Years ago, I attended a Protestant rally with my kids to hear a dynamic Christian speaker. Music and praise to our Lord Jesus Christ pulsated through the auditorium. In the midst of so much excitement and talk of Jesus, a sudden pang of emptiness shot through me. At that unexpected moment, I felt the loss of the rest of my heavenly family—the Blessed Mother and the angels and saints.
The feeling caught me off guard as it was not part of my previous thought process. Of course I was well aware that the rest of our heavenly family was not a part of Protestant faith life, but at that sudden moment, I felt an inner emptiness at their exclusion.
Praying to the saints is not about conjuring up spirits or trying to contact those who have passed on to see the future, which the Church forbids. Teresa Tomeo, EWTN TV and radio talk-show host explains in her new book Girlfriends and Other Saints: Companions on my Journey of Faith (coming May 2 from Word Among Us Press) that it’s about asking for help. “We ask our Christian friends here on earth to pray for us,” she writes. “We believe those prayers will somehow make a difference because our friends have faith, love Jesus, and are close to him.”
Since our friends in heaven are as close to God as a person can be, Tomeo asks why wouldn’t we all want to get them in on our prayer chains? “Just as our friends on earth are all unique with different personalities, qualities, and experiences, so are our friends in heaven,” Tomeo says. “And these unique qualities translate into an array of spiritual tools or gifts: spiritual pepper dates, so to speak, to get us through life’s ups and downs and help us on this journey to heaven. “
With so many personalities and charisms among the saints, we can seek out those to which we have a special connection. For Tomeo, her namesake, St. Teresa of Avila, is at the top of her girlfriend list. St. Teresa was assigned with reforming the Carmelite order—a challenging task requiring a strong personality. “She was confident enough, not only in the Lord’s love for her,” Tomeo writes, “but also in her love for him, to clearly express how she was feeling when it came to the struggles of the ministry to which God had called her.”
Tomeo remarks that saints such as St. Teresa had relationships with God in which they readily spoke their minds. For instance, after running into some major roadblocks on one of her cross- country trips through Spain, the first female doctor of the Church remarked: “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.”
Throughout her book, Tomeo shares personal experiences and observations. She mentions her friend Steve Ray, a Catholic convert, author, and motivational speaker, who, prior to conversion, used to ask people why they pray to dead people? Now, when challenged to defend the Catholic devotion to saints he responds: “Where does it say in the Bible that the saints are actually dead?”
According to Tomeo, intercessory prayer involving the saints is one of the easiest teachings of our faith to explain and defend. “When we say we are Christians, we are saying that we believe in life everlasting,” she says. “Our bodies break down and decay; eventually, we are all going to die. But our souls live on forever. The Book of Revelation speaks of “bowls full of incense” as the “prayers of the saints” (5:8, RSV), clearly pointing out that those who have gone before us are around the heavenly throne praying for us.”
The Church’s teaching on the power of the saints is also explained in Tomeo’s book. The Catechism explains: “Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself.” (CCC 957)
It also says that we can share in their gifts. “Christian spirituality share in the living tradition of prayer and are essential guides for the faithful. In their rich diversity they are refractions of the one pure light of the Holy Spirit.” (2684)
It is the humanness of saints that Tomeo points out as the quality that gives us confidence that holiness is attainable. In her chapter on finding common ground with saints titled, “Every Saint Has a Past, Every Sinner Has a Future,” Tomeo says that they can show us how to overcome weaknesses. She quotes St. Francis of Assisi: “I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.”
“When we hit the sinful potholes on this road called life, we should get back behind the wheel of faith and drive as fast as we can toward our sister and brother saints,” Tomeo says. “The saints are among the helpful sign-posts that help us navigate as we move along life’s often very confusing and demanding highway.”
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Copyright 2016 Patti Maguire Armstrong