead saints can perform miracles.” But what is in the scripture is that 1) living saints performed miracles at God’s authority and instruction, 2) angels serve God in heaven in heavenly and earthly tasks and 3) blessed human elders in heaven are observed casting their crowns in service in front of the throne of God. There is far more reason to believe that God permits the participation of saints in heaven in God’s tasks, including when he determines a miracle is appropriate on earth, than there is evidence to the contrary.
This is why through the centuries the Church believes the testimony, after great discernment regarding its reliability, of those who have received a great blessing such as a miraculous cure after prayer directed to a saint. The saint is not being worshipped. Prayer is a petition to ask for favor and proper prayer to a saint, such as St. Peter or St. Paul, centers upon asking for their strength of example in earthly matters and their loving intercession with God in heaven. One does not worship St. Peter or St. Paul; one asks St. Peter to be a role model, for example, or for St. Paul to intercede on one’s behalf with God. So let me repeatedly clear up that misunderstanding that praying to a saint is worshipping them.
In fact, people “prayed” to each other all the time in old English. “Do, pray tell,” would be an expression one person would say to another when what that person was doing was earnestly requesting someone to disclose something. “Pray” would mean, “Pretty please, I really want you to” do something. Pray thus became a synonym for asking God for something, even if it is just his attention as one prays to him.
Why, then, have centuries of people reliably testified that prayers to, very frequently, St. Joseph, St. Mary (the Blessed Virgin Mary) and St. Jude, one of the Apostles, delivered often miraculous “results?” God is obviously in control and is the one who hears and answers the prayerful petition. Obviously that even if one prayed to St. Joseph, our Lord’s earthly father, for example, God is the one who hears and grants or does not grant the prayer. If it displeased God that the saints be approached for their intercession, then believe you me many of your ancestors would not be around! God has a way of letting people know through the generations what displeases him. Instead we have a solid, documented two thousand year history of average people praying to individual saints and some, at times even many, of them have had their prayers answered by God. Obviously it was the “wrong” thing to do, God would not grant their prayers. The angels repeatedly tell humans in the scriptures not to worship them when they appear, but to worship only God. People who pray to the saints and ask for their help are not worshipping them: they are asking for their intercession with God. Again, you can never go wrong by following the example shown in the scripture. Do not worship anyone but God, but you can and should petition anyone holy to intercede with God, especially if you know that person is in eternal service to God.
Does anyone here reading this blog think that St. Paul, for example, is not in heaven? OK, that’s good. Now, if you were traveling with St. Paul when he was alive, would you have a problem if he were the one to pray to God on behalf of all of the travelers? For example, can you imagine being with St. Paul as he preached to the Gentiles, risking his life and the lives of those (like you) who travel with him, and everyone feels really good that St. Paul is the one praying to God on behalf of everyone present? Is that not, in fact, what happens when a pastor leads a congregation in prayer? Do you jump up and say, “No, I’ve got to pray to God directly myself all the time; you cannot be my ‘go between?’” Of course you would not think like that. Likewise, I invite you to imagine being one of the many thousands of Christians who personally accompanied men and women who would become saints when they were alive. How many of you do not think that everyone with them felt really good when they were the prayer intercessor to God on behalf of the group? I mean, duh.
So now St. Paul is dead these past several thousand years and most certainly in heaven. If he would, and did, gladly pray intercession for those of the faithful who traveled with him on earth, why do you think that he would stop doing so in heaven? Would he mind? Would God mind? This is the beautiful and glorious intersection of faith and logical reasoning capabilities.
Two human expressions come to mind: “No one is ever insulted by a good tip” and “Put in a good word with the boss for me.” If a saintly and holy person while alive would lead a group in prayer, using their service and obedience to God as a way to “put in a good word with the boss” on behalf of all together, why in the world would anyone think that they would be even more stingy, rather than more generous, in that in heaven than on earth? Who when evangelizing or doing missionary work in dangerous areas would be insulting God or St. Paul if they prayed to St. Paul for strength, guidance and intercession with God, he, Paul, who had set the example to be followed in his tireless and painful evangelizing? To not pray to St. Paul for help seems to me like refusing to use the person who “wrote the book,” so to speak, on what you are trying to do! You are not worshipping St. Paul nor bypassing God when you pray for his intercession, any more than you would be worshipping St. Paul or bypassing God if when a living companion of Paul’s in their travels sat nearby as Paul prayed to God and interceded on everyone present’s behalf! How much more so is St. Paul’s ongoing service to God in the strengthening of faith when St. Paul is for all eternity in God’s presence, perhaps casting his crown at His feet!
This is why generations of Christians, and remember, Protestant or not, we were “all Christians together” for one thousand five hundred years, prayed to St. Joseph for intercession in fatherly matters, to St. Mary (the Blessed Virgin Mary) in motherly matters, to various saints for help in health, in matters of virtue, in time of war and grave peril, and to help them in their faith and their carrying the Gospel into dangerous lands and times. Many generations of Christians who could not read or write and who lived primitive lives had a better understanding that they were 1) not worshipping saints and 2) were tapping into the good will of the intercession of the sanctified with God and not bypassing God than modern people seem to be today. Rather in glorifying in the richness of the sanctified who care only about serving God and increasing the faith among those alive, too many have a distrust and a total misunderstanding of their own faith forefathers!
So, then, what can we logically reason, based on our faith, is the reason that God does answer prayers that have been directed to his saints who are in heaven with him? First of all, if you truly are as strong in your faith as you say that you are, you totally understand that God never does anything mean or evil; God is goodness and all goodness comes from God. What kind of God would not answer a request that he is inclined to grant just because it “arrived through a saint.” I mean, what? One must examine one’s own lack of faith in God’s goodness if you feel that a specific same request he would grant if the person prayed “to God alone,” but would “turn down” “because it came through a saint!” Christians need to do much better at witnessing to the all mercifulness and goodness of God. God is not churlish nor is he a jealous bureaucrat. Rather, as Jesus taught, God loves and considers family those who hear him and believe. God simply would never “resent” or rebuff a prayer that “comes to him” (which he of course knows about even before you realized you were going to make that prayer) through one of his beloved family of the faithful.
As an aside, speaking of delegation in heaven, did you notice in Luke 16 that the poor man Lazarus who died and went to heaven is being held in Abraham’s bosom? Why not God’s alone? God’s is big enough, hmm, as he is infinite and thus can hold and comfort all humans who arrive in heaven. Jesus himself states that this man Lazarus is being held in Abraham’s bosom. Abraham, we know, as the forefather of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, who served dinner to God, who argued with God on behalf of the sinners in Sodom and Gomorrah, is much loved by God. Anyone of any faith and Biblical knowledge has to concede that. How does God reward such a man when he arrives in heaven? One could say that just being with God for all eternity is enough reward, and it is. But no human can understand the infinity of God’s love and generosity. Jesus by telling this story not only makes the point about the punishment in hell of the rich man who neglected Lazarus, but Jesus is also implicitly telling all who hear him and understand that God’s work of love continues in heaven, and he shares that joy and that work with those who gain heaven. Abraham in heaven is able to personally comfort an unknown man who was alive centuries after him, treated like the dregs of the earth, suffering and starving to death, when that man reached heaven.
That is one reason that Jesus was cautioning when the mother of the Apostles James and John wanted to delegate in advance that they sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in the Kingdom. We focus on the main points of that particular scripture when we realize that Jesus is staying 1) if they follow me they will be martyrs and 2) only God dispenses who sits at the right and left hand of whom in heaven. But you cannot miss, especially when you combine this with another passage I will mention next, that Jesus is saying that much more goes on in heaven under God and God’s alone direction than humans realize. Remember the disciples asked Jesus the theoretical question about a woman who is widowed and remarried many times, which husband she is married to in heaven? Jesus responds that people are not given in marriage in heaven. Like the question about the right and left hand of Jesus in the Kingdom, Jesus is, without elaborating, letting people understand that God has purposes and plans in heaven too. So Abraham may, or may not be, at any given point in heaven, hanging around with Sarah, his wife. Abraham is also serving God by comforting in blissful heaven a poor peon of a man who had been abused and died nameless and in shameful neglect on earth.
And now I tie the loop together for your understanding the scripture even more. The man in hell asks Abraham if he will allow Lazarus to send to him a drop of water to ease his torment. Do you notice that the man in hell is not saying that God will be mad at him if he asks for intercession through Lazarus or Abraham? I am being a little droll here, but only a little. The Bible says and demonstrates what it says and demonstrates, and Jesus Christ says and demonstrates what he means, what is the truth of what actually happens and “how it works.” The man in hell is now humbled, in eternal torment, and he well understands that the man he neglected, who is now in heaven, is precisely the person to ask for intercession as, obviously, is Abraham. Jesus is sharing a snapshot of “how it looks” and how it “works,” both in heaven and in hell, in this crucial passage in the Gospel. Jesus is not only making the main point that even a presumably pious Jew who is a believer, but who neglected his neighbor, will end up in hell, but Jesus is also giving a snapshot that God shares the bliss in heaven and that the saints/prophets are still active in their service to God, in ways that humans can’t really understand. Abraham is not sitting around with a harp. The forefather of all the monotheistic faiths is comforting in person a man who was the lowest of the low in how he was treated on earth.
If one really reads the passages that I have alluded to above, I’m not sure how anyone can think that the saints, the holy servants of God, are not alive and in his active service in heaven for all eternity. If you would not hesitate to have one of them when they were alive pray to God in leadership and intercession for their companions, including you, if you had been there, why would you doubt the merit and reality of their petitions to God as they are beside him in heaven?
I hope that you have found this helpful.