Theology columnist Kevin Sartin wrote an article entitled, “The Problem with Sinful Saints” published in the Nashville News on March 24, 2016. He wrote, “To proclaim someone a saint we have to either minimize or even altogether eradicate their faults and failing.” This is not true and not Catholic. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Many saints sinned greatly and led less than desirable lives. Since saints were human they all fell short of the glory of God but they all ended their lives in sanctity. They were all determined to be worthy of honor. Sartin claims only Jesus is worthy of honor. Catholics believe only Jesus is worthy of worship. The Bible supports the honor of individuals. One of the most notable is one of the Ten Commandments. We are instructed to “Honor your father and mother” (Ex 20:12.) It was also important to honor one’s elders (Lev. 19:32) and to honor religious leaders (Ex 28:2.) The New Testament also stresses the importance of honoring others (Rom 13:7, I Tim 6:1, 1 Peter 2:17, 1 Tim 5:17.) Christ promised special blessings to those who honor religious figures (Matt 10:41.) If there is nothing wrong with honoring the living who can still sin, there can not be an argument against giving honor to saints whose lives ended in friendship with God. The real problem Protestants have with the saints is that they are dead and Catholics are praying to them! Sartin claims Catholics “are hoping desperately to find some perfect example rising from the finite, frail, struggling masses of humanity.” This is not the point of sainthood. If we try to find perfect examples of humans to canonize why would we choose St. Paul? After all, he was a cruel persecutor of early Christians. Why St. Augustine? He was an unmarried, immoral womanizer who is famous for the quote, “Lord give me chastity but not yet.” It’s because of their humanness, challenges, persecutions and their ultimate sacrifice that they eventually made for Christ that they are honored by the church. Not only are they honored, they are imitated and invoked as intercessors for their fellow Christians on earth.
The saints provide us with models to imitate. Paul wrote extensively about spiritual imitation. He stated, “I urge you, then be imitators of me (I Cor 4: 16:17.) The author of Hebrews also stresses the importance of imitating spiritual leaders “Remember your leaders those who spoke to you the word of God, consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7.) Chapter 11 of Hebrews presents numerous examples of Old Testament saints for our imitation and concludes with, “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses….” (Heb 12:1.) These are the saints in heaven.
Sartin admits the author of Hebrews encourages us to celebrate the faith of those who have gone before us, but he wrote we are never told to pray to them. He notes we are to “Fix our eyes on Jesus.” Of course we should fix our eyes on Jesus, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good thing to ask others to pray for us as well. If fix your eyes on Jesus is enough why should we ask any Christian on earth or in heaven to pray for us when we can go directly to Jesus? If Sartin is telling us we should go straight to Jesus proves we should ask no Christian in heaven to pray for us, then it also proves we should ask no Christian on earth to pray for us either. As Christians we know that isn’t true. So, Sartin’s point does not stand up to scrutiny. As Catholics we understand the importance of other Christians praying for us and know the saints in heaven are our Christian brothers and sisters. Since saints have been made perfect to stand in God’s presence (Heb 12: 22-23) their prayers are even more effective. The historical Christian practice of asking our departed brothers and sisters in Christ (saints) to pray for us is strange to Protestant sects but this practice is shared by three-fourths of the world’s Christians including Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, other eastern Christians and some Anglicans. Scripture indicates those in heaven are aware of the prayers of those on earth. In Rev 5:8 John describes the saints in heaven offering prayers to God in the form of “golden bowls full of incense” which are the prayers of the saints, In Rev 8:3-4 we read “…and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints.”
According to the Bible, Catholics are not giving undue honor to fellow sinners as Sartin claims, rather we are following a 2,000 year old tradition of honoring our spiritual brothers and sisters who have gone before us, have given us an example, and continue to intercede for us before the throne of God.
Commentary about Catholic belief is best provided by a Catholic. Catholic information can be found at catholic.com, ewtn.org and CatholicsComeHome.org
Carolyn Couch, Nashville, AR