Mary, the Saints, & the Angels
A: We are taught that parents should be fair to their children.
What we read in the Gospel (Luke) is the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she has been favored by God, and also Mary’s kinswoman Elizabeth saying the same thing. What does this mean? This means Mary has been completely faithful to the Lord and has remained good and pure in God’s eyes. Moreover, the biggest reason why Mary is “full of grace” is that she accepts the role of being the mother of Jesus, that is, to be the mother of God.
After Mary says “yes” to the invitation by God through the angel Gabriel to be Jesus’ mom, Mary receives the Holy Spirit and is pregnant with Jesus.
Obviously, Mary has a special place in the human race, a higher place, for she is the mother of God and as a result also is the first Christian.
We should model ourselves after her holiness, humility and love for God. We should model ourselves after the Immaculate Heart of Mary. That is why we pray the Hail Mary, knowing that Mary is full of grace and she has the ability to intercede for us all the while pointing toward her son Jesus, the savior of the world.
Let us also not forget that Mary, our mother in faith, was without original sin, as we brother and sister Catholics hold to the truth of the Immaculate Conception and that Mary was taken body and soul to heaven at the assumption.
Q: What saint do you pray to for surgery?
A: As one who has had surgery, I can personally say that I asked for more than one saint to intercede for a successful outcome. Of course, I asked St. Mary, in the Hail Mary,for her intercession, but there also were others. I have great admiration for St. Therese of Lisieux, and I asked for her prayers. St. John of God (born at the end of the 15th century) and St. Camillus (born the same year St. John of God died (1550) are patron saints of the sick. There also are patron saints for people suffering from specific ailments.
How about the surgeons? We have St. Luke (yes, one of the four evangelists) who is the patron saint of surgeons. When was the last time we prayed to St. Luke to assist the surgeon or surgical team who is preparing to help us?
Never forget we have a host of friends in heaven willing to assist us here on earth (and those on the International Space Station) if only we are willing to ask for our saints’ prayerful assistance. You and I mention in the profession of faith (the creed) each week that we believe in the “communion of saints.” In other words, you and I are never alone. Never.
Q: Did Mary actually die when she lay down and closed her eyes before her Assumption? I have gotten different answers to this question in the past.
A: We will continue with the Bible theme for we are very familiar with Mary’s role in the life of Jesus.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII, the pope at that time, declared the truth that Mary was assumed into Heaven, body and soul when her life was finished here on earth.
We need to remember here that this truth is not new since 1950 for it is part of the very fabric of the tradition of our faith. Mary had not simply a unique role but the highest role of any Christian; namely, to be Jesus’ Mother. Mary is the Mother of God! At the Annunciation, that is, when Mary was visited by the Archangel Gabriel on behalf of God (Lk 1: 26-38), Our Lady accepted God’s invitation to be Jesus’ Mother. In doing so, we honor, of course, Jesus’ conception in Mary on May 25, nine months before the great celebration of Christmas. Mary had the highest honor of conceiving Jesus, carrying Jesus in her womb and then to remain with him as Jesus would share with the whole world that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at hand. Humanity finally has hope.
As for the Feast of the Assumption, we acknowledge that Mary did not suffer any of the affects that are associated with death for she participated in Jesus’ Resurrection immediately at the end of her life’s service here on earth. How fortunate we are to have such a great Mother whom we can imitate.
Q: Does everyone have their own guardian angel, or do people share guardian angels?
A: The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a guardian angel as an angel “assigned to protect and intercede for each person.” It seems to me the answer is in the One who assigns the angel and for what purpose the angel is assigned. God loves us more than we can know, and he also has at his disposal heavenly beings whom we cannot see or recognize with human eyes and ears. We should take great comfort that Jesus loves us so dearly that he will go through extraordinary means to guide us and to keep us safe. The Old Testament is full of stories for helping, or guardian angels. Even after the Church was established by Jesus Christ, we were aware of guardian angels.
Also, we believe that the guardian angel, by its very name, serves us as a guide and a guardian. That being said, we do not know whether or not each of us has only one or more than one guardian angel. As your bishop, I just ask you do not intentionally test their abilities, just be grateful for their presence. Guardian angels are a sure sign that we are never alone.
Q: Why do people pray to Mary and the saints? Isn’t that idolatry?
A: This is another good question for many of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, perhaps even some of our Catholic ones as well, mistaken our devotion to the saints as worship of the saints. Of course, idolatry is worshipping something or someone as if it is a god. In our prayerful devotion to the saints we honor the saints, all the while worshipping Jesus Christ. Jesus is God and all saints point to him. Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of Jesus, takes us to Jesus every time we pray the Hail Mary, the rosary, or all Marian devotions.
The members of the Communion of Saints, we mention them in our creed every Sunday, intercede with God on our behalf. Needless to say, the Catholic Church is not simply limited to the 1.2 billion Catholics who live among us in 2014. The Catholic Church includes those members of the Church who have died and gone before us. When we die, we do not lose our Catholic identity. We go to God as citizens of his heavenly kingdom. Yes, our heavenly citizenship exceeds our own national citizenship on earth. A country can forcibly remove one’s national identity, like a Social Security number, but our baptismal gift is impossible to remove.
We pray to Mary and the saints, for all the saints are willing to assist us on our pilgrims way. Life is a journey and we have heavenly guides, if only we take time to look. Isn’t it great that we have “ultimate heroes” not just to imitate, but to know with confidence they are there to help us? I encourage you to look up saints’ names in or at Catholic resources to discover the treasure of divine help we are offered. I’ll leave that to your parents and teachers.
Q: How long does it take for you to become an official saint in the Church?
A: Now, isn’t this question timely? Pope Francis just celebrated the official recognition of two new saints in the Church, St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, and this provides us the opportunity to reflect on just what does it take to make a saint. The cause for sainthood begins with the individual person’s life on earth. How holy was the person? Following the death of the individual, a public “cause” may begin with interviews of those who knew the person and can testify to the holiness of the particular individual. This all comes down to the relationship with Jesus Christ the very person in question demonstrated to others. How did he or she communicate to others a close and personal relationship with our Lord? How did he or she live that relationship out in daily life? What Christ-like qualities set that person apart from so many others? Notice I speak in past tense, for what also is necessary is that the person in question has already died.
I apologize for the following oversimplification, but we could fill the rest of the Register with extensive criteria on “what makes a saint.” If the person in question exemplified heroic virtue in his or her saintly life, then Pope Francis may publicly declare the person venerable. If a miracle is discovered to have happened in the name of this person following his or her death, there are grounds for beatification, or for the individual to be declared blessed. If another miracle is proven following acknowledgement of the prior miracle, we have further foundation for canonization, that is, for the person to be declared a saint. All of this falls under the exclusive authority of the Holy Father, the Pope.
The Catholic Church celebrates the lives of the saints for each saint provides us not just with an exemplary life to imitate, but each saint offers assistance in the “here and now” of our own life journey. As I have mentioned before, we are not alone.
Q: Is Mary always present since they say our prayers go through Mary to God and Jesus? If she is not, how do our prayers go through her?
A: From a previous “Ask the Bishop” question we understand that Mary is the Mother of God; she is the Mother of Jesus. Mary, while being without sin, is still one of us. Mary is, inarguably, the first Christian.
As we know the truth that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, the solemnity on Aug. 15, which is a holy day of obligation, reminds us that Mary also is the Queen of Heaven and Earth. To be the Queen of Earth, of course, means Mary does not just know what is happening at every moment in this universe of ours, especially her sons and daughters in faith; what we do personally matters to her. In other words, Mary is always available to help us, if only we take time to ask.
Think about it the next time you pray the rosary or participate in another Marian devotion that Mary is intently listening to you and me, especially our needs. When we pray to Mary in reaching for Jesus we do not leave a “heavenly voicemail message” to be answered at a later time. Our Mother in Faith, Mary, the Mother of God, hears our prayers in real time and answers our prayers in real time. How blessed we are to have such a loving and merciful mother.