Archives For April 2014

On the Intercession of the Saints

“A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers” (St. Augustine of Hippo, 400 A.D.).

“We make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 350 A.D.).

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As the canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II are coming up this weekend, I’d like to dwell on the importance of the intercession of the saints on behalf of the Church of Christ. Some ask, “Why do Catholics venerate the saints and ask for their prayers?” I’d like to offer a brief response.

  1. The practice is biblical: In the Book of Revelation, St. John writes, “The twenty-four elders [the leaders of the people of God in heaven] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). Sorting through the symbolic language, a reader of this passage comes to see that the saints in heaven (the “twenty-four elders”) offer the prayers of the earthly saints (Christians) to God (the Lamb). In a particularly Catholic fashion, the believers in heaven give these prayers to Jesus in “golden bowls full of incense.” Additionally, Christians affirm that followers of Jesus do not die. Therefore, just as one might ask a friend here on earth to pray for a certain cause, one might ask a friend in heaven to pray on his or her behalf. St. James claims, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (5:16). Since the righteous in heaven are perfectly righteous, their prayers must be especially strong!
  2. The practice is historically viable: The leaders of the early Church universally agreed that Christians should invoke the prayers of the saints in heaven. Hermas, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian of Carthage, Methodius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Hilary of Poitiers, Ephraim the Syrian, Basil, Pectorius, Gregory of Nanzianz, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and Augustine all preached this doctrine with clarity. Since the Roman Catholic Church is in continuity with the early Church, it unfailingly promotes the intercession of the saints. While there are some who claim that this practice has a solely pagan origin, they are mistaken. Actually, this form of prayer goes back to the ancient Israelites. The veneration of saints in heaven was abhorrent to the pagans of the Roman Empire, and it is for this reason that the early Christians promoted it: namely, so that they could distinguish themselves from the polytheistic milieu.
  3. The practice does not de-legitimize the authority of Christ as the sole mediator between God and humanity: true Christians are forever members of the body of Christ, so Catholics call upon the saints for prayer as an expression of their love for Jesus, who in turn expresses himself through the Church. It is not permissible to draw a hard and fast line between the body of Christ (the Church) and the person of Jesus. It is precisely because Catholics worship Jesus alone that they ask for the intercessions of the saints in heaven, as the saints in heaven are eternally in communion with the Redeemer.

With these ideas in mind, we should call upon John XXIII and John Paul II to offer our prayers to Christ in their bowls of incense. Their devotion to Jesus should inspire us, and their proximity to the risen Lord should give us confidence in the effectiveness of their petitions on our behalf.

May God bless you in abundance,

David J.W. Inczauskis 

Commentary on the End of Introduction to Christianity by Cardinal Ratzinger

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Just this evening, I finished Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s book Introduction to Christianity. Now that I have read the work in its entirety, I can say with confidence that I highly recommend it, especially to people who have a mid-to-high level of competency in Christian theology and philosophical postmodernism.

In this post, I’d like to give a short commentary on a few lines from the text that capture Benedict XVI’s most profound insights:

  • “The real basic law of Christian existence is expressed in the preposition ‘for'” (pg. 251).

The word for in the English language denotes purpose, meaning, and direction. For is the prepositional form of telos (the final cause). From the human perspective of the Christian, we are “for” neighbor and “for” God. From the messianic perspective, Christ is “for” us and “for” God the Father. Quickly, one realizes that Christians are caught up in a great web of “for”-ness. Christianity is a religion of relations among persons. The Trinity is an explanation of the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who interpenetrate each other despite the fact that they share the same substance. Similarly, the Church is a body, and each believer is individually a member of that body. When one part weeps, the whole body is meant to weep together. When one part rejoices, the whole body is meant to rejoice together. It is impossible to ignore the distinctively social element of the Christian faith.

  • “A Christian is someone who knows that in any case he lives first and foremost as the beneficiary of a bounty and that, consequently, all righteousness can only consist in being himself a donor, like the beggar who is grateful for what he receives and generously passes part of it on to others” (pg. 260).

Christians are grateful and compassionate beggars. They are thankful for the gifts that they have received from God, and they willingly share the overflow of God’s grace with others. Throughout Christian history, there has been significant debate about whether or not “good works” are essential for salvation. Bearing in mind Benedict XVI’s point, one quickly comes to see the futility of separating faith from good works (as the Reformers of the 16th century did). Faith and good works are not separate from each other, as both are due to the grace of God. One who completes a “good work” does not attribute merit to him or herself; rather, he or she attributes merit to the Redeemer, through whom all good things come. True Christians inevitably do good works because they are thankful for the salvation that God has won for them. 

  • “There is a freedom that is not cancelled out even by grace” (pg. 323).

Christianity is the religion of freedom. It is apparent throughout the Scriptures (particularly in the New Testament) that God will judge humanity at the end of time. For some, the idea of a final judgment is scary, but Cardinal Ratzinger offers a different perspective. He says that we must recognize who our Judge will be: Jesus. Our Judge is not unsympathetic with our human condition. Rather, he himself became one of us! He is our brother, our friend, our advocate. For those who are friends of He who desires friendship with all, the Judgment is not a horrific event. With this in mind, the Judgment becomes a banquet, a celebration of the love that God wishes to share with his friends forever. 

I hope that these reflections have been helpful for you. For me, it has been a great pleasure to read Introduction to ChristianityPlease check it out for yourself!

May God bless you abundantly.

Best wishes,
David J.W. Inczauskis