while i hope i'm not offending any Catholic Nerdfighters with my phrasing, should get your attention.
for a number of years the veneration of the saints confused and concerned me. at their best they seemed like just another way to keep the lay believer at the bottom of a very medieval church hierarchy. at worse, it seems like they completely fly in the face of the first commandment, and Jesus's new covenant.
while i'd love to hear from my fellow non-Catholic nerdfighters, even any non-Christian nerfighters who decide to stop lurking. mostly i want to know from the Catholics: why does each of you venerate (a) saint(s?) for example, do you relate to an individual due to nationality or his (or her in a couple cases) particular patronage? do you think of them as semi-modern day prophets/miracle workers? or are they simply strong examples of individuals living according to God's will maybe?
This confused me too, when I was growing into my faith as a Catholic. Saints just seemed like another impossibly high standard, somewhere we couldn't reach even if we tried. I recall Dorothy Day's oft-quoted statement "Don't call me a saint, I don't want to be dismissed that easily."
However, I realised that saints are incredible people who truly lived out the kingdom of God on earth. They're fantastic examples and they show us what we could be like - what we could achieve if we were to rest entirely on God and bring the Kingdom of God into the here and now. We actually can do those things, bring about those miracles, work our whole lives for the lowest of the low (Mother Teresa, anyone?) and the saints show us ways we can.
And sure, particular patronage, nationality, works, all call us to relate to different saints but that's really cool because it means there are so many different ways we are called to bring about the Kingdom. Your vocation is where your deep passion and the world's deep need meet.
Hope this helps! DFTBA
As an Anglo-Catholic, I'd like to preface my statement with this little quote from the 39 Articles from the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church:
"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." In short, if it isn't in the Bible, it isn't necessary for your salvation. But just because it isn't necessary, doesn't mean it isn't helpful.
In my daily devotion, I venerate my patron Saint Polycarp and Mary the Mother of God, asking them for their prayers. Now, as I personally don't tend to lean towards the idea of Saint Polycarp reaching his hand down from heaven to, say, ease the pain of a man with chronic diarrhea (as he is the patron saint of those with diarrhea), I wouldn't be opposed to it either, seeing as the angels in heaven are given a power from God to cure disease and such, and seeing as we men are to be judges over angels, I wouldn't say it's a stretch. But as I said earlier, I tend to simply ask for their prayers and study their lives with respect to my own and look up to them as high examples of what I should be, helping me attain my true goal of being like Jesus Christ Himself.
Now as for it breaking the first commandment, I wouldn't go that far. Firstly, the practice is merely veneration, not worship; it is putting men in history in the places they deserve to be placed, while maintaining God's highest authority. Besides this, the first commandment doesn't say, "There are no other gods so stop wasting your time" but says "Have no other gods before me", so as to say that even if you had more than just this one deity known to us as YHWH, just make sure that you serve Him above and beyond the others.
And I personally don't understand the whole medieval church hierarchy idea. =/ doesn't seem to make sense to me, but that's mostly because the practice of praying to the saints and venerating the martyrs and heros of the Church began as early as the 2nd century. In fact, they venerated my patron saint Polycarp after his martyrdom (2nd century) by taking his remains and placing them on the altar of the church in Smyrna.
Thank you for asking, by the way =) Honest questions are my favorite questions.
that's awesome for you. and it's totally jokes for anyone who has gained inspiration, or feels they've been helped by the saints. i can see the example, as you say, potentially going the other way though. i have, in the past, gotten the impression that while one can strive to be more like Jesus, while still maintaining hope, knowing that we can't be perfect, numerous examples of people who are closer to it (therfore 'better') might actually discourage growth.
likewise, while it may not be explicitely stated, the exrtremely formal ecclesiastical structure seems to imply a greater worthiness to priests than parishiners.
I am not Catholic, but I am Episcopalian/Anglican, and although I do not pray through saints personally, I understand them and they do bring me comfort from time to time. Don't think of Saints as idols. They are more or less Holy Companions. They work the same way group prayer works in that we have others in Heaven and on Earth praying and seeking God's help for us. Saints aren't really scriptural but neither Christmas, but God does call us to do things that bring us and others closer to him that do not infringe with His other commandments (however you interpret them). Our walk with other Christians does not end at their death, and an official beatification doesn't mean only official saints are the ones we can pray through. Anyone who you feel was righteous and was a role model for you can be someone you can pray with. Saints help people feel like they are not alone in their struggle in the world and came from a time when being a Christian meant being an island in a sea of paganism and persecution.
you make a very good point Kevin...and well phrased :D
so... thanks for Being Awesome
Right. Well... as someone who has grown up Lutheran, has a best friend who is a Catholic theologian/missionary, and is now probably going to go to Episcopal/Anglican seminary, I can say that I've probably held every view on the saints possible for a Christian. My best answer is that in the Biblical Literalist tradition: Saints are Christians in the fullest sense of the word (little Christs, members of the Body of Christ). That is how Paul uses the words in scripture. As a matter of fact, Christians as a title is only obliquely mentioned in Acts, mostly the New Testament simply calls Christians "Brothers (and Sisters)." In Catholic and Orthodox traditions Saint tends to be a title reserved for those Christians that have lead exemplary lives that are worthy of saying "Hey they did some really cool things, we should be more like them." This is the meaning I believe you are asking about and so it is the meaning I will address.
The tradition of venerating saints comes from a cultural and a logical place. 1. A lot of the early Christians were converts from polytheism, so saint veneration was a way to have a similar religious experience without actually being polytheistic. 2. If you believe that the saints did what they did, then the saints' lives were worth sharing to show a. how awesome God is when he works in people's lives and b. that it is possible to be better than you are currently.
The confusion comes from a lot of superstitious Catholics that take the pseudo-pantheon aspect of Catholicism out of context to the point that time and effort spent on Saint-veneration exceeds time spent in God-adoration. At this point, the saints become an idol and a stumbling block. I've seen it probably half the Catholics I've known. The proper understanding of Saints (from a Catholic perspective) is more like the kind of relationship you'd have with a really wise elder whom you look up to alot. It is no less proper or absurd to ask St. Luke to pray for your upcoming surgery as it is to ask a pastor.
Now personally, I'm not comfortable with that aspect, since I see it as unnecessary. We have Jesus, the high(est) priest to intercess on our behalf. What can saints offer that Jesus can't. (And yet, I still ask my living friends for prayer... hypocrite am I.) Anyway, Kevin's answer was clearer so just go with his.
heh. i totally followed all of that.
I'm not Catholic, but believers in Jesus are supposed to have everlasting life, right? So what's the difference between asking a saint to pray for you and asking a Christian friend to pray for you?