December 1, 2020

Praying To Saints

Martha of Ireland is without a doubt the smartest person I have ever conversed with, even if our conversations all occur through email. Knowing that she is 1) a faithful follower of Jesus, 2) a Catholic, and 3) not afraid to share her thoughts, I went to her with a topic that troubles many Protestants—and, to be honest, many Catholics as well: Praying to saints. A very controversial subject to be sure.

I had always heard from my Catholic friends that we Protestants have it all wrong.  We are not to “pray to saints,” but ask these saints to pray for us. I thought Martha would say, “Yes, that’s the way it is. Why can’t you people of the Reformation get it straight?” But as always, Martha has a few tricks up her sleeve.

This is a longer essay than we normally offer to you. Still, I had to leave out  much of what she wrote to make it fit here, but all that I edited is good stuff as well. Anyone else think that Martha should be working on her first book?  JD


Jeff has very kindly asked for my opinion on another matter, so without further ado, I am quite happy to plunge into the fray on a fraught topic.  I should warn you, I will probably drive you mad because I am going to be saying both “Yes” and “No” at the same time – not so much “Either/Or” as “Both/And.”  If you are expecting calmly reasoned exegesis of scriptural warranty for the practice, boy, do you have the wrong vampire!  This is going to be from the heart, not the head (ironic for me, since I generally approach my faith from the standpoint of convincing the intellect).  So this is personal reaction and my own views on the topic; if I blithely gambol through the flowery meads of heresy at any point, do not blame the Magisterium, which is the last word on the subject.  As always, if you are unsure about any point of dogma, doctrine, or discipline, check the Catechism.  Individual members of Holy Mother Church can have very weird opinions, but the Church herself is protected from error (she is not protected from making a darn fool of herself in various matters, but that is a question for another day).

And it is a very fraught topic indeed.

Yes, the strains of “bowing down to idols,” “worshipping Mary,” and my particular favorite, “praying to dead saints” have once again, like the voice of the turtle, been heard in the land.  And the usual reply, which I have seen from American Catholic convert apologists, goes something along the lines of “No, you’re mistaken.  Catholics do not worship Mary.  Catholics do not pray to saints.  What we do is ask the saints to pray for and with us, the same way you would ask a friend or your congregation at church to pray for you.”  And that is fine as far as it goes, and true, and I am not going to say they are wrong.

Except I am going to say they are wrong.

Not about the worshipping Mary bit – we don’t, and we’re not supposed to, and those who do treat Mary as on a par with the Trinity (or even worse, as Mark Shea points out, as another Pope) are in error and need to be gently corrected (or given a belt of the crosier, whichever is more effective).  But on the “praying to the saints” bit – sorry, my fellow-Catholics, but we do.  This is where the experience of converts lets them down; often, they are from some kind of Protestant background and come into the Church for various reasons, but they have not had the kind of cultural, immersed in it, folk religion experience.  And so when they – in perfect fidelity to the teaching of the Magisterium – trot out the line about “It’s just like asking your friend Jane or Pastor Bob to pray for you,” then they are right.  And they are wrong.  They are right, but it’s a thin rightness.  To steal a line from C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, “Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.”

Let me start off by addressing the qualms, uneasinesses and downright objections as expressed by members of the Western and Eastern traditions.  I’m not mocking them – have there been, are there continuing to be, and will there be in future, excesses, scandals, and abuses?  Yes, there have, there are and (human nature being what it is) there will be.  You are absolutely correct to point out the errors and pitfalls and the lived experience you have of where things went off the rails.  You were brought up in an atmosphere that now seems to you one of idolatry and superstition?  I’m not going to quibble with you or tell you that you were mistaken (though I would like to point out, in a spirit of gentleness, that going to the Church – East or West – for teaching might have helped you with the problem rather than relying on what, for want of a better term, is best summed up in the phrase “cultural Catholicism/Orthodoxy”).  You and I share this much in common: we’ve been there, we’ve imbibed this with our mother’s milk, and we know it from the inside in a way that outsiders, no matter how sympathetic or devout or fully cognizant of the Faith, just don’t have the background to appreciate.

To everyone else: if the subject of the veneration of the saints makes you uneasy, good!  It should do!  Because we are not dealing with a safe and tame subject here, a rational religion.  Other commenters have said how it seems to them that the whole Catholic thing with blood and bones is morbid or creepy, and of course, we cannot forget the Queen of Scary – Mary. Also, “dead” saints.  Very important about the “dead” part; leave it out and you lose the whole savor of necromancy and diabolism.  Combine “dead” and “Mary” and you get something like one of those urban legends as depicted in horror movies: “Stay away from pictures and whatever you do, don’t light any candles, or she’ll come and get you and drag you away!!!!”  The apologists put it in a nice, neat formulation, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.  It’s too bloody, too fleshy, and too earthy.  “I pray to St. Joseph” as being based on the old phraseology of “I pray you” as a variant of “I ask you” or “Please”?  Why, yes, that is so.  But we are not saying “Please” as you might ask your neighbor at table to pass the salt; we are suppliants craving favor and boons of the mighty and powerful at the court of the King.

So, yes, indeed, I agree: abuses?  Yes.  Superstition?  Yes.  Powers verging on the magical attributed to them?  Yes.  Anything you want to say about the Reformation and how necessary it was – all correct.  The most lurid denunciation any fire and brimstone preacher ever made of wonder-working icons and weeping statues – sure.  The plethora of local titles accorded to Our Lady, so that the Virgin of one locale is put in contention with the Virgin of another, to the point of absurdity – indeed.  Holy wells and standing stones (as we have in my country) being remnants of paganism, and glaring remnants at that – I cannot deny it.  Am I sometimes embarrassed by it, by the mawkishness, sentimentality, folk-religion verging on folk-magic, gaudy, tawdry, excessive messiness of it all?  Yes, I am.  The rational, reasonable side of my brain wants to tone it all down, and have a proper, seemly, correctly-based practice in accordance with the strictures of theology and with a biblical verse pinned on like a badge.  But that’s the part of my brain that is also inclined to go, “Yes, but how can you believe this whole God thing anyway?  Is it reasonable?  A personal deity who is watching the fall of a sparrow, in this ancient, vast universe?  Aren’t you ashamed as a lover of science to be so out-of-date?”

And that’s the part of my brain that hears an uncomfortable echo of “Could not this ointment have been sold at a great price, and the money given to the poor?” in the way I’m thinking and reacting to these sobbing, slobbering, running after signs and miracles people who sell their beads and make novenas and have sure-fire prayers that never fail, but contingent on being published (usually the one that begins “O most beauteous flower of Mount Carmel”) – all those people the latchet of whose sandals I am not fit to undo.  I knew already about my inner Pharisee; here I have discovered my inner Sadducee.

All that being said, I have to make one thing very clear: it is all real.  The faults may be real, but the saints are real too.  Their powers are real.  Real reality.  Because we should be able to do miracles – Christ said as much to the disciples when healing the boy possessed with a spirit, after coming down from the Mount of the Transfiguration.  “And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”  Is the Word speaking falsely here?  Is the Truth telling lies?  If we are to hold literally to the inspired and inerrant word, what do we do with this passage? Take the most extravagant promises of the most outrageous Pentecostal or Charismatic gathering with faith-healings, slayings in the Spirit, spiritual warfare against demons, prophecy, speaking in tongues and what you like: they’re perfectly correct!  We should be able to do miracles!  We are to be saints and nothing less!

Or, as the Eastern Orthodox tradition maintains (as this excerpt from an article by David Bentley Hart puts it):

“Theologically speaking, the proper destiny of human beings is to be “glorified” – or “divinized” – in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), to be called “gods” (Psalm 82:6; John 10:34-36).

This is the venerable doctrine of “theosis” or “deification,” the teaching that – to employ a lapidary formula of great antiquity – “God became man that man might become god”: that is to say, in assuming human nature in the incarnation, Christ opened the path to union with the divine nature for all persons.”

Whatever else you take away from what I am going on about here, there are two very important points I want to make in all seriousness and that I want you to consider with all gravity – so important that I nearly feel I should be typing in all capslock:

I.  We are to share in the life of God.  The doctrine of theosis explicates this, but moreover we have the words whereby we are told we are sons, not slaves; that we are temples of the Holy Ghost (and a temple is the dwelling of the god; therefore, we have God in-dwelling in us); that we will judge angels – much more than this, that when we are to pray, we are taught to say “Our Father” (not our Lord, our God, our Master, but our Father).  But not as in Buddhist enlightenment, attaining to Nirvana and being re-absorbed into the cosmic ocean of consciousness, losing all illusory individuality by sinking back into the Ultimate Reality beyond the snares of sense-knowledge.

We will be ourselves still, we will be ourselves even more than we are now in our earthly life, and we will put on our resurrected and glorified bodies, and dwell in the New Jerusalem come down to the New Earth, and we will be gods gazing on the Beatific Vision and never exhausting the glories of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

II.  Following on from this, flowing out of this, is that miracles are not magic.  They are not the manipulations of mana or a spiritual force or even, as some Hindu myths about demons have it, forcing the gods to grant boons and obtaining powers through the practice of austerities (e.g. the myth of the demon Mahisa who, after performing heroic austerities, was granted the boon that he would be invincible to all opponents except a woman or the demon who performed so many austerities that the god Brahma was forced to grant him the boon of immortality as a reward) or becoming in tune with the universal life-forces and focussing our wills to achieve our desires under the guise of invoking the Lady and the Horned God (who are archetypes but not ‘real’ gods).

All that the saints have, they have through God.  And they have this because their wills are in perfect conformity with the will of God.  They are made images of God.  They are mirrors, fountains, fires.  They are conduits of His power like completing an electrical circuit.  I have nothing better to give you than images, because I am speaking of what I feel, not what I know, but I know it is so and I recommend you to stop reading this and go get your hands on some kind of a version, any version, of the Paradiso, the culminating volume of the “Divine Comedy” by Dante, and let a poet tell you what prose cannot make clear. Why am I throwing chunks of poetry at you?  Because I think Dante addresses the fear that seems to me to underlie part of the disquiet about the veneration of saints.

Side-note: it is veneration, not worship.  Worship is for God alone.  Yes, I know it all sounds like hair-splitting, but then again, it’s hair-splitting to insist children know how to spell and use correctly “too/to/two” because it makes a big difference in meaning, no matter if they all sound the same.  What is that fear?  That we are taking from what is due to God; that we are denying God what is his; that in a sense we are even denying or replacing God with Mary and the saints.

I disagree, and on several grounds, but the one I’m going to emphasise here is that God may be jealous (he will have us and all of us and nothing kept back, as Lewis puts it) but he is not greedy.  What do the saints have, what do any of us have, that is not from and of God?  That is what Dante expresses in his similes of light and rain.  The saints have united their will with God’s will, so that their will is in him and his will is in them.  They are drinking full from the river of life and the fountain of living water so that, like the bowls of a fountain, they overflow and spill the water into the lower bowl that is filled in its turn from them.  They are the mirrors reflecting the light of God from above and the light of God in each other, shining back and forth, transmitting it and making the surroundings brighter by it.

It is literally impossible either to take away from or increase what God is and has.  Didn’t we all learn in Sunday School or Christian Doctrine class or at our mother’s/granny’s knee – we were created from love, not because God needed us or needed anything from us, but because He wished to have creatures to love?  When I was five years old and starting school, the first thing I ever learned from the nuns in catechism was this: “Question: Why were we made?  Answer: We were made to know, love and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”

Nothing of self, nothing of me, nothing of I am here by my own merit.  They make each other brighter by shining upon each other the love that descends upon them from above, that light and love which cannot be diminished or lessened no matter how many share in it or take it into and through themselves.  And just to tease you, what St. Bernard advises Dante to do – look upon Mary to prepare himself for gazing upon the Blessed Trinity:

…’Look now on the face that most resembles Christ,

for nothing but its brightness

can make you fit to look on Christ.’

Remember, there’s a double metaphor (or do I mean simile?) going on here: Mary’s face most resembles the face of Christ because He took flesh of her and so in His human aspect, He looks like her (well, duh, you’re all saying).  But she most resembles Christ not just because she is His mother, but because she is (for Catholics and Orthodox) without original sin, and mainly because she is so conformed to the will of God that it has transformed her to His image.

“Hold on there a moment, Martha,” you’re all doubtless saying.  “That’s all well and good, but come on: we’re not talking about the glory of God, we’re talking about invoking saints to get some benefit.  How can you justify that?  How can you say it works?”

Dante, bro, take it away:

‘Regnum celorum suffers violence

from fervent love and living hope.

These conquer the very will of God,

‘not as man may master man, but conquer it

because it would be conquered, and,

once conquered, itself conquers by its goodness.

Oh, okay, you want me to explain it and not fob it off on a better man?  Okay, you’ve had the pearls, here comes the swine!

For starters, I’m not going to get into the “treasury of merits” and so on and so forth.  You want that, Google is your friend and there are tons of apologetics sites out there just waiting for your custom.  So, let’s take a step back and let me ask you something.

What is it with all this “dead saints” stuff?

Seriously, what?  My immediate reaction to “Romans praying to dead saints and Mary who is dead” is “Mary isn’t dead!”  That’s from the gut, but on mature reflection (all ten seconds of it), haven’t we just celebrated the feast of Easter?  Are we not in Eastertide even as I type?  Did we not have the beginnings of a lively discussion on crucifix versus cross and being a Resurrection people?  All that being said, why on earth should you talk about the faithful who fell asleep in Christ being dead?

Death is different now, don’t you remember?  Christ has defeated death.  From now on, we no longer have the Graeco-Roman and Babylonian miserable underworld of thin, bat-voiced shades who scrabble in the dust and are pathetic remnants; we do not go down to Sheol and all our deeds and all our good name dies with us; we are ransomed, restored; we have died with Christ in baptism and we will rise with Him.

So explain to me how an eternally assured and properly saved saint in this life upon whose heart God lays words of counsel and bidding and who is Spirit-filled and mighty in prayer to strive and save suddenly loses all that once his or her soul leaves the body and goes to be with our God and King?  In the flesh, while still in your mortal life, and still suffering the ills and weaknesses of mortality, you were heir to all the promises of Scripture, but now, being in the living presence of God makes you weaker?

I don’t get it, I truly don’t.  The Communion of Saints is a family; all our forerunners in the Faith who went before us and who are part of that cloud of witnesses.  How can they, who are aware and awake and seeing clearly, be worse off than we here on earth?  I know we see the tendency to end up in the Scylla of near-Gnosticism, where only the spiritual has any merit and life on earth is downgraded and dismissed, but I don’t see we correct that by veering off to the Charybdis of ‘only in the body can we do anything and the soul is a dream.’

So – the Church Triumphant in Heaven, the Church Militant on Earth, and the Church Suffering in Purgatory, all making up the Communion of Saints, all helping and loving one another.  We see this most in the interactions of the Holy Souls in Purgatory and us on earth, as we pray for one another (never forgetting that the souls in Purgatory are already the saved, not getting a ‘second chance’ at salvation after death), but though we can do nothing for those in Heaven, they still remember us and help us.

Even in stupid things like “St. Anthony, find my glasses/car keys/wallet.”  Even though they have more important things to do (like worship God), they don’t forget us.  That’s the two halves, as far as I can make out, of the objection to the veneration of saints: first, that they’re dead, parted from their bodies (and so powerless) and second, that they have turned their back on earth and its affairs (because they’ve put all that off with the flesh).  The twin poles of “too much emphasis on this world” and “too much emphasis on the spirit over the flesh.”  The balance lies in the middle way between these two extremes.

Why should a soul in glory that is brighter than the sun and radiant with bliss care tuppence about someone’s lost glasses or getting a job or selling their house or protect me from thunderstorms?  Because no deed is too small for love. Because God watches the fall of a sparrow.  Because He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.  Because they’ve been in our shoes and if they could do it, there’s hope for you.

“Okay, stall the digger there, girl”, you are all rightly saying. “Nice, warm and fuzzy imagery there.  We’re all one big family and we pray for one another.  Nothing wrong with that, perfectly innocuous, but that’s not what we mean.  Parading around mummified corpses, bones, vials of blood, bits of cloth?  What’s up with that?”

Let me say, I completely sympathise.  Take a place like the Capuchin Crypt in Rome or the Sedlec Ossuary: it looks and sounds like something out of Ray Bradbury’s famous story about the mummies of Guanajuato which is indeed weird and creepy and very scary.  But strangely, they’re not.  They’re odd places, but somehow the pictures (I’ve never seen them in real life and would doubtless be too chicken to do so) are somehow comforting in a strange way.  Yes, they’re skeletons and the wizened corpses of monks, but they’re beyond the terror of death.  They are our latter end, but their souls are alive, and praying for us (and asking our prayers) and we all of us look forward to the resurrection.

As to what virtues are in dried-up bones, that anyone should think they could be any help:

“And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.”

If I can accept that this is true, I can’t turn around and say that the finding of the True Cross is only a myth because they used the test of healing to find out was it the right one:

“But the wise and holy Macarius, the president of the city, resolved this question in the following manner. He caused a lady of rank, who had been long suffering from disease, to be touched by each of the crosses, with earnest prayer, and thus discerned the virtue residing in that of the Saviour. For the instant this cross was brought near the lady, it expelled the sore disease, and made her whole.”

I can doubt this ever occurred, but I have no warrant to believe one miracle and disbelieve the other because of lesser credibility.

“Fine, fine, but why not go to God in the first place?  We need no mediator other than Jesus!” you tell me.  And you’re right, we don’t.

On the other hand…

… At the Wedding Feast of Cana, Jesus did not refuse the couple because “Hey, you should have asked me first, but because you went to my mother instead and got her to ask me, sorry, I’m not doing anything for you!”  He did not rebuke the cripple at the Pool of Bethesda for looking for a cure from an angel instead of asking God outright (or even “Son of David, have pity on me”, as the blind man did); He healed the man.

As to “bowing down to idols”:

“In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing. And he said unto him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way.”

But that’s going too far afield.  You don’t have to venerate saints.  You don’t have to ask their intercession.  But there is one thing I would ask you to consider: the Calendar of Saints.  Whether you go by the traditional or the revised one, there’s a saint for every day.  Think about them – find out who’s feast is when.  What can they say for you?  Maybe they’re too weird or too obscure or too foreign to your situation.  But maybe someone struggling with a bad temper will find encouragement in contemplating St. Jerome (if a curmudgeon like him could do it, anyone can!)

That’s the great thing, in the end: there’s a saint for everything.  You’re young, you’re old, you’re rich, you’re poor, you’re smart, you’re thick as a brick, you’re male, you’re female,  you’re married, you’re single?  There’s someone out there for you!  Someone who walked in your shoes: unhappy marriage?  Fellow-workers have it in for you?  Sickness and poverty?  You’re a giant intellect – meet our scholar saints!  You can just about spell “cat” – here’s St. Joseph of Cupertino, turned down by several religious orders because he was too intellectually challenged!

Whether it’s someone like the martyrs of the Early Church who we remember in the Canon of the Mass (Ss Perpetua and Felicity, for example) or someone from the 20th century, all through the centuries they’ve been there; suffered, struggled, and conquered.  And are still here for us and with us – not gone, not snuffed out, but gone ahead, pointing out the way and giving us a helping hand.

The one thing I like about the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (a modern architecture style cathedral I’ve moaned about before) are the tapestries depicting a selection of the Communion of Saints:

To take one section picked at random from the North Gallery, we’ve got:

John Baptist de la Salle – 17th century French

Paul Chong Hasang – 19th century Korean martyr

Moses the Ethiopian – 4th century Egyptian

Kateri Tekakwitha – 17th century Mohawk-Algonquin American

Thomas More – 16th century English

Or, from the South Gallery, we have:

Philip – one of the Twelve Apostles, 1st century Galilean

John Bosco – 19th century Italian

Mary of Jesus Crucified – 19th century Galilean and so obscure I never heard of her before

Francis de Sales – 17th century French

Philomena – 4th century Greek martyr (allegedly; there is controversy over whether she even existed)

And yes, that last is a sample of the messiness and irregularity and over-enthusiastic cultus that grows up around even the hint of a martyr’s tomb.  You know what?  I don’t care.  I actually like being a member of a Church that includes a companion of Christ and a teenager who might not even be who we think she is together, and treats them the same.  It’s scandalous, it’s shocking, it’s irreverent, and it doesn’t matter, because the greatest scandal of all is the Incarnation and the Crucifixion and the very notion of a God who numbers the hair of our heads and creates quasars at the same time.




  1. Martha:

    Wonderful! Please come again!

    You certainly give a lot to contemplate; but I appreciate your comment on the calendar. I have found the church calendar useful for that very reason.

    My favorite saint is still Saint Jude: the patron saint of loss causes. I used to carry a Saint Jude coin in my wallet, but I lost it.

  2. Martin Romero says

    Very interesting read, especially for someone coming from a background where there was quite a bit of anti-Roman-Catholic talk (and anti-other-churches-that-are-not-us as well). Thank you very much for the effort.

    I have visited twice the Sedlec ossuary, in the Czech Republic. Although it is sort of weird and macabre, I found it truly fascinating… It must take a lot of work and imagination piling up the bones of more than 40,000 bodies in different arrangements!

  3. Thank you Martha for writing this wonderful article, I believe will rethink my views on the Saints after reading this article.


  4. Martha, that was beyond amazing! I am a Baptist to Catholic convert who still teaches Sunday school at her Baptist church (long story!) and having been on the receiving end of so much aggro from both sides of the wall – it is so refreshing to read a balanced view.

    Thank you 🙂

    • Wow, I think that’s a long story I’d like to hear one day.

    • Susan,

      Sounds like you have an interesting journey. I, too, am a former Baptist, and have experienced some of the negative from them.

      I’ll bring cookies to the party. GRIN

  5. That was a very fun and enlightening read, Martha! I particularly like your descriptions of the departed saints as, “They are the mirrors reflecting the light of God from above and the light of God in each other, shining back and forth, transmitting it and making the surroundings brighter by it.” Beautiful!

    And it’s great to know that we both learned the very same thing about God as little girls, “Question: Why were we made? Answer: We were made to know, love and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”

    Growing up, I did use the prayer/poem to St. Anthony when I lost things: “Good St. Anthony, come around. Something’s lost and can’t be found. I’ve looked here and I’ve looked there. I’ve looked just about everywhere.” The thing is, it was usually my mom who did the finding. She was amazing that way! 🙂 In general, though, there didn’t seem to be a lot of focusing on praying to saints when I grew up, or if there was, I missed it (which is very possible.) Lately, though, I have prayed that God will send me help from saints, angels or anything or anyone else that God knows will help. God knows what is best for me; I SURELY don’t. (But I still focus my prayer life on Jesus. He’s the Man! He’s the God!)

    • That question from the catechism bears striking resemblance to one from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Question: What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
      Is it just me, or are Catholics and Calvinists saying the same thing here?

  6. You made the start of my day. In my Lutheran bible study this week, the subject of Roman Catholicism came up, and the first thing said was “Catholics are OK, but I refuse to pray to Mary”. This article gave me a glimpse of the beauty and mystery of a historical, orthodox religion. I have been looking for something to study for a year or two, I believe this is it.

    • Allen, you may tell your friend I am in complete sympathy. I, too, avoid praying to Mary all I can – I’m one of the few Catholics that don’t have that much a Marian devotion (yes, there are some of us). I’m out of luck so with the last two Popes – Blessed John Paul II had great devotion to Our Lady and our current Pope seems, in a quieter way, to have just as strong one.

      But I hated, as a child, being dragged to novenas and rosaries and praying before the Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima. So although I do say the Angelus (and in this season, the Regina Coeli), I am not so hot on the rosary. It is perfectly possible to be Catholic and dodge all the ‘Mary stuff’ (except for the two dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, which I do not have any difficulty with).

      We do tend to treat her as nearly a godess, in our worst excesses, but even there – it’s an excess of love, and I know that I am deficient in my coolness there. I do feel the lack, but as I said, I approach my faith from the head not the heart.

      As I get older, I think I’m easing up and beginning to appreciate Our Lady more, and one thing to tell your friend – no, never pray TO Mary as a replacement for the Trinity, but try praying WITH her and ask her to pray for you, and you never know where that may lead.

      Maybe it will lead to praying to Mary instead of praying TO Mary, if the distinction is not too subtle – I tried to make the point in my post above, but I’m not sure if I managed to explain it: it really is one of those questions where it’s so hard to describe precisely because it’s so ever-present, as Chesterton puts it in another context:

      “Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, “Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?” he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, “Why, there is that bookcase… and the coals in the coal-scuttle… and pianos… and policemen.” The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.”


      • I, too, avoid praying to Mary all I can – I’m one of the few Catholics that don’t have that much a Marian devotion (yes, there are some of us)…

        But I hated, as a child, being dragged to novenas and rosaries and praying before the Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima. So although I do say the Angelus (and in this season, the Regina Coeli), I am not so hot on the rosary. It is perfectly possible to be Catholic and dodge all the ‘Mary stuff’ (except for the two dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, which I do not have any difficulty with).

        wow. amazing personal application/experience. i was never one for Marian devotion. and although i prayed literally hundreds of rosaries, the practice did not elicit greater religious appreciation. and the Virgin of Fatima! try growing up in a Portuguese family (maternal side)! talk about pressure!

        my favorite saint? St. Joseph of course. no brainer there…

        i still refer to March 19th my feast day when talking to my Evangelical brethren. it makes for some interesting convo…

        interestingly enough though, i do carry on ‘prayerful’ conversations with my deceased mother. i don’t think twice about its theological implications. simply a loving gesture to let her know she is missed & to help with the welcome home arrangements for our eventual reunion. and hopefully she will have a batch of Portuguese beans cooking with some sopas…amen to that! 🙂

    • I found the book Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate (available on amazon) to be a good, respectful discussion of the various aspects of the issue and it helped me as a Protestant at least understand the Catholic view as not being the “evil” I was once taught it was—also helped me see that in some areas, I think the Catholic view is better.

      Also, I think it’s in Timothy Ware’s book The Orthodox Church that there’s a section where he talks, as Martha did, about theosis and the idea that venerating saints and relics ultimately is venerating Christ since we are becoming the body of Christ—in a more literal way than Protestants typically think of it.

  7. Thank you, Martha. It is hard for me to place myself in your shoes, ie, a Catholic in a land of Catholics, where that frame of reference is known to one and all. The closest I have ever come is a three year sojurn to Bavaria, where roadside shrines and 900 year old churches are are every 10 kilometers or so.

    Here in America, Catholics stayed bunched together in our own neighborhoods and schools until about the time of Vatican II, when those who could afford to left the big cities for the suburbs. Suddenly, our neighbors didn’t understand the Marian statue in the front garden, why we NEVER went to church on Wednesdays, and why the Catholic kids were NOT allowed to go to Vacation Bible School over at First Baptist!

    I attended a Catholic college, and was well into married adulthood before I realized how misunderstood and/or reviled the Church really was, and it hurt and saddened me. My feeble attempts at explanation didn’t help much, so I just hushed up, like a gay person, still not “out”, who smiles along with the gay jokes and slurs.

    Only in the last few years, thanks to the internet, have I been able to learn about other faith expressions and see the good and bad theology and practice in them. I hope you lovely piece speaks to others who are willing to learn about the Catholic faith, not to be converted but to understand, even in disagreement. And yes, St. Patrick gets a workout at my house, thanks to my name and Irish roots. Jesus is God and man…the saints are only mere humans who somehow learned to align their wills and hearts with His… I pray with them, asking this sinful and selfish mortal to see the light more clearly and act on it.

    • Thank you, Pattie. It’s equally hard for me to put myself into the shoes of someone who hasn’t had that experiece; to me, it seems as if they are picturing us – when we are lighting a candle and saying a prayer before a statue – as performing mysterious rituals with great gravity and occult significance, whereas to us it’s more in the nature of changing a lightbulb or, I dunno, filling in a tax form (if we’re really desperate).

      That is, it’s done in a very matter-of-fact mindset, not an exalted (or degraded) mystical one.


    • Josh in FW says

      Pattie, As someone whose family is Southern Baptist as far back as anyone can remember in the families of 3 of my 4 grandparents I would like to apologize and ask forgivenes on behalf of Southern Baptists. I’m sorry. I did not realized how harsh some of my fellow Baptists could be until my years at Baylor.

  8. Thank you, Martha, for this well-written and well-thought-out piece. Truly, though, you leave me, a Protestant, between Scylla and Charybdis, between the devil and the deep blue sea, between what in my part of the world is called a rock and a hard place. Regarding Catholicism’s interesting beliefs, you seem to be saying “I know what I know because of the Church, but I cannot endorse some things done by and in the name of the Church.” At least you didn’t check your brains at the door, which tendency is often assumed (wrongly) in both Catholic and Protestant circles, to be faith.

    Christ is my Rock. Praying to or with or (verb of choice) saints is my hard place.

    But not as hard as calling Mary the Queen of Heaven in light of (or even in spite of) Jeremiah 44.

    • Bob, I do recognise your qualms, and I can sympathise.

      But for those who like to quote the admonitions about the Queen of Heaven, and making the identification Mary = Astarte, therefore Catholics are reverting to paganism, I would just point out that for comparative religion and even non-believers, they also make the equation images of Mary and Jesus = statues of Isis and Horus, therefore the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is just a copy of the older goddess and child (never mind that Isis was not a virgin mother).

      In other words, they go the one step further and say “It’s all the same; Mary is a mother goddess in the vein of Isis or Gaia or Cybele” and they do not recognise any reason why Christianity should be different: all religions are equally true (or false). Why should I believe your mother goddess over the others? Why should I believe your god-man is true over the other sons of the gods who are false?

      Bob, as to endorsing some things said and done in the name of the Church – I would imagine you would not endorse the sale of blessed prayer cloths and “The Holy Spirit told me that you must all make donations now for the work!” done by some Protestant evangelists, without this meaning (1) you take their actions as being representative of the correct teaching of the Church and (2) by disagreeing with this, you disavow everything to do with the Church?

      I mean, I don’t know if you agree or not with the Baptist prohibition on alcohol, but that would not be a sticking-point for you to judge if the rest of Baptist doctrine was good or not? (For my part: alcohol – not a deal-breaker; postion on baptism – that’s a difficulty).


  9. Not verb. Preposition.

  10. Wonderfully well-thought out and written, Miss Martha. As death has lost its sting, we are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, not just the folk we can see. As an Anglican, why would I find it acceptable to participate in common prayer with those I can see, but be so vain as to believe it’s impossible to unite in prayer with those I can’t see?

    My new favorite quote….

    “Death is different now, don’t you remember? Christ has defeated death. From now on, we no longer have the Graeco-Roman and Babylonian miserable underworld of thin, bat-voiced shades who scrabble in the dust and are pathetic remnants; we do not go down to Sheol and all our deeds and all our good name dies with us; we are ransomed, restored; we have died with Christ in baptism and we will rise with Him.”

    • I know – this quote is frameworthy!

      • Well, thank you. That one is purely down to the Holy Ghost – I certainly can’t take the credit for any virtue there; it’s all down to the discussion we had about Easter and empty crosses and the like!

  11. Jeff, thank you very much for your all too kind words. Everyone, Jeff deserves the credit for knocking this heap of random ramblings into shape, and the illustrations he chose are gorgeous.

    Alas, Catholic I may be, and all too willing to opinionate at the drop of a hat I am indeed, but a follower of Jesus? Too much like the wealthy young man who had lived by the rules up to then, but didn’t really like the idea of “Give everything up? Everything? I can’t keep just this one thing? Why can’t I go on as I did before – isn’t that enough?”

    Very much in need of the prayers of our forebears in Heaven and all you, my brothers and sisters, here on earth.

  12. Martha, your words are a delight! I second Jeff’s suggestion that you get cracking on a book.

    As you point out, our religion is complex, messy, mysterious and glorious, and it’s God who designed it that way. We are commanded to pray for one another, because (among other things) it binds us together in faith and worship of God. That vast cloud of witnesses cheering us on can’t finish it for us, but they can petition our Lord on our behalf.

    Jesus Christ works his power through his Body – us, both here on earth and those who have passed through the veil. We can’t say that as a hand, we don’t need a foot, or as an eye, we don’t need the ear. We are knitted together through Him over time and space through all eternity. When I became a Catholic , this truth of the communion of saints was one of the most profound realities of the faith that fed – and continues to feed – my soul.

  13. I haven’t enjoyed such an exhilarating romp through theology since the last Lewis and Chesterton books I read. Thank you, Martha, for facing the messiness and mystery straight-on and not just addressing intellectual assent or disagreement. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I haven’t enjoyed such an exhilarating romp through theology since the last Lewis and Chesterton books I read.

      — Aslan of Narnia, Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle

  14. This is really fodder for another post (and no, this is not me pushing myself forward to coax you all to demand that I write it) – the topic of Mary.

    Bob Brague has, very courteously, raised the idea that most Protestants have a problem with – Mary, and her position in the economy of salvation.

    Very, very fast off the top of my head reaction – the whole Queen of Heaven thing. No, Mary is not Astarte or Juno or Hera. Her title is by virtue of being the mother of the Son, not the spouse of the Father – and if you want the crazy on that topic, check this article out:

    (1) The early Church, like all the societies around it, was accustomed to thinking in terms of kings, queens and monarchical rule. It’s only in the last two hundred years that elections and democratic republics have been founded, so you must forgive a certain lag in cultural attitudes. After all, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, not Christ the President.
    (2) Mary is not Asherah, spouse of Yahweh. Mary is not the shakti of the Trinity. Mary is not involved in some kind of lesbian relationship with the Holy Spirit. Yes, weird theories, I’ve read ’em.
    (3) Think of it as a courtesy title – like the President and the First Lady in your country. Why is the President’s wife afforded this distinction? She did nothing to earn it, it is totally dependent on her husband’s position, she is unelected and not in office herself.

    • Martha,

      Your #3 gets to the heart of Mary’s position. Her most important job, if you will, was to give birth to the Messiah Jesus, the Son of God. I always like to think that God chose her, not only because she was a virgin who loved God with all her heart, but because he saw attributes in her that we will never know of (this side of heaven).

    • Martha wrote, “After all, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, not Christ the President.”

      Good point, Martha. And “Christ the President” just does not have the same ring to it, does it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Martha wrote, “After all, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, not Christ the President.”

        Which two-three years ago fell on the same Sunday as Grinning Ed Young’s Seven Day Sex Challenge Megachurch sermon. (I still can’t get over the contrast & counterpoint between the two same-day events…)

        • Only seven days?

          *ducks and runs*

          Nah, if it comes to it, I’ll back St. Catherine’s mystical ecstasy (especially as depicted by Bernini) to beat any Megachurch raunchiness any day of the week – three falls, no submission.

          • Argh. Wrong mystical ecstasy – St. Teresa of Avila, I meant.

            (Don’t want to get caught between a Spaniard and an Italian in a turf-war) 😉

    • Some random thoughts:

      I believe God is neither male nor female but totally “other” — unless God incorporates both male and female in a way totally foreign to human beings’ ability to understand, but God was able to say that both male human beings and female human beings were created “in Our image”….It is only in recent years that I have read and heard it said that the Holy Spirit is the female part of the Trinity, but from the beginning (my beginning, I mean, 70 years ago) it was not so. This is probably what led to your comment, Martha, about Mary not being involved in some kind of lesbian relationship with the Holy Spirit, which strikes me as downright ludicrous if that’s what people believe. The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary at the Incarnation, but to wind up pregnant from what would have been essentially a lesbian relationship is truly bizarre.

      Your #3 proposition, which Katie says “gets to the heart of Mary’s position,” actually reverses your earlier statement that Mary is Queen of Heaven because she is mother of the Son, not the wife of the Father, by your comparison with the President and the First Lady (his wife, the last time I looked). Not a good example to prove your point.

      This is a very interesting discussion.

      • True, but I was taking the First Lady as an example of honour paid to a woman that is purely reliant on her relationship to another, not as deserved or earned by herself.

        If it seems good to the American people to pay civility to the wife and family of their First Citizen, then the family of the Lord are due no less?

      • Oh, and yes, the representing of the Holy Spirit as the ‘missing’ female element of the Trinity is exactly what I meant.

        I think it’s a conflation between Wisdom (represented as a daughter of God in the Old Testament), Sophia, and one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit being wisdom, which has been turned into Sophia = Holy Spirit, and inclusive theology having a field day thereafter.

        Whereas we more old-fashioned generations learned that God is neither male nor female, God is spirit, and being made in the image and likeness of God applies to women equally as to men, and is not anthropomorphisation.

    • Beyond that, the Mother of the King had a very significant position in Judah’s monarchy, a greater position than in western feudal monarchies. Bathsheba as David’s wife was something like a modern first lady, but Bathsheba as Solomon’s mother – 2nd most powerful person in the kingdom! A king could have many wives, but only one mother. The king’s mother had such practical ruling power that several are decried by the prophets for intiating building projects of idols or bringing the country into ruin in some other major way.

      Once a king was dead, his mother went back to have no power, but as Jesus rose and rules forever, that gives Mary a very secure position.

  15. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    I knew already about my inner Pharisee; here I have discovered my inner Sadducee.

    Ouch. This one seriously hit home for me. Martha, now you’re meddling! 😉

    • That one articulated something that I’ve been thinking about myself for a while. In rejecting the craziness found in what Michael Spencer called the evangelical circus, I realized I was losing something in the process. It’s one thing to say that Benny Hinn’s full of it, and that his “miracles” are lies, but how much of that is a rejection of Benny Hinn, and how much is a rejection of the miraculous? In rejecting the goofiness of the prosperity gospel (claim that car in the name of Jayyyyzus!), am I failing to bring all of my concerns to the throne because they’re petty or worldly, or because I think that particular need is “too small for love,” as Martha says? I mean, I’m not going to tell God to give me that Porsche right now, but reliable transport is necessary for me to go to work and earn money to pay off those student loans. Not to mention things like food.

      Where does discernment end and cynicism begin?

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        Yep, that’s my question exactly, Michael. It’s kinda funny; I’m totally, totally, NOT charismatic in my expression of the faith. But, God’s led me to a parish that definitely leans that way and is under a bishop who’s unquestioningly charismatic. I don’t expect to see myself becoming a regular tongue-talker or anything, but I do think God’s using this to weed out some of the Sadducee in me.

        • “Give us this day our daily bread”.

          There’s been a lot of theological exegesis on what this means, and I’m certainly not going to argue with the wise about the “supersubstantial bread”, but one meaning at least is “our daily necessities”.

          If we can tie in the manna in the desert with the Eucharist, then we can certainly tie in “our daily bread” with what we need. If you need reliable transport to get to your job to earn the money to buy your bread, then pray for that intention! If you need a job, or food, or help, pray for that!

          As the Catechism puts it:

          2830 “Our bread”: The Father who gives us life cannot not but give us the nourishment life requires – all appropriate goods and blessings, both material and spiritual. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists on the filial trust that cooperates with our Father’s providence. He is not inviting us to idleness, but wants to relieve us from nagging worry and preoccupation. Such is the filial surrender of the children of God:

          To those who seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, he has promised to give all else besides. Since everything indeed belongs to God, he who possesses God wants for nothing, if he himself is not found wanting before God.

          Oh, and if you’re interested, the patron saints of motorists/automobile drivers are:

          • Christopher (as part of the general patronage of travellers, I suppose)
          • Elijah the Prophet (the fiery chariot, I’m guessing?)
          • Frances of Rome (” Frances certainly never drove, but legend says that when she went abroad at night, her guardian angel went before her, lighting the road with a headlight-like lantern, keeping her safe in her travels.” Besides, she was a nun, and have you seen the way nuns drive? Someone has to be looking out for them!)
          • Sebastian of Aparicio (“Spent 10 years building a 466 mile road from Mexico City to Zacatecas, and conducting the postal and delivery service along the route; the road is still in use today.” Obviously, from roads to those who use the roads is a small step).

          See what I mean? There’s a saint for everything! 🙂

          Actually, I think you might be interested in St. Sebastian of Aparicio, from his little bio on the saints website:

          “16th century. Born of Spanish peasants. Shepherd as a child, and a hired field hand as a young man, helping to support his family. Gentleman’s valet at Salamanca. He travelled to Puebla, Mexico at age 31 where he built plows and wagons, and worked as a farm hand. Spent 10 years building a 466 mile road from Mexico City to Zacatecas, and conducting the postal and delivery service along the route; the road is still in use today.

          Sebastian eventually became very wealthy, but lived simply, and gave freely of his money to the poor. He was married twice, the first time at age 60, but he never consummated the marriages, and outlived both brides. He gave away his wealth and became a Franciscan at age 72, spending his remaining 25 years begging alms for his brother Franciscans. Witnesses attest to over 300 miracles he performed in life.”

          Um – I didn’t mean the non-consummated marriages part, more the hard-working peasant who became wealthy but helped others part 🙂

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Um – I didn’t mean the non-consummated marriages part…

            Each faith tradition has its own weirdnesses regarding sex. I’ve concluded that Christians (of whatever stripe) are just as messed-up sexually as everyone else, just they show it in a different direction.

  16. Martha, you touched a little bit on the fact that Christians who die now aren’t trapped in Sheol but have the way to heaven opened to them. To me, that was one of the most important themes of the early church—the saints are now *IN* heaven. Churches were adorned with images of saints on the ceiling looking down at the congregation, reminding them of their own glorious future. That idea is one reason why I think praying to the saints at least had some self-consistent basis since prayers ascend to heaven—the saints are there, therefore, they can hear our prayers. Along these lines, then, one thing that bothers me about the concept of purgatory (which you briefly mentioned) is that it seems to take away that glorious hope of the early church that Christians could look forward to being in heaven right along with all those saints looking down from the ceiling. I know one can say that they’ll get there eventually, but it seems very much to contradict the spirit of early church writings on the subject. I’m just curious if you’ve come across that particular “objection” to purgatory and whether you had any perspective on it. Thanks for a very good article.

    • Oh, Purgatory is a whole other topic, but I just have to interject here that I don’t see it as taking away hope.

      Probably too much the other way, since us slackers generally go on the “Ah sure, I may just scrape into Purgatory anyway!” attitude, and that’s not good enough. We are meant to be saints, not stragglers!

      Though the Holy Souls in Purgatory are saints – they are the saved, as much as in Heaven, just purging the dross of earthly life that they did not sufficiently free themselves of here below. After all, we can’t all be martyrs and confessors, but we can be ordinary living-in-the-world folk.

      I’d recommend (here it comes) a good translation of Dante for this. Forget the Inferno, which everyone knows (or thinks they do); it’s in a sense the least important part of the work. 2/3rds are to do with the saved, the Purgatorio and the Paradiso. Personally, I find the Purgatorio very helpful, the way “The Screwtape Letters” are helpful – just when I’ve finished congratulating myself on “That’s not my sin”, along comes a whack between the eyes with pertinent advice about what is one of my pet vices.

      • The reason I was asking is that if I were to pray to saints for help about something, it would make more sense to me if it was someone I personally knew. I would pray to my devout grandmother, now passed on, or someone else like that who knew me and vice versa. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but why should someone like St Jude or St Anthony know anything about or be involved with anything having to do with me? My grandmother knew and loved me and vice versa and would be a sensible person to pray to (if I were to do such a thing). Correct me if I’m wrong, but if someone is in purgatory, we would not pray to them, is that right? That’s the reason I was asking—-it would make sense to me to pray to a grandmother, but if I believe she’s in purgatory rather than heaven, I can’t pray to her. For me this is all theoretical, but it’s an honest question. I really like the fact that we can discuss this issue here in a friendly way. thanks

        • “(W)hy should someone like St Jude or St Anthony know anything about or be involved with anything having to do with me?”

          Oh, JeffB, I’m so glad you asked that! That’s the whole point and kernel of the thing – love. They love us, as their brothers and sisters in the faith. No, they don’t ‘know’ us like a family member in time, but they are in eternity, and they know us as God knows us and reveals that knowledge to them. I don’t ‘know’ my grandfather, who died when I was only two, but I certainly don’t feel any less sense of kinship to him for that.

          Yes, they’re long preceded us, but they will be there waiting to greet us into the joys of Paradise (God willing). We’re family now, we’re all part of the one body, the Body of Christ.

        • Oh, and your granny in Purgatory – you can pray for her and you can ask for her prayers for you. It’s a mutuality of help all through God’s abundant grace.

          I don’t know who thought up this little story and I can’t remember where I read it first, but it goes something like this:

          A man died and was shown the afterlife. First, he was shown Hell. It was a beautiful room filled with men and women sitting around a table set with a banquet. Everyone had a long spoon, but it was too long to easily reach their mouth. They were trying and failing to feed themselves, and there was shouting and fighting and anger and misery.

          Then the man was shown Heaven. It was exactly the same as Hell: same beautiful room, filled with men and women seated around the same table, with the same banquet, and the same long spoons. But there was peace and joy and laughter – because the spoons were too long to feed yourself, but the perfect length to feed your neighbour.

          So – we pray for them, they pray for us. We feed one another 🙂

        • Jeff,

          When I was still a Baptist, and the only Catholicism that I was aware of was that of my father and aunt, I prayed to my stepgrandmother. I knew that she was a good Christian, and dead, so it just made instinctive sense to ask her help because I wasn’t getting this prayer answered quickly. I even remember on what road I was on.

          Did it help? I did get more satisfied with the answer of, “I’m not going to answer it right now.” I wasn’t ready for the real answer, then. (Which by the way I have received)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Purgatory does resolve a logical dilemma:

        Two people, one who “gets saved” early on and lives a righteous life; the other, a deathbed conversion after a life and career like, say, Adolf Hitler. They’re both Saved, but the second brings a LOT more baggage into the equation. Baggage which doesn’t exactly fit with God’s presence. Purgatory means the second has to take care of that bigger load of baggage; yes, he’s still Saved (TM), but he has some work to do clearing out the baggage and making amends for the damage before he gets out of the initial reception room.

        • ‘Tis well the man is in his grave this seven hundred years, because I would owe him so much in copyrigth fees otherwise. Yes, more Dante – from the First Terrace of Purgatory, where the Proud purge themselves.

          The souls are praying the “Our Father” and this is the part “Lead us not into tempation, but deliver us from every evil” (as Dante paraphrases it). The point being, the saved souls pray this not for themselves (they are beyond temptation now and cannot be lost) but for those on earth who are still struggling. And, as Dante says, if they pray for us and think of us, should we not do as much for them?

          “‘Do not put to proof our powers,
          which yield so lightly to the ancient foe,
          but deliver us from him who tempts them.

          ‘This last petition, our dear Lord, is made
          now not for ourselves–for us there is no need–
          but for the ones whom we have left behind.’

          Thus praying for safe haven for themselves and us,
          those shades trudged on beneath their burden,
          the kind that sometimes weighs us down in dreams,

          as they, unequally distressed,
          plodded their weary round on that first ledge,
          purging away the darkness of the world.

          If good is always said of us up there,
          what can be said and done for them on earth
          by those whose wills have roots in good?

          Surely we should help them wash away the stains
          they carried with them, so that pure and light
          they may approach the star-hung spheres.”

        • HUG what you described is only a logical dilema if one can’t grasp that nothign we do merits our acceptance by God, it is completely Jesus’s atoning sacrifice

      • You mean shooting to be a “C” student and sit in the back row of Puragtory tossing spitballs is WRONG???? 🙂

    • JeffB, I can’t remember if if was Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI who made a comment on purgatory being something that may happen in the blink of an eye. I know in the past we were taught that people may be there for a long time and that we should send up prayers to help them to “get out.” It may not be an official teaching, but I do think the Pope may wish to think of purgatory as a final “happening” that Christians experience upon death before they come into the full comprehension/experience of the Spirit of God.

      OK, I just did an internet search and on 1-12-11, Pope Benedict was speaking about “Saint: Catherine of Genoa, known above all for her vision of purgatory.” He said, “Catherine, however, did not see purgatory as a scene in the bowels of the earth: for her it is not an exterior but rather an interior fire. This is purgatory: an inner fire.” I can’t give you the URL for the entire talk he gave, but it’s on the Vatican website.

      • thanks JoanieD, I have heard that. I’ll have to look up the references you were mentioning…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “Catherine, however, did not see purgatory as a scene in the bowels of the earth: for her it is not an exterior but rather an interior fire. This is purgatory: an inner fire.”

        I’ve heard Evangelicals talk about something called a “Bema Judgment” for the Saved, and about the chaff being burned off by this Bema Judgment; maybe they were talking Purgatory without admitting to it?

      • I, of no special knowledge or intellect, see Purgatory as that flash of deep pain when we SEE the gulf between what God intended our lives to be and what we made of it due to sin. It would feel like a magnified version of realizing how very much one has hurt or disappointed someone on earth we deeply love and respect, like a spouse or parent…IMHO only, no doctrine to back it up with.

  17. I found the reference to Philomena interesting. We have a church with her name near us, but I did not actually know much about her other than that she was a saint. We briefly considered naming our daughter Philomena!

    • I’ve a cousin-in-law named Philomena, and a nun that taught me at school was Sr. Philomena, and there’s actually a holy picture of her (inherited from another cousin) up on the wall as I type, so yes – for a certain generation, Philomena was a very popular saint.

      Then with the Vatican II reforms, all the local saints and saints that could not be strictly historically verified were cleared out of the calendar, and Philomena fell into the cracks.

      Now, I think, the pendulum is swinging back (from the days when her existence was doubted) to the idea that (1) we’ve got a tomb (2) we’ve got an inscription (3) we can venture that there was an early Christian girl named Philomena, more or less, but the “Vita” (which pretty much was made up out of whole cloth) and the visionary revelations are not binding on anyone.

  18. David Cornwell says

    Martha, thank you. You write with grace, humor, wisdom, and intelligence. And– Love. I had to read hurriedly this morning, but will return to it later in the day. But thanks for being a writer here and sharing yourself with us so completely.

    • And that vast round orb floating over the Atlantic Ocean is my swelled head from all this praise and goodness 🙂

  19. Radagast says


    As a fellow Catholic I don’t see as much emphasis in my part of the US on particular saints (except for Saint Anthony when I lose car keys – what is it- turn around three times and say Beetleguesse, Beetleguesse, Beetleguesse, – kidding- or of couse Saint Patrick). What I do see more of from either cultural Catholics or those who have come from the “old country” is Marian Worship, which like you, took me aback, at least early in my re-awakening. My wife has a strong Marian devotion, and so has helped me get over my hangup over the years. But I do remember one time I was in a house where people were venerating a traveling picture of Our Lady of Guadelupe and almost walked out at one point when a woman went up and began kissing the image. All I kept thinking about was “this is exactly what the Protestants are complaining about”. I have since come to a greater understanding of some of what I have seen and have actually grown to like the rosary as a meditative aid – more from an aspect on meditating on portions of scripture.

    As for deification – (as you mentioned practiced by our eastern brethren ) – I confess I am fascinated by the eastern lung – I read somewhere that they view the Divine Liturgy as the link between heaven and earth, that while one is in Divine liturgy the communion of saints are gathered as well. That is some cool stuff….

    • Radagast, weirdly enough I’m cool with kissing images and statues (yeah, I’m all over the place here). I suppose because (a) my father, God rest him, always prayed before the Pietà in the Parish church here in town and used to at least touch the foot of Christ and then bless himself, or kiss it (b) I’m accustomed to the veneration of the cross on Good Friday (c) I’ve long been in the habit (since a child) of – um, going to sound weird here, but never mind – of kissing books (yes, all right, I’m blushing here, but I love books and they’ve been like friends to me, so when I read a particularly good one or one that gives me great joy or pleasure or makes a great point, I tend to kiss the page and go “Yes!”)

      So, kissing pictures – no big deal. It’s a tactile religion we’ve got.


    • Radagast wrote about the Eastern Orthodox folks, “I read somewhere that they view the Divine Liturgy as the link between heaven and earth, that while one is in Divine liturgy the communion of saints are gathered as well. That is some cool stuff….”

      I believe that we Catholics also believe this. Scott Hahn (Catholic convert from Protestantism) wrote a book called The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth in which he discussed this.

  20. Martha, I’m grateful for these wonderful insights, and reading them through the charming prose on which the Irish seem to have a monopoly. Its poignant that the literalists intent on every jot and tittle in the KJV can’t bring themselves to utter the word “Saint”, considering it appears in large font at the beginning of almost every 1611 NT book. Hagiography is not a strong point for most of us prots, as we have tried hard to pretend the RC Church does not appear on our birth certificate as a parent. (All I can say is thank goodness we haven’t carried it on by ourselves. I shudder to imagine, say, a Saint Jerry of Lynchburg!?) For years I was counted among the iconoclasts, but widened my views first with Eusebius and later contemplating through the Lives of the Saints and learning the calendar of Feast Days. While I can’t yet say I ask them to pray with me and for me, I am working things over in my mind, because somehow I can’t see the great cloud of witnesses simply strumming their time away on harps up there. And I don’t see Mary as Jesus’ stand-in mediator when the carpenter’s son is off somewhere, pre-occupied with building one of the many mansions. Mariology remains a barrier for me, but I like your observation that that Jesus’ mother “is so conformed to the will of God that it has transformed her to His image”. We’ve never known quite what to do about Mary, and especially the meaning of the “communion of saints” which we mumble through each week. Thanks again for your insider’s views and these great insights.

    • Even growing up strictly protestant… like reading Dave Hunt’s pope-as-antichrist protestant, I always dug the communion of the saints. In fact, upon hearing the phrase for the first time, it described a feeling I had experienced since I was 8 or 9 years old.

      When we worship in song (especially older songs or psalms), my mind has often seemed transported around space and time. I see the crystal sea of Revelations and fellow christians in garb ranging from ancient mesopatamia to the modern day, and a sea of faces of every color and ethnicity. I stand equally beside Isreal’s prophets and men in business suits. My gathering is in america, but it seems to extend out to house churches in china, carthusians in france, congregations in africa, people in jail cells or on their deathbeds. As my learning grows those images grow richer, more informed, but the feeling of connection to the larger church has always remained.

    • STUART—-you owe me a monitor, as mine is now covered in Coke Zero!

      St. Jerry of Lynchburg…..thanks for the laugh (but if you live here in the shadow of his church and school, you might just believe it. The table at Bob Evans where he ate his last meall has a plaque!

      • Aside from his public persona, he was a wonderful, caring person based on what everyone who knew him says. But can’t say the docs didn’t warn him often about his ticker and artery cloggers at Bob Evans..

        • A fellow I know was a waiter in Lynchburg while a student at Liberty University, and said he waited on Jerry Falwell on a regular basis. He said Falwell was always generous with his tips, because he knew the importance of Christians giving a good witness by their generosity.

          The fellow didn’t say anything about what Falwell ate, so I have no commentary on that subject.

          • True statement….the local news reported the day after his death that he sat at his usual table and had his usual breakfast. of eggs with cheese and a sausage biscuit with gravy.

            It seems to be valid that his private interactions were kind and humble, not at all matching his public persona.

            However, there is perpetual flame at his gravesite on campus…..

  21. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Side-note: it is veneration, not worship. Worship is for God alone.

    However Evangelical Worship was more akin to Catholic veneration than anything else. As was mentioned before in these comment threads, Evangelical worship (even before it turned into a filk-rock concert) lacking a Eucharistic Liturgy (worship) consisted of praying and music (veneration). So a Catholic venerating Mary exhibits the same external behavior as an Evangelical worshipping God. Because Evangelicals have little beyond that veneration-level of worship (in the generic sense).

    Death is different now, don’t you remember? Christ has defeated death. From now on, we no longer have the Graeco-Roman and Babylonian miserable underworld of thin, bat-voiced shades who scrabble in the dust and are pathetic remnants; we do not go down to Sheol and all our deeds and all our good name dies with us…

    No, not “thin bat-voiced shades who scrabble in the dust of Hades”; all too often we have insubstantial Souls who float around in Fluffy Cloud Heaven. And “our deeds and all our good name dies with us” has little difference from “It’s All Gonna Burn” — all but the aforementioned Souls, that is.

    For even in Fluffy Cloud Heaven, Death is Permanent. There’s a reason the original Christian afterlife was Resurrection of the Body in a New Creation — without Resurrection, Death Wins. Period. Without Resurrection, Death is God, not God.

    Even in stupid things like “St. Anthony, find my glasses/car keys/wallet.” Even though they have more important things to do (like worship God), they don’t forget us.

    Though with some of the Weird Marian Visionaries we get (the Catholic way of flaking out) gunning for Marian visions at any cost, you wish St Mary WOULD appear to these wanna-bes and slap some sense into them.

    Let me say, I completely sympathise. Take a place like the Capuchin Crypt in Rome or the Sedlec Ossuary: it looks and sounds like something out of Ray Bradbury’s famous story about the mummies of Guanajuato which is indeed weird and creepy and very scary. But strangely, they’re not.

    And that, kiddies, is why you see so much Catholic imagery in movies. It’s offbeat, it’s Gothy, it can get weird and spooky, and it’s Different and Unique and Spectacular. (Cue Ominous Latin Chanting as The Conspiracy closes in on the lone Dan Brown hero…)

    That’s the great thing, in the end: there’s a saint for everything. You’re young, you’re old, you’re rich, you’re poor, you’re smart, you’re thick as a brick, you’re male, you’re female, you’re married, you’re single? There’s someone out there for you!

    Like the fictional future Litany of Saints used as scene separators in my novella “Dyads”:
    SS Cosmas & Damian,
    St Mary Magdalene,
    St Therese of Lisieux,
    St Faustina of the Divine Mercy…
    St Catherine of Siena,
    St Edith of Oswiecim,
    St Teresa of Avila,
    St Teresa of Calcutta,,,
    St Pius the Martyr,
    St Damian the Leper,
    St John Paul the Great,
    St Pierre the Hairdresser…
    St Gillain of L5,
    St Jubal of Luna,
    St Agustin of Mars,
    St Amber the Semihuman…

    • “And that, kiddies, is why you see so much Catholic imagery in movies.”

      First ever of the “Hellraiser” movies I saw was the second one (yes, doing things backwards as usual) and I swear, I said at the end of it, “I had no idea Clive Barker was Catholic!”

      Turns out he’s Liverpool lapsed-Catholic – yep, one of our own, right enough.


      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Oh, yeah. Hellraiser II, which was the best of the lot. Geniunely disturbing, especially the character study of The Doctor. “And to think… I hesitated…” as he ENJOYS being in Hell, so twisted that Hell is the only place he can be “happy”. Barker nailed the nature of Evil down cold with that one.

        • Yep, The answer to the question “Why does/how can a loving God put people in Hell?” is that God doesn’t put anyone in Hell, we put ourselves there.

          • Amen and Allelulia.

            And I don’t “give” my students “F” ‘s…they earn them!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “And that, kiddies, is why you see so much Catholic imagery in movies.”

        And why so much good horror, fantasy, and SF with a Christian angle (as opposed to Christian (TM) Fiction) comes out of Western Rite Liturgical Church backgrounds.

        “I had no idea Clive Barker was Catholic!”

        “You can take the boy out of the Baptists, but you can’t take the Baptist completely out of the boy” applies on the other bank of the Tiber, too.

        • Mmm, it’s partially why I’m so enamored with Catholic iconography and imagery, in spite of my plodding Methodist upbringing. Love it to pieces for its creepy beauty.

    • …ora pro nobis!

      Seriously, that future litany is amazing! Although I suspect that it will not be very far in the future at all before we are praying to St. John Paul the Great (and perhaps not too long before we reach even St. Amber the Semihuman). And now I really want to know if your novella is available to the public.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In the anthology Infinite Space, Infinite God II, edited by Karina & Robert Fabian, available online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
        (END PLUG)

        Incidentally, b/g of some of the saints in the litany:
        St Pius the Martyr — Pope Pius XIV, killed in the Islamic Wars of the mid-21st Century (fulfilling the urban legent of Pius XII’s vision).
        St Pierre the Hairdresser — Pierre Touissant, Haitian ex-slave and THE high-fashion hairdresser in New York City around 200 years ago. I deliberately put him next to John Paul the Great for contrast, though the editor clipped out his title of “the Hairdresser” in the pubbed version.
        St Gillian of L5, St Jubal of Luna, St Augustin of Mars — first offworld saints; the names are H/Ts to characters in the stories of Infinite Space, Infinite God 1.
        St Amber the Semihuman — As you guessed, the first genetic-construct “chimera” (semihuman) to be canonized.

  22. As a Catholic, the thing that I have the hardest time with is to realize that we have not given up the idea of “indulgences!” I thought that whole idea had gone away, but in the past couple of years, I came to realize it is still around. On the website, you will find the definition: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain defined conditions through the Church’s help when, as a minister of redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints” (Indulgentarium Doctrina 1). And if you go to the New Advent website and search on Indulgentarium Doctrina you can read more about indulgences. I just find the idea weird no matter how the websites try to put to rest some myths about them.

    • I like Steve Brown’s take on the subject from a protestant perspective. In his “Scandalous Freedom” area of this website, he has a section offering “3 Free Sins”. Unfortunately for me, three is not even close to being enough on a daily basis…..

      • I believe Mr. Brown is speaking with his tongue firmly in his cheek, not trying to make a theological statement

    • I have the impression (wouldn’t know where to look to verify it) that Vatican II made at least some effort to do away with them, or at least to seriously downplay them. They certainly are not discussed constantly and all over the place in any Catholic parish I’ve been in since then.

      (I had the fortune or misfortune to grow up (mostly) before Vatican II in the Northeastern US, where the prejudice against Catholics is complicated by the fact that the less-educated lower and middle classes tended to have many more Catholics than the upper, better-educated or intellectual classes. So a good deal of hidden class prejudice was involved in the mix. Also, most of the Catholics I knew when I was there were *grossly* under-educated in their religion and heavily folk- and cultural-Catholic influenced, which is not necessarily Catholicism’s best face.)

      There is one thing about indulgences that AFAIK _has_ been done away with: the numbers game. You no longer see pamphlets advertising devotions that gain you “60 days indulgence.” Rather, there are two kinds only: plenary indulgence (i.e. everything) or partial indulgence (amount not specified). The bookkeeping of whether you have “enough” or “extra” is presumably left to God.

      The state of religious _education_, on the other hand (as in “lack of”) means that there continues to be a good deal of confusion in the public mind about what indulgence _does_. It is NOT and never has been forgiveness of sin — that, we have for the asking. Rather it is a wiping out of some (or all) of the cleansing we would otherwise have to undergo in Purgatory, or to look at it another way, wiping out some of the need to make restitution, as best we can, to God as part of our reconciliation — like repaying the pennies you stole. Forgiving the THEFT is one thing, saying “And you don’t have to pay me back for it” is another.

      Folk religion and cultural Catholicism, however, often misunderstand this and pass on the misunderstanding to others.

  23. Hey Martha, this was so intriguing & thought provoking. As a cradle & confirmed Catholic who has followed a Protestant path as an adult I find all this stuff about my ‘heritage’ more & more fascinating, especially since my Mum died recently. She had the Sacrament of the Sick (I think) which did give her strength for the journey.
    It also reminds me of converations I had (which I taped) with my now 88 yr old Irish Granny, who until 3/4 yrs ago was still working as a Priest’s housekeeper. So many things I didn’t know about the things they believed & practised their whole life.
    I look forward to hearing lots more.

  24. Desiring More says

    Ok. So, I have struggled with this for a LONG time. Aside from some hagiography, where can I see a fellow saint in action who has the faith strong enough to move mountains. Does that then mean that I do not have hardly any faith or that I just don’t know what to do with it. I am so confounded. I want it all to be true and I believe it is. The thing is though where is it being done NOW.

    • I’m with you 100% on this one. The typical standard response I get is that the “mountain” I’m trying to move is either a) outside the will of God and therefore not eligible or b) God is answering in a different way or a later time.

      I had a close friend that beat cancer and was trotted out in front of the church as proof of a miraculous work brought about by faithful intercessory prayer…..but when the cancer came back and killed him two years later it was explained as God’s will.

      • And Lazarus at least died of old age, if not of dysentery a few months after being raised from the dead. God evidently has a different purpose for miracles than we do.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      To me, the basic idea of Saints is “Officially Recognized Heroes of the Faith.”

      Though some of those hagiographies are just… something. Like the famous quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence: “When legend and fact don’t agree, Print the Legend.”

      • I once saw a phrase about celebrating the lives of the saints that I really liked: it is “celebrating Christ’s triumphs in redeemed humanity.”

    • Jesus was using hyperbole, of course. Neither he nor any “saint” physically moved a mountain.

    • Good question, Desiring More. I think of Jesus’ statement saying that his disciples will do even greater things than he did and I don’t see it. So, I have decided to think that this will only happen when Heaven and Earth are one at the “end of time.”

      I know that miracles take place and I have heard that in parts of Africa some truly amazing things happen, but I have not actually witnessed them. There may have even been some dead people that were revived by people praying. But even that would not have been GREATER than what Jesus did. I don’t know what WOULD be greater than what Jesus did.

      I have also heard that miracles regularly happen at an Eastern Orthodox monastery somewhere. I was reading a review of a book by a man who had visited there, but it’s been a while so I don’t have the details.

      So, perhaps I am just not running in the “right circles” to see these amazing happenings!

      I have also read that bringing peace to a war-torn area would be a greater thing, but I don’t know if that is what Jesus meant or not.

      • Radagast says


        I just think God works more often through the natural instead of the supernatural.. which causes most of us to explain things away as coincidence. As skeptical as we are a miracle could happen before our eyes and we would :

        A) believe we were seeing things at best or wonder if the Lithium is working at worst
        2) try to explain it away through reason
        III) ignore it altogether…

        In the Western Rite we tend to be more juridical – so if a miracle happens we trot out the holy examiners.
        In the Eastern Church – a Bishop takes a look and announces “it is so” – they tend to be more open to the supernatural, since mystery is still a big part of faith.

  25. Martha,

    Great posts, thanks for all the effort, and all the insight. Gaining knowledge is always good whether one agrees with everything or not. I’ll not attempt to argue any points because 1) you wrote this post at request and did it for our benefit and 2) you would only beat this newbie Anglican over the head with Latin phrases and quotes from the RC Catechism:)

    But I will say that not much of what I have read from folks responding or in the piece (as gracious as it was) has done much to lessen my concerns with RC teachings in this area, weaken my belief that the scriptures must be our final rule of practice, or convince me that the Reformation, as stragic as it was, was not completely neccessary as well.

    But on a positive note. I was talking with a very intelligent, very reformed minded older Anglican priest the other day and he said he had seen more movement towards understanding and agreement between RC and Protestants than he ever thought he would in his life. And that is a good thing right? We all pray for the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” don’t we? And if we pray for it we better mean it.

    Peace to you Martha,

    p.s. on the funny side and I’ve mentioned this before- RC’s get all the cool movies, look at the movie the “Priest” coming out soon, it just wouldn’t be as dramatic if it was an Anglican in a cassock, surplice, tippet, and preaching bands now would it?

    • Radagast says


      As you journey through Anglicanism I am going to assume there is inclusion of Church History and the early Fathers (at least that is the impression I get from the Anglicans I know). At some point you will run across the theme that the whole communion of saints thing was practice by the early church in varying degrees since the earliest of times after the apostolic age before there was distinct Roman flavor to the faith (which is why it is still practice today by the eastern and oriental churches). Not looking to debate it from a theological perspective – just throwing out there that it has been around for a while.



  26. I consider myself a fairly open minded and somewhat reformed (I know, it seems contradictory) protestant, but I still just have such a hard time wrapping my mind around some Catholic traditions. I get confession and transubstantiation, though I don’t necessarily agree with all Rome teaches concerning them. But praying to anyone other than God has always seemed an insurmountable barrier for me. Martha, removing the Marian mania from the equation really helps to make this protestant come to grips with why follower of Jesus would engage in this practice. It certainly puts more meaning into the line “the communion of saints” from the creed, and I can see some historical precedent for it in many of the early writings I’ve read.

    But my strong opinion is this: Protestants were rampantly iconoclastic in the reformation. Not so much that it outweighed the good that came out of it, but too much so to ignore it and avoid restoration. This restoration has indeed taken place in many Protestant denominations.

    But before prayer to saints is ever incorporated remotely into a Protestant conception of orthopraxy, we will first have to recover a use of the seven sacraments. Most protestants use at least 5 or 6 of them, even though we don’t consider them sacraments. Where they have been neglected, cheap substitutes have arisen to replace the need that they had been fulfilling. We must first learn how to confess our sins, consider marriage sacred, disciple and confirm our children in the teachings of the church, consistently proclaim the Lord’s death until his return, and reclaim the spiritual priority of vocational ministry before we get to this issue. Important as prayer to saints may be, we are already suffering from our anemic representations of Gospel formed communities and Jesus shaped spirituality. I think prayer to saints will never be recovered by us until we embrace a more holistically sacramental view of a life of discipleship.

    • Radagast says

      “Protestants were rampantly iconoclastic in the reformation. ”

      And I’ve always wondered about this – because my view is that Protestants only took it part of the way. As far as I know Judiasm took it to full measure, at one point not allowing God’s name to be written. There are no pictures and the closest thing to imagery is the Torah. Protestants allowed pictures of Jesus, stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes – a no no by Jewish standards. The Eastern Orthodox have their two-dimensional icons – which are really sacramentals and are considered windows into heaven. rounding out the whole concept are the Catholics with our three dimensional statues, medals and the like.

      As for the sacraments – I’m with you on that from an outsiders perspective. From my limited incite (gained by observing and reading this blog) it seems that other things are invented to take the sacraments place (in my opinion).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Islam is also very much into “No Graven Images” iconoclasm. Varies over time, now on an upswing from Islam’s own Iconoclastic wing, the Wahabi who dominate Saudi Arabia. Waahbi mosques are always undecorated, just whitewashed bare walls calligraphed with verses from the Holy Book, just like the chuches of Geneva after Calvin (that other iconoclast) whitewashed them.

  27. Well done, Martha. Thanks for that. The whole divinization/theosis concept goes beyond what most Christians want to think about – yet, it is the very center of what this whole deal really is. Thanks for bringing that out. And the “they’re not dead!” Exactly! What the hell? ha! Thin veil, more alive than ever, swallowed up in the Life of God – all this blows our little minds, so we shut it down. Peace to you.

  28. Hi Martha,

    I very rarely comment on Internet Monk though I read it daily. I’ve been an Evangelical Protestant my entire life, but like many here I struggle with this identity. This article was so beautiful, I wanted to say thank you.

    I have been fascinated by the Orthodox and Catholic streams of faith for awhile now, though after reading this article I see that I know so very little about it.. I do find the idea of Purgatory curious, though I could see it being so. I know the sinner I am, saved by grace through faith.

    The concern I have and I hope you might be able to answer is this: How is it possible that Mary was without original sin? This has been the one teaching I have encountered that has been a true stumbling block to me in regards to Catholicism.

    Thanks again for the eloquent teaching.

    • In fear and trembling, here goes: the idea behind the doctrine that Mary was conceived without original sin comes from several streams of thought. Firstly, that she was the second Eve, who by her obedience balanced out the first Eve’s disobedience. And, like the Mother of us all, she was created without the stain of original sin on her soul. Secondly, to be a worthy vessel to carry, bear and raise God made man, she would have to be pure not alone in body but in soul. Thirdly – and this is where it gets complex, not to mention sounding like SF time-travel – she was the first fruits of redemption. The graces won by the Crucivfixion were retrospectively applied to her – this is easier if you think that God operates in eternity, not time, so basically everything happens at once from the Divine point of view.

      So she was redeemed before ever she was created by the atoning death of the Son she would one day bear.

      Don’t worry about being confused; most people (and that includes Catholics) get confused about this – how many times have you seen or heard in popular culture a reference to an “Immaculate Conception” when what they mean is a “Virgin Birth” (a different matter)?

      And there was legitimate discussion for centuries as to this; it broadly panned out to be Dominicans (against) versus Franciscans (for) and the Franciscans won this theological argument 🙂

      • It may sound like splitting hairs and I would defer to your greater knowledge/experience in this area, but I thought that it was essentially that Mary was “saved” from the moment of conception. Not that there was NO original sin, but that she was immediately cleansed from it as a special grace for the reasons you mentioned. Is that correct or am I misunderstanding the doctrine?

        • If it helps you to see the point, great! Either she had no sin to start with, or it was expunged a nanosecond later. But, since He is not bound by time or space and is free of “before”, “now” and “after”, the end result is the same.

          The vessel meant to carry Perfection needed to be as “clean” as possible.

        • Jeff, if you’re hair-splitting, you’re in good company. Half the theologians ranged up on one side – yes, she too shared in the Fall of Man as our common human heritage and so was conceived with the stain of original sin which was immediately cleansed, the other half that she never suffered it.

          The formulation I learned was that, from the moment of her conception, Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin. Now, does ‘preserved’ mean ‘never had it’ or ‘immediately wiped off’?

          According to the Catholic Encylopedia of 1913, which goes word-by-word into parsing the definition:

          “In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

          The person is truly conceived when the soul is created and infused into the body. Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin at the first moment of her animation, and sanctifying grace was given to her before sin could have taken effect in her soul.

          The formal active essence of original sin was not removed from her soul, as it is removed from others by baptism; it was excluded, it never was in her soul.

          The immunity from original sin was given to Mary by a singular exemption from a universal law through the same merits of Christ, by which other men are cleansed from sin by baptism. Mary needed the redeeming Saviour to obtain this exemption, and to be delivered from the universal necessity and debt (debitum) of being subject to original sin. The person of Mary, in consequence of her origin from Adam, should have been subject to sin, but, being the new Eve who was to be the mother of the new Adam, she was, by the eternal counsel of God and by the merits of Christ, withdrawn from the general law of original sin. Her redemption was the very masterpiece of Christ’s redeeming wisdom. He is a greater redeemer who pays the debt that it may not be incurred than he who pays after it has fallen on the debtor.”

    • For God anything is possible. Simple!

  29. after exiting Roman Catholic faith expression one Sunday @ Mass thru the unmistakable impression of the Holy Spirit, it was not because of specific theological or doctrinal or religious reasons. at least there was no lengthy apologetic discourse i sat thru before obediently following Him…

    “I will not meet with you through this worship expression from this time on…”

    or impression to that effect. no condemnation or disgust (was during Communion) or frantic call to get out quick! simply a personal nudge that i recognized as just that: a very personal directing of my faith journey.

    what the Holy Spirit did not clarify was just where i was to go as far as worship expression. i think i took more than 1 lap around Mt. Sinai in my wanderings trying to figure out what or how or why the direction given was necessary for me…

    i now understand what He meant as i had already a sensitivity to God apart from the religious environment i inhabited. in fact, that was only recently restored to me within the past 10 years or so. it was how He had created me to be from a small child connecting with Him in solitude more than corporately…

    however, the Catholic practices of Marian devotion/apparitions, relics, worship style, etc. did not become for me distasteful or prevent me from interacting with my immediate+extended family that were devout Catholics. i was the object of much discussion during my very dramatic religious awakening & quiet departure from Catholic practice.

    i have my own reservations regarding Marian teachings & her apparitions. i have no need for such things as relics or a liturgical church calendar arrangement. yet these are simply my personal faith issues, not globally or universally applicable to others…

    since i was raised Roman Catholic in a family that practiced such faith religiously, having attended parochial school 8 years, having been a devout altar boy & recruited for the priesthood, i can appreciate the difficulty those that have no background in such a setting have. the worship practices can be, well, scary. unnerving. cultish. yet there are elements in such a faith expression that do have very, very, very deep significance to those that connect with such a tradition. i knew many. and because i could not identify with the elements they did, i found i was not as Catholic in my theological conclusions as they were. i had questions even as a young parochial school student. i pursued my own in depth look into the Catholic faith right before my exit. i wanted to know where some of the traditions began & why they were incorporated into the faith practices. since i did not ‘resonate’ with the more Catholic of these practices, it could be said i was a Protestant in process although i have nothing to protest about…

    where am i going with this? i just realized i was rambling once again. as a lapsed Catholic that has no theological issues to denounce or caution others about, i find the dialogue that can be carried out like this quite refreshing really. good job Martha. and blessings to those that have respectfully interacted with grace & curiosity.

    • And blessings to you, Joseph; may the Holy Spirit guide you in your wanderings.

      • Ditto…God speaks to each of us differently in a “bedroom” voice than the voice of the common rooms.

  30. Dana Ames says

    Thanks from me too, Martha. Lots of good stuff. There are a few differences between the eastern & western “lungs”, but here I’d like to comment on a couple of similarities in your experience that mean a lot to me.

    First, the “love thing” with the “Resurrection thing”. I think that’s the most important point in the whole discussion. Love is stronger than death; I’m not sure we really believe that.

    Second, what we learned in catechism as youngsters (I’m 55):
    Who made you? God made me.
    Why did God make you? God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in Heaven.

    From my teenage years on, I had some deeper questions about the “why did God make me” part, which were never really addressed in my +30 year sojourn through just about every flavor of American Protestantism. I relied on this little bit of the catechism, both in my head and my heart, for many, many years, for faith and clarity and comfort. (Found the “deeper answer” in EO, but that’s another story.) I, too, tend to approach things of faith from my head, and identify with your “besetting sins” 🙂 Pray for me, and I will for you.

    Third, I’m right there with you on less-than-average personal devotion to Mary 🙂 I took Marie for my confirmation name, but less out of devotion than that it was what sounded best with my given name (well, I was 13 years old…); the presence and prayer of other saints were more immediate for me (and one of my delights on my road into O. was that “I get my older-brothers-and-sisters Saints back!”). Combined with my years in Protestantism, where Mary’s memory is pretty well expunged except at Christmas, I had a whole lot of Mary baggage to deal with in becoming Orthodox. A good friend of mine, raised RC with a “classical” education and EO for +30 years, told me to pray either the Memorare or Hail Holy Queen until I “got over it”. I chose the latter, and it did indeed help 🙂 Another thing that helped is that in the East, Marian devotion is every bit as present – maybe even more – but I have found it to be much less “sentimental”, somehow “sturdier” – tough to put it into words – more “blood” (wildly-colored icon) than “water” (brushed-pastel prayer card)… I’m sure you get my drift. There is every bit as much “folk religion”, but it nonetheless, at least to me, seems more “Jesus-centered”, since Mary is rarely depicted except in relation to Christ somehow. I used to think that any good, pious Jewish girl would have done for the task – not any more. I don’t think God rolls dice, especially for something so momentous as the events at the apex of history: Mary was certainly prepared in every way.

    Not to worry about kissing books – we kiss the Gospel Book all the time over here “across the Bosporus!” I’ve clutched some others to my heart, too.

    Hugs to you from across the water, and then from across the continent (California) –


    • Greetings and peace to you also, sister 🙂

      I completely get the criticism from the Orthodox side regarding sacred art and that the Western tradition went too far overboard on emphasising the humanity of the divine *looks sternly at the Renaissance Italians, and particularly at Caravaggio*

      Certainly, in the drive to explore and develop art, they did use sacred subjects (which were the paying work patrons wanted) to be objects of exercise, so you end up eventually with what are really works of art – great works of art, masterpieces – but not devotional objects.

      And that degenerated into a sweet sentimentality that quickly became treacly and even kitsch, as artists became free to work on other subjects than the sacred, and ‘holy pictures’ became the refuge for the same popular taste as blossomed forth in American ‘Velvet Elvis’ paintings.

      Then again, I’m too much inclined to be a bit precious about artistic merit and really do need to have my head whacked with a good dose of humility. I think my Purgatory will not so much involve fiery purgations of love, as it will having to look at those pastel-sugar coloured holy cards and wimpy angels and sentimental hymns like “Bring Flowers of the Rarest” and “Here I Am. Lord”.

      Actually, I can tolerate the older stuff better than the new. “Bring Flowers of the Rarest” isn’t that bad; it’s an old war-horse of a hymn which we all belted out in May processions as kids, and here’s Canon Sydney MacEwan’s iconic version which for years was played at the start of May (Mary’s month) on national radio here:

      • Dana Ames says

        Actually, I wasn’t making a comment on artistic style per se, but rather the “flavor” of Marian devotion, which “tastes different” to me. (I do like Caravaggio, though – more for his depictions of non-sacred subjects. It’s the Mannerists that creep me out…)

        I remember singing “Bring Flowers of the Rarest” and participating in those May processions 🙂


        • I think the art had an effect on the style of devotion, as the style of devotion had an effect on the art.

          The Italians went in for a sweetness and beauty (other Renaissance countries did their part, too; the Spanish went in for the extremes of sorrow and repentenace, the Germans went in for pastels and sentiment, and the French, as far as I can make out, opted for discreet Classical mythology instead) that both shaped and was shaped by popular culture.

          So you end up with pretty, sentimental pictures and pretty, sentimental devotions, and as you so rightly say, a completely different “flavour”.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And then you have the Mexican take on devotional art. Some of the martyrdom & Passion art, in the words of my old Dungeonmaster, “leave you no doubt that they were done by descendants of the Aztecs.”

  31. Martha, while I applaud your engaging writing style, I find the thrust of your argument unpersuasive.

    To the points you mention:

    • I would agree with your two main arguments at the beginning: We are to share in the life of God, and miracles are not magic. I don’t see where you tie these in directly to the special case of the saints. Surely these words describe all of us, not a special cast. More importantly, I don’t see your delineation of the timing of the theosis, nor the explanation why miracles seem to not be the common activity of all believers or even especially holy believers, but rather clustered around certain phases of redemptive history (that is, the exodus and conquest period/the ministry of Elijah and ELisha,/and the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles). In short, I don’t know how to relate these two points to the general argument that saints are a special class of believers with special powers.
    • Again, while I agree with the general drift of thought regarding the transformation of death, I don’t see why you limit the “they have more power and resources now, not less” argument to those the RC church calls saints. This brings another point: while Mary and the other believers who died are not “dead” in the fullest expression of that term, their present status is difficult for us (on this side of the grave) to discern. Paul could speak of both being “with Christ” immediately after death, yet also looking forward to the judgment and general resurrection at the eschaton, when He would receive his resurrection body. This is difficult to understand, but I would not place too much weight on a foundation called “surely they don’t lose all their virtues at death”.

    More generally:

    • Nowhere in scripture is anyone described (in a positive way) to pray to anyone other than a member of the trinity.
    • Nowhere in scripture are we encouraged to pray to anyone other than a member of the trinity.
    • Thus, prayer seems to be marked off as holy ground, a part of the worship that creatures give to the creator.
    • The passage that mentions “the cloud of witnesses” pointedly does not tell us to seek their help in prayer, (but rather to be inspired by their example). These are great believers of the Old Testament, anyway, not saints in the RC sense, since most of them (like Rahab) did not do miracles. In any case, “cloud of witnesses” is using the metaphor of those in the grandstand of a stadium (watching as we “run the race”). Those who have gone before us are now described as watching the race, not participating in it.
    • Scripture does not make a distinction between saints and regular old goofball believers like me. The New Testament consistently uses the word “saint” to describe all believers in Jesus, not a special group.
    • The New Testament’s emphasis on grace would seem to negate any idea of a sharp distinction between “saints” and “believers”. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me! In Paradise!” Surely this amazing promise is not because of some great deeds the thief had done, but by God’s gracious response to trusting faith.
    • The New Testament emphasizes that we are all priests now, able to pray for each other and minister to each other.
    • Jesus told us clearly who can pray with us in Matthew 18:19, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” Notice the important clause “on earth.” This would exclude those who have left this earth, or at least imply they have no help in this.
    • We now have full access to God, through Jesus. “Jesus says to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, except by me. John 14:6 “For one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”; I Timothy 2:5 Any additional “mediators” are not only unnecessary, but undermine the mediatory work of the Lord.

    Now perhaps I could overlook these things and find the doctrine of praying for the dead unobjectionable if I accepted the authority of Pope Pius and the Council of Trent, but there is the rub, isn’t it? Without accepting the theology of the Roman church on other grounds, I find even the lovely words of Dante unpersuasive.

    This is not to say that I disbelieve in the existence of real miracles; But outside those taught by the authority of scripture or seen with my own eyes, I cannot begin to verify which are real and which are imaginary. Nor do I deny that some men and women are worthy of emulation; but none are worthy (in my eyes) of the worship of prayer. I will reserve that for God, not for those who stand with me on this side of “the infinite qualitative distinction”.

  32. Paul Davis says

    Thank you Martha…

    As a new convert, you touched the two of the three big issues my wife and I had to work through. I thought the apologists did a horrible job in explaining whole saint/prayer thing, in fact I would argue that one of the biggest hurdles for protestants is just how bad some of the Catholic Apologetics are (that and how weak the RCIA in this country can be). The Mary issue is another huge stumbling block, we had the unfortunate experience of being taught an RCIA class by someone from the league of ‘Wow, Mary sure is cool and you should spend your vacation at Fatima fawning over her”. Tonight I’m doing reconciliation, and I just know my penance will be a litany of Hail Mary’s. I’m still not sure yet how to express how uncomfortable that makes me, but it’s penance so maybe that’s appropriate 🙂

    My wife on the other hand really grated over the whole saints/prayer issue, but has no problem doing Hail Mary’s as part of her daily devotional. So go figure!!

    Thank you for a wonderful post…


    • Paul,

      As a convert, who had Mary issues and as an RCIA teacher, I apologize for my fellow teachers and your experience.

      Will I ever be one who prays the rosary a lot, nope. Mary is a decent mother-in-law, non pushy.

      I will be honest, I prefer Lourdes and Nevers much more than Fatima. (Nevers is the place where Bernadette of Lourdes spent her time as a nun and died there.)

      • Tsk! You kids with your Fatima and Lourdes!

        You haven’t been exposed to the extremes of Marian devotion until you’ve had to sit through the presentations on Garabandal : -)

        Though nowadays, it’s all Medjugorje as far as I can see, and is that ever a holy mess. Once again, in these matters, listen to the local Bishop. And the Bishop is Not Happy with what that has developed into.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Just as setting dates for the Rapture is the Evangelical way of flaking out (op cit the guy with all the May 21, 2011 billboards), so “Mary Channeling” is the Catholic way of flaking out. There is much weirdness out there, and much silliness.

  33. Then Ted said unto Martha, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Catholic.” (apologies to Acts 26:28)

    But not quite. 🙂

    Martha, I’m glad you’ve explained that many Catholics do indeed pray to saints. I’ve noticed that the theory and the practice often get muddied up.

    Very few have commented on prayer for the dead, so I will. If the resurrection is true (and it had better be) these people are alive, as you said correctly. But, you also reminded us that heaven has eternity for its time-zone, and therefore the dead/resurrected should neither progress nor deteriorate. Is that correct? If so, wouldn’t prayer for someone in that eternal state be moot?

    And I guess I’m with Daniel, a couple of comments back, that scripture doesn’t support prayer to anyone but the Trinity (I also like his comment that “Scripture does not make a distinction between saints and regular old goofball believers like me.”)

    So I’m still not a convert despite your hard work. But I am at least happy that out of 95 comments (and counting) nobody has used an “A” word, either against Roman Catholicism or against you personally (you know, “apostate” or “anathema” or even that label in The Scarlet Letter. AND WE’RE NOT GOING TO START NOW! Thanks to a great iMonk audience, or to Jeff, perhaps, for a heavy finger on the delete button.

    And thanks to you, Martha. Busy day. Now go have a Guinness.

  34. Martha-

    Thank your for this wonderful explanation. I have a tendency to forget that behind all the “official dogmatic promulgations” there is always the deeply personal practice of such doctrines. It gives me a whole other aspect to ponder. Here is to you, Martha:

    May your glass be ever full.
    May the roof over your head.
    be always strong.
    May you be in heaven
    a half hour before
    the devil knows you’re dead.

  35. Martha, I have been going to Mass for a few years but am taking it very slow on converting. You answered so many of my questions, thank-you. Now, I have a question about re-posting this on a Catholic blog that I have been reading for a few years, is that allowed? Do I need to get special permission share this link?

    • I would be extremely flattered (and a bit terrified) if you want to share this. As far as I’m concerned, you have my permission, but it’s up to Jeff who, after all, is the Big Cheese on this one.

      If it ever does get out amongst my brother and sister Catholics, just sit back and wait for the skin and hair to start flying. On one hand, I will be completely wrong in dragging earnest enquirers back to the bad old days of autocracy in the Church and on the other hand, I will be completely wrong in my lack of zeal to promulate devotion, and both lots will be agreed as to my ultimate destination.

      Woo-hoo! Can’t wait! 😉

      • No worries, Martha. I’m one of those Catholic apologists you speak of who present the veneration of the saints in that “thinly true” kind of way. But presenting it the way you did, to the right kind of Protestant audience, is a good complement to the more minimalist apologetic.

        • So, Devin, should I be grovellling in apology or running away screaming?

          I do appreciate all the work converts do, and God knows, we need them (which is probably why He sent ’em to us). But there is a whole level of lived experience that is inches thick and that just doesn’t carry over into neat formulations. Yes, the apologetics on devotions to the saints is correct, but Mrs. Murphy or Tia Ana or the Filipina granny or the Korean mother-in-law is not thinking of the correct theology; she’s on her knees badgering her favourite saint for another favour because her grandchild is sick or her niece is married to a wastrel who needs to stop drinking or her nephew needs a job now, and come on, Joe/Anthony/Bernardino/Rita, I give you money for the poor box! You owe me!

          God is so good to us, we really won’t know it until we get over to the other side of death, and when we see the glorious saints dazzling like the sun, we’ll be ashamed of asking them to find our glasses for us (as if we’d asked the President or the Queen to tie our shoe-laces) until they laugh and tell us that it was good for them not to get a swelled head but keep working 🙂

  36. Dear Martha,
    Thank you for this great post. It will take me some time to ingest it all. But a couple of things I thought you might find interesting. I was raised by casual Christian parents who told me Catholics worship Mary. I just believed that until I met a young man after college who was not only Catholic but he truly seemed to love Jesus; he told me it was not true that Catholics put Mary on the same plane as Jesus. Then, I have two Nigerian friends, one who is a Catholic priest, who insisted that praying to saints was the same as asking your friend to pray for you. I remember asking, “But why would I do that when I can speak directly to God? Isn’t that what Jesus did — isn’t it through Him that I can know the Father?” They didn’t reply and I didn’t push. We can love each other anyway.
    Then, I have another good friend who is Catholic and she told me to bury a statue of a saint (I can’t remember which one) when we put our house on the market; he would oversee the sale. I again thought “Ok, but I believe I can talk directly to God. I’ll accept whatever He wants–stay or go. It’s His.”
    Finally, I’ve read Mother Teresa in Come Be My Light and probably have gained more encouragement from her than any other “writer” (her letters were printed after she passed on–and it is strange to me that she didn’t want them distributed). Nonetheless, I have no doubt that she loved Jesus and God the Father with self abandon. I just don’t worry that I don’t “get” the references to things I don’t understand (about praying to the Mother and such).
    So thank you for helping me to understand better. I grew up protestant (evangelical) and so lukewarm, I think I would have been spit out if I’d died in that state. I don’t know what I am now. I like to think I’m just a sinner saved by grace. I’m loved intensely by God who not only rescued me but has captured my heart. I’m amazed at the sacrifice of Jesus for a sinner like me — and I’m motivated to love others like I love myself to the point of action and sacrifice but sacrifice filled with more joy and blessing than pain or sorrow.

    I’ll read you post again. Thank you for sharing!
    Kris in America

    • Ah, that would be poor St. Joseph who gets buried upside-down to sell houses. From the protector of Mary and Jesus, foster-father of the Second Person of the Trinity, to this.

      And that’s what we do with our illustrous forebears, we make them fetch and carry for us. And they love us so much, thanks to God’s love, that they do it with joy.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Then, I have another good friend who is Catholic and she told me to bury a statue of a saint (I can’t remember which one) when we put our house on the market; he would oversee the sale.

      St Joseph. And I think you have to bury the statue head-down. Catholic gift shops (down to and including the Catholic version of Jesus Junk stores) have been selling a lot of them since the real estate market tanked.

      Just one of those quirks of folk religion bordering on superstition; “People are people, and the world is full of tricks and twistiness yet undreamed of.”

  37. dkmonroe says

    This may be the very best article I have ever read on this site. Brava, dear Martha, brava.

    Two things have always occured to me when reflecting on the Catholic understanding of the Communion of Saints:

    1. The veneration of the Saints, especially their remains, is a powerful and practical refutation of Gnosticism. It shows that the creation really does matter.

    2. The dismissal of the practice of praying to/with the Saints on the basis that they are “dead,” and therefore unreachable is very nearly a denial of the very Eternal Life in which we all claim to place our hope. The Saints are not dead, they are alive forevermore in and with Christ Jesus. And if they are not, what hope do we have?

    • Yes, they are alive but they are neither omniscient nor omnipresent–so they can’t hear you.

      • dkmonroe says

        They are neither omniscient nor omnipresent but the Holy Spirit is. Perhaps petitions and requests directed toward departed saints are communicated to them by the agency of the Holy Spirit? Is there any scripture that renders this sort of communication impossible?

        • I think the burden of proof falls on those advocating a doctrine or practice not found in scripture (such as praying to departed saints). In other words, while anything is possible for the Holy Spirit, is there any indication that He does act in this way?

          • dkmonroe says

            Well, to clarify, I’m not Catholic and don’t actually indulge this practice but I don’t see it as being as pernicious as some Protestants do.

            In regard to the burden of proof, I think it’s helpful to point out that the practice of intercession was practiced universally by Christians for over a thousand years before the Reformation. A Catholic would probably say that the burden of proof is on the Protestants both for the denial of the intercession of the saints and for the standard that only that which may be explicitly found in Scripture may be advocated.

            For my own part, I would say this:

            1. No, I do not think that the practice of intercession of departed saints can be explicitly proved from within Scripture, certainly not within the Protestant canon. There are many passages that kinda-sorta allude to it but I won’t bother to offer them as they have obvious refutations.

            2. Although certainly inconclusive, I would offer that the fact that for centuries Catholics and Orthodox Christians have not only been praying to saints, but actually believe to have received answers and to have had personal conversations with them is not to be entirely discounted. Now, many would probably say, “That’s demonic activity!”, but I don’t think that’s a necessary conclusion. The activity of demons is to tempt people into sin, not tempt them into non-Protestant-approved Christian devotion. Protestants commonly say that Catholic devotion to saints drives people away from Jesus, and Catholics say it brings them closer. My inclination is to take Catholics at their word unless I see devoted Catholics who really do practice saintly intercession descend into greed and lust and violence and other fleshly behavior. Certainly I’ve known Catholics who were involved in fleshly behavior, but they weren’t the ones praying to the saints.

            3. As a principle, I try to find the potential good in the practices of those with whom I share a common faith, by which I mean the historic Creeds of Christendom. I find a lot of good in the Catholic/Orthodox concept of the Communion of Saints because I find that it keeps the reality of individual eternal lilfe always before us. It shows that death is not the end and that we continue to participate in the life in Christ even after our death. It shows the reality of Heaven to be much closer to us than we can imagine. I do not think that it is a teaching that, properly understood, detracts from devotion to Jesus any more than the doctrine of the Trinity, properly understood, leads one away from monotheism.

          • DKMonroe says “As a principle, I try to find the potential good in the practices of those with whom I share a common faith”.

            You have to be kidding!! This site is nothing but finding the bad in Evangelicalism even tho they share a common faith.

          • dkmonroe says

            Well, Tony, as you may have noticed (but probably haven’t – which is no criticism of you), my commentary is very infrequent and usually ignored! 😀

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Yes, they are alive but they are neither omniscient nor omnipresent–so they can’t hear you.

        And you know this how?