Saturday, January 10, 2015

Worshiping Saints and Monkeys

Kristen M. Soley

Sitting in a cozy coffee shop, enjoying a creamy vanilla latte and some moist pumpkin bread with a dear friend, our conversation turned to a party which her child had recently been invited. The family hosting the party was Hindu and as the party came to a close, the guests were invited to, as her child explained, “Pray to a monkey.” From the host’s perspective, this opportunity was, from what I understand, very generous, as the Hindu monkey, or Hanuman, is one of the most popular idols in the Hindu pantheon and is worshiped as a symbol of physical strength, perseverance, and devotion. 1

In a very sincere and light-hearted delivery, my friend then likened this form of worship to how Catholics worship the saints; how we worship statues and images of saints, more specifically.

I was very humbled and grateful to hear this perception of my Catholic faith, as this friend is a beautiful Christian. Although her beliefs are somewhat different than mine, we have a dear friendship, mutual respect for one another’s faith, and share a deep love for Our Lord. I just had no idea that my protestant brothers and sisters in Christ believed that we (Catholics) truly worship the saints and could not have visualized this perception until I envisioned a group of children worshiping a monkey. It then made more sense to me why some might disagree with Catholics - if they have been taught and truly believe that this is a typical form of worship for us. In both the Christian and Jewish faiths, worshiping idols is a grave sin.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them.” (Exodus 20:4-5 NASB)

 The quote from Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen came to my mind,
“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

With great joy, I was able to share with my friend one facet of my Catholic faith - the fullness of the truth in the communion of saints. I explained how the saints, those who have gone before us and are in heaven in the presence of our Almighty and Loving God, are so close to Him and intercede, or pray for us. They are living in the beatific vision, face to face with God, desiring for us to join them when our pilgrimage on earth comes to an end. With such hope, I shared that I ask (daily) for the saints in heaven (my grandmother included) to pray for me; that I may love our Lord and those He has placed on my path as He loves and that I may come to know, love, and serve Him according to His Divine Will.

Jesus assures me that the saints indeed live in His presence as He questioned Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (JN 11:25 NASB) Jesus also expresses in Matthew 22:31, "But about the resurrection of the dead--have you not read what God said to you, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'?  He is not the God of the dead but of the living."

The saints are living and have reached perfect happiness with God in heaven, beatitude. I explained that I truly believe the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the greatest saint of modern times, who shared, “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth and… will let fall from heaven a shower of roses.” I don’t worship St. Thérèse, but, quite honestly, I desire to love our Lord as she does. Her love of Lord has inspired me to, as Mother Teresa says, “Give until it hurts” for love of God and all His children.  Furthermore, I do ask her, among many other saints (my late Grandmother included) to pray for me. I pray directly to God for specific intentions, as I have absolute confidence in His love, fidelity, and mercy. I know He is relentlessly pursuing me, drawing me closer to Him, every day. Unfortunately, I am weak, small, and I need as much help as I can get. I cannot rely on myself to carry me through the trials and temptations this world has to offer. I depend on God’s grace and the prayers of my brothers and sisters in Christ, both living and deceased, for the support and grace needed for my journey.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the intercession of the saints:
"Being more closely united to Christ… do not cease to intercede with the Father for us… So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped."(CCC956)

To help me pray, I do have a picture of St. Thérèse near my kitchen sink, which I often look upon when I ask her to pray for me. Just like I look upon the picture of my dear and very holy, late Grandmother. I don’t worship my Grandmother, nor do I worship St. Thérèse, but I have confidence in their intercession for me as I look into their eyes, knowing that those same beautiful eyes look upon my Savior, face to face, as I hope to join them, gazing upon Him, adoring Him someday as well.  

I also look to images of the saints, as I look to images of role models, like those of great leaders, inspiring me to rise up, even after I fall - sort of like the Vince Lombardi picture we have in our basement, instructing on “What it takes to be Number One.” The great saints have walked a similar path of struggle as I presently walk, fighting the greatest battle of all time, against self. With faith and trust, they have successfully surrendered their will to the Will of God. They are my heroes if you will. They have overcome their faults, with God’s grace and true Divine Love. 

I wear a cross on my necklace, reminding me of the sacrifice Jesus made for me; the sacrifice that gives me hope for eternal life with Him.  I also wear medals of some powerful saints on my necklace, such as Mary, the Mother of Jesus, St. Benedict, and Saint Michael the Arch Angel. I ask Sts. Michael and Benedict to pray for my protection against the wickedness and snares of the evil one and Mary, a perfect role model for my vocation of wife and mother, whom I love dearly, to pray for me to be more like her: patient, humble, loving, obedient, self-controlled, meek, generous, and to love her Son like she does.  I cannot love Mary more than Jesus and desire to love Jesus as she does.  For me, she is the ideal mother and I pray to be to my children as she was to her Son, my Savior.  She is a tough act to follow.

My faith has provided me many aids in this pilgrimage to my home in heaven. I worship God and in Him and Him alone I place my trust. But thank you Jesus, I have His friends, and mine to help me along the way, that I may, God-willing, enter through the narrow gate (MT 7:13) and He may one day look upon me and say, “Well done good and faithful servant." (MT 25:21)

In summary, I thank God for this morning coffee, with my good friend, and for the insight into the perception of my Catholic faith. I am also grateful for the opportunity to clarify the truth of my Catholic faith for my dear friend. I feel blessed and thank God daily that I was born Catholic, this is truth for me and I know that God’s plan for me is perfect. He made me to know, love, and serve Him, that I may be happy with Him in Heaven at the end of my pilgrimage. This is the path for me to achieve beatitude. I pray that as a Catholic, I witness to my Catholic faith as I was taught and respect others as they witness to theirs. Gratefully, I will be able to do this partly aided by those who have already run the race.

“...since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NASB)

Praise God! He is so good and loves us dearly! St. Therese, Pray For Us!  All the Angels and all the Saints, pray for us!