Isn’t praying to the saints idol worship?

Dear Katrina,

As I observe, some people are frequently visiting shrines of different saints and praying novenas. Some strongly believe saints can intercede for them and secure their wish / prayer request granted, or attribute a miracle performed by God to the intercession of that saint.

I respect saints because they followed Christ’s teaching with their heart, mind and soul. They were doers of the Word of God, and they set an example for us to follow, to be genuine and attractive Christians. However, as a general observation, this practice gives me doubt — do people tend to give more importance to saints than Almighty God?

Are we not deviating from the core of our belief and faith?  Too much of idolatry in the name of saints?

I appreciate your expert guidance.

Thanks and regards,

Chack

Dear Chack,

Even saints asked other saints for intercession in their own prayers. If we’re using the lives of saints as an example of well-lived Catholicism, why would you choose to ignore that very important aspect of their prayer life? Emulate the saints … even their prayer life.

Every single canonized saint has sought the intercession of Our Blessed Virgin Mother. Were they loving Christ less by seeking her prayers and petitions? Of course not. What about our own patron saints that we take at confirmation, or our guardian angels? Should we ignore them in our prayers? No.

You ask if seeking saintly intercession goes against the core beliefs of being Catholic. Well I assert that NOT doing so goes more against our beliefs. It’s not just “some people” who visits shrines, make pilgrimages, and pray novenas… it’s popes, religious brothers and sisters, bishops, all the saints before us, and just about every single Catholic that practices his or her faith and all the Catholics before them.  

Saints wrote those novenas and built those shrines you question. St. Faustina was divinely inspired by Christ Himself to give us the Divine Mercy devotions and novenas. There is nothing idolatrous or dishonoring to God about having a devotion to his Divine Mercy.   

Do you ask your friends to pray for you? If so, why? If you ask your friends to pray for you, are you dishonoring God by loving your friends more? After all, you could have just prayed directly to God yourself, right? But Catholics asks the saints for intercessory prayers in the same way you asks your friends to pray for you, except our friends (the saints in heaven) are closer to God’s ear.

What if you were seeking a promotion at work? Would you ask a random co-worker to put in a good word for you or would you ask the boss’ executive assistant to put in a good word for you? Who is going to have more influence in that situation? The boss’ executive assistant, of course. In no way are you dishonoring your boss or showing favor to the executive assistant by simply seeking the assistant’s help.  

And lastly, our human hearts have no limit on love. We are perfectly capable of loving more than one person at a time, would you not agree? Do parents love a child less because they’ve used up all their love on the other kids? Having an affection or love for a saint doesn’t diminish our love for Christ. On the contrary, it magnifies it. The saints draw us nearer to God. That’s their job. We imitate their lives to draw nearer to God.

We ask for their prayers to draw nearer to God. We honor their status in heaven to draw nearer to God. We don’t place them above God, we honor them because of God. We aren’t replacing God with the saints, we are using the saints to get as humanly close as possible to God.  

A really great book that helped with my understanding of idols, because I had questions very similar to your own when I was a new Catholic, was Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods. In it, she explains the very real idols in our lives that we use to replace God. I think it would help you better differentiate between true idolatry and the way the saints work in our lives. I can’t recommend it enough.

I know I have a pretty plain way of explaining things because I’m no theology professor, so if you still struggle with this issue I suggest you pray about it and talk this over with a priest.

Good luck to you.   

Katrina Fernandez  has a PhD in being single, and a master’s in single parenting with a concentration in Catholic guilt. She’s been writing about these and other life-survival topics for more than a decade. Submit all questions to katrinafixesitforyou@gmail.com -

Original Post

With regards to prayer, without deviating into arguments or discussions about who various people pray to or through, I believe that many of us experience problems in our prayer life account of our own activities and our own relationship with God/Christ/Holy Spirit.  Many talk about Christ as a totally different person from God or God's Holy Spirit but the three are three forms of ministry from one single God. 

Each Christian should have and does have the ability to approach God with their own desires and request and the writings of Paul in Romans 8 expound on the Holy Spirit's ministry unto the Christian and one of those ministries is helping us voice our needs and desires unto God.  Many Christians also allow their own sins to cloudy the relationship between God and man/woman.  Others do not have the confidence that their prayers will be heard, account of their own limited faith.

Christ, Himself, instructed us on Prayer and how to pray in Matthew the 6th chapter.

Matthew 6:5-15 (NCV)
5
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. They love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners and pray so people will see them. I tell you the truth, they already have their full reward.
6  When you pray, you should go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father who cannot be seen. Your Father can see what is done in secret, and he will reward you.
7  And when you pray, don’t be like those people who don’t know God. They continue saying things that mean nothing, thinking that God will hear them because of their many words.
8  Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him.
9  So when you pray, you should pray like this: ’Our Father in heaven, may your name always be kept holy. 10  May your kingdom come and what you want be done, here on earth as it is in heaven. 11  Give us the food we need for each day. 12  Forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us. 13  And do not cause us to be tempted, but save us from the Evil One.’
14  Yes, if you forgive others for their sins, your Father in heaven will also forgive you for your sins.
15  But if you don’t forgive others, your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.

The latter part of this section informs us that our own lives and the way we live them can affect our prayer lives and ability to pray unto God.  Our own sins can affect our ability to pray and have dialog with God.   It is only though God's Holy Spirit that a Christian or mere human can approach God to ask anything and it is God's Holy Spirit that intercedes on our behalf all without us being conscience of it happening.  The Christian an ask for others to pray for them or with them but ultimately it is God's own gift, His Holy Spirit that enables the individual Christian to bring our needs, desires, and request, directly to God, Himself.

Romans 8:26-27 (NCV)
26  Also, the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain.

27  God can see what is in people’s hearts. And he knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit speaks to God for his people in the way God wants.

 

 

 

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