Recently, I was called to serve on a jury in a criminal case here in Austin, Texas. The accused in this case made an extraordinary tactical blunder: even though he was offered legal counsel free of charge by the court, he chose to represent himself.
As I sat in the jury, I honestly hurt for this man. His crime was not murder, or armed robbery, or assault, but it was serious and a felony. As I heard him go on and on, I knew he was making things worse and worse for himself. He needed a lawyer. He really, really did. And he refused one.
While it may not seem to be an exact comparison, this trial made me think a lot about the intercession of saints. No, I am not comparing saints to lawyers (Heaven forbid!). But we often talk of God as a just judge, and that we should be on the mercy of the court when we go before Him to be judged on how we lived our lives.
Our protestant brothers and sisters object to Catholics praying to saints and asking for their intercession. They say there is only one mediator between God and man, and that mediator is Christ. And they are right. As a 57-year-old Catholic I can tell you no Pope, Bishop, Priest, Nun, or religion teacher, Latin rite or Maronite rite, ever suggested that a saint was a substitute for Christ, and that if one prayed to Mary or Saint Joseph or Jude or Sharbel that they had it in with God and could take care of business apart from Christ. This thinking is so foreign to a Catholic mindset that I struggle to understand a protestant’s suggestion that somehow Catholic prayer to saints co-opts Christ’s role.
With all due respect to my protestant brothers and sisters (don’t throw rocks, my father was protestant), I find the idea that we can simply approach Jesus on our own merits, confident at all times of His good grace, a bit arrogant. I’m not suggesting that one can’t pray to Jesus directly, and in fact one should pray and converse with Jesus constantly…but asking for the prayer of saints is an act of humility. It is something that should not only be recommended, but done.
I don’t know about how any of my readers feel, but I know very well that I am a sinner and that my holiness as a Christian pales in comparison to the Blessed Mother, to St. Joseph, to St. Jude, St. Sharbel, St. Maron, and on and on. They have fought the good fight and won the race and are in Heaven with God. I am on this earth working out my salvation with fear and trembling, as St. Paul says in his epistle to the Philippians. I can use guidance and help.
Can I go to Christ directly? Of course I can and I do. But I also ask prayers from saints because I am well aware of my sins and my unworthiness. Asking, for example, St. Sharbel to pray for one of my intentions is like saying to Jesus, “My Lord and my God, Jesus Christ, I know that I am not worthy on my own merit to approach you and ask for this grace/etc. in my life. In recognition of my unworthiness, I am asking St. Sharbel to pray for my intention. He lived a holy life, has been declared a saint in Heaven with you, and so I am asking for him to go before your throne in Heaven and ask this request on my behalf. I certainly do not have the credits in my life alone. I ask St. Sharbel to help me.”
Pick your own saint or saints. I used St. Sharbel’s name because he is one of my favorites and I am Maronite and he was Maronite. But all the saints stand in Heaven before God. Ask them to help you.
But wait. I said earlier one can approach Jesus on one’s own. So is a saint absolutely necessary?
I hate this kind of question – absolutely necessary. God isn’t interested in only what is absolutely necessary. How do I know this? Well, if He were only concerned with mankind and its survival He would have made one planet, placed it around one sun, and the rest of the universe could have been simply a great void. On the contrary, He chose to outdo Himself (an expression, don’t hang me) and roll out this marvelous universe full of stars, galaxies, and wonders.
But let’s get back to court. Sure, we can represent ourselves before God. We can plead our own case. We can converse with God at any time. But I find it presumptuous for me to take Christ for granted based on my own merit.
In court, I’d want an attorney. In prayer of petition, I want someone close to God to ask in my behalf. I’m not representing myself. Sorry. That’s a disaster.
Okay, I won’t leave you hanging. I’ll tell you how the court case ended.
The young man was offered to plead guilty and the court would have removed the felony status of the charge. He would have been sentenced to 5 years’ probation.
He rejected this, represented himself, and ended up being found guilty. He received the same punishment from the jury – 5 years’ probation – but he also now has a felony conviction on his record.
He needed help, not only from a lawyer, but a saint!