Monday, November 28, 2016

Seeking help and comfort from the saints

A dark smudge appeared on the living room ceiling. When I wiped it, my finger went through the plaster. The roofing company inspected it, the landlord looked at it, our neighbor even stopped in to peer up at it. The verdict: a plumber would need to come, saw a hole in the ceiling, and find the leak. The kids would be thrilled.

Theres a measure of comfort in knowing that whatever goes wrong, there is someone to call: plumber, mechanic, doctor, insurance company, 911. When I was living in Ethiopia, with its packed churches and orphanages full of God-loving children, a local woman explained it with a shrug. “In America, if your car is broken into you call GEICO. Here, we pray.”

Our culture is certainly full of safeguards. We have medical, dental, home, car, and life insurance. But for the really hard stuff—and a lot of the small stuff—no amount of policies, phone calls, or cash will remedy the situation.

And so we, too, find ourselves on our knees in prayer.

God knows us better than we know ourselves. We are never left on our own, with nothing to do, and all our appeals exhausted. Faced with anything from unemployment to lost car keys, there are avenues of prayer, communion, and comfort. We have the saints.

A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers. —St. Augustine, Against Faustus the Manichean

Communion of Saints fresco in the Baptistry (Padua) by Giusto de' Menabuoi

There is a patron saint for every situation, vocation, and occupation. Searching for a lost family heirloom? The cellphone your toddler absconded with? Call on St. Anthony. Leaky pipe? Call on Saint Vincent Ferrer, patron saint of plumbers. Everything from infertility to candle-making is covered. Not only is there a saint to petition, but they have often experienced just this thing.

When you perceive that God is chastening you, fly not to his enemies...but to his friends, the martyrs, the saints, and those who were pleasing to him, and who have great power in God—St. John Chrysostom, Orations 8:6 
Our prayer life is limitless because it is communal. We have the saints, whose prayers “ascended up before God from the hand of the angel” (Rev. 8:4). We have our brothers and sisters in Christ—more than willing to bear our burdens with us and storm heaven with prayer. And we are (quite literally) never left wringing our hands: there is the Rosary to hold and pray, our privileged recourse to the Virgin Mary.

As a Protestant, I objected to the idea that God was not “enough.” But it is with a fathers love that He provides such abundant aid, comfort, and help to His children. We are not left alone, but are encouraged to rely on one another, and to pray together, in communion, “Our Father who art in Heaven.”

Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that. —St. John Vianney

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