5 Reasons Why Praying to the Saints is Not like Magic

The teaching about the Communion of Saints is oftentimes a stumbling block for non-Catholics and even new Catholic converts in learning about the faith. I know my wife had a few questions about this when she initially converted almost a decade ago. Although I am a cradle Catholic, I try to put myself in the mindset of a non-believer to better understand other people’s perspectives about the Catholic faith. A common misconception about saints is that they provide a sort of magical aid or instant assistance on particular issues. Communicating with the saints solely for the spiritual relief they provide can lead to a sort of idol worship—this is not the intention of the doctrine about the Communion of Saints.

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According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek, rather, that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened. Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself (CCC 957)

Instead of leading us astray from God, communicating with the holy ones in Heaven is a great way to help increase our own holiness. Below are five reasons for why praying to the saints is not akin to usage of magic.

Other-centered vs. Self-centered

The primary aim of asking the saints for help through prayer is not about yourself. When I ask the saints for intercession it is usually to assist myself along with my family, friends, and the community around me. On the contrary, magic tends to be geared toward the individual. Fortune telling, Ouija boards, crystal ball reading, and other forms of magic are first and foremost focused on providing answers [usually regarding the future] for the person who uses the magic.

Call to Universal is Universal, Cauldron Brewing is a Niche Practice

Throughout the history of the Church, holiness has always been a universal call and not simply for priests and religious life. Saints appeal to everyone. In order for an individual to be officially canonized a saint they must help to a large amount of people. Truth is universal! If a person truly lived virtuously their life would appeal to diverse population across time and space. For example, St. Augustine lived in the 4th century A.D., but his struggles with lust and promiscuity still relate to people in the 21st century who struggle with an addiction to pornography or treat sex as a casual act.

On the other hand, magic is not a universal practice. It is a niche field that appeals to a small section of humanity.

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Saints Help You Become the Best Version of Yourself

Along with being focused on others and a universal appeal, communication with the saints in Heaven ultimately help you become the best version of yourself. From my experience whenever I struggle with sin,  I reflect on individuals who struggled with similar temptations  and ask for help. My particular vice is anger. St. Jerome was known to be quite hot-headed and rash with his words. In fact he minced words with St. Augustine several times throughout his life. Eventually through prayer, study of the scriptures, and the sacraments, Jerome learned to overcome his anger problems. Examples like him serve as good role models for me to mimic. True and honest communication with the saints through prayer will only lead to you finding a better version of yourself!

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Magic Seeks Mastery over Material World, Sanctity Seeks Mastery over Spiritual Matters

Magic focuses on worldly matters and manipulation of matter. Alchemy seeks to transform ordinary objects into elements of greater value [i.e. other elements into gold]. Fortune telling seeks to grasp control of an individual’s future. Contrarily, praying to the saints leads to a mastery to spiritual vices and an increase in virtue.

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Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Perennial truth exists in Aesop’s timeless fable The Tortoise and the Hare. Although he was much faster, the hare assumed that the race was in the bag. Instead of running consistently through the entire race, the hare lazily snoozed for half of the race. On the other hand, the tortoise knew that the race was long, but he was constant and diligent. By the time the hare woke up the tortoise crossed the finish line. Throughout literature magic is usually a device individuals use as a shortcut to solving a problem or ethical dilemma. Oftentimes the quickest and easiest path is not always equated with the most dependable option—at least not in the long-term outlook.

Whenever I have asked the saints for assistance the relief was not immediately granted. Occasionally I received help quickly but it is not a guarantee in prayer. Regardless of the time-frame on when answers arrive from my prayer request I am always sure to pray CONSISTENTLY and BE THANKFUL.

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A fruit of my of relationship with my spiritual brothers and sisters in Heaven is that I am more closely united with the rest of humanity. By mirroring good and holy role models I am better able to display works of charity and humility toward the poor in both spirit and materially poor in my community. It is not enough to magically state, I love mankind in the conceptual sense. Instead I meet the individual in the daily circumstances of my life. My spiritual helpers in the communion of saints draw me closer to Jesus and others!

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What Does True Freedom Actually Look Like?

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Yesterday the United States celebrates its 243rd birthday as a nation that champions the following freedoms expressed in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution: freedom of religion, speech, press, and right to a peaceably assembly. Much debate and discussion has been generated over the proper interpretation of these enumerated freedoms spelled out in the primary American document. Today, I do not want to continue or add to the debate. Rather, I simply want to contemplate the question of what is true freedom. Where does mankind’s freedom originate from? Is it possible to achieve complete freedom in this life?

What Does Freedom Mean?

Before I proceed with my thoughts on freedom, I want to define which specific sort of freedom I will be referring to. Throughout the centuries humanity occasionally conflates freedom to[i.e. ability to do anything a person wishes] with freedom from [liberty from an oppressive force or evil]. I am going to dedicate my attention to the later definition of freedom. As a Catholic, I admit that much of my world outlook is influenced by my faith. Because of this I will view the subject of freedom through the lens of Christianity.

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True Freedom

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom (CCC 1739).

Despite this despairing truth, the Catechism states that hope is not all lost. In paragraph 1741 the Church teaches that, “In him [Christ] we have communion with the ‘truth that makes us free.’” In other words, true freedom is not the ability to do anything we want. Disguising freedom under the camouflage of the self leads to chaos and strife. For example, if people chose to have complete freedom from obeying traffic lights and signs traffic jams, car accidents, and even vehicle caused deaths would ensue.

My Experience of Freedom

From my own experience, I have learned that this struggle between freedom to versus freedom from is real. Battling the sin of stubborn pride and possessing OCD, I often lack humility to admit I am wrong. I obsess over possessing control at both work and home. In the short term, I receive peace and relief when I exert control through daily OCD rituals of cleaning and limiting my email inboxes. Sometimes my utopia lasts for a few weeks. However, such utopian bliss is fleeting and temporary. My self-centered approach to freedom hits a roadblock when my family’s needs come in conflict with my own desires.

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Always Hope

I wish that I had better news. Like, I am winning this war against my pride and OCD tendencies! Sadly, I am not. I lost a battle last week. What I do plan on doing is going to daily Mass to celebrate the 4th of July and to make an effort to put my wife and children before my needs this week. I plan on going to Confession to obtain the aid of the sacramental graces provided by the Holy Spirit through the priest. True freedom [that is freedom from sin] may not truly occur until our death and hopeful union with the Trinity in Heaven. I ask for your continued prayers as I seek to become a more humble man. My road toward true freedom only exists through the narrow path provided by Jesus Christ! I pray that I continue to have strength to get up and walk this path daily with Him and I am thankful for God’s continual mercy towards me.

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The Wondrous Eucharist—Guest Post

On June 23 we celebrated Corpus Christi Sunday, and what a great day it was.  Though we celebrate the liturgy of the Eucharist everyday at Mass, there is a tendency to get complacent.  This seems to be our human nature, because if we do something enough we tend to go through the motions.

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On this day the church asks us to take a step back and take a moment to remember what an awesome gift the Eucharist is.  In honor of this, I also want to take a step back to look at what scripture and the early church tells us about the blessed sacrament.

Though some terms for the Eucharist developed over time, the belief of what the Eucharist is has been around since New Testament times.  Jesus gave a speech that we call the Bread of Life Discourse in which he says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood that we have no life within us (John 6:53).  The synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us the words of institution that we hear so often (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, and Luke 22:7-39).

In Summary of these Jesus tells us to eat the bread and says “This is my body”.  Then he took the cup of wine and “This is the cup of my blood that was given for you”.  Notice how our Lord says “this is” and not that it is merely a symbolic action?

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The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is one that held true in the doctrine of the early church.  The big heresy going around in the first couple centuries of the church was Gnosticism.  The Gnostics believes that all matter was evil, and as such Jesus himself didn’t actually die on the cross.  Since all matter was deemed evil by the Gnostics, the Eucharist was something that was unfathomable?  After all, if matter were evil, then there was no way that the bread and wine can transform into the body and blood of Christ.

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The early church fathers understood the gnostic line of thinking and used the Eucharist as a way to refute them.  In approximately 107 A.D. St. Ignatius of Antioch writes in his letter to the Smyrneans, “They [the Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again”.

Justin Martyr, writing around 150 A.D., states that the bread and wine changes to the body and blood of Christ upon the prayer of the priest.  In his great work titled Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus writes “the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist.”

There are many other such quotes like this span for several centuries.  One such quote comes from St. John Chrystostom who died in 407 A.D.  Describing the Eucharist the great saint states, “How many of you say: I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes. You do see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him. He gives Himself to you, not only that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment.”

Eucharist

These quotes go on and on, and through them we see that the teaching of the church from the beginning is that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ.  At this point you are probably wondering why I am quoting all these great saints.  Friends, my heart hurts.  For every one person that enters the Catholic church, there are six people who leave.  Why would they leave such a great gift such as the Eucharist?  When I ask those that leave, their answers range from the sexual abuse scandal to a disagreement with a priest.  However, a majority that I have spoken to leave because they do not believe what the church teaches about the Eucharist.  Some didn’t even know the church’s teaching.

Perhaps we have taken this great sacrament for granted and our actions no longer show the reverence it deserves.  Perhaps some have just been poorly catechized. Maybe it is both.  I urge you my friends to take a moment to reflect on the greatness that is the Eucharist.  The very gift of himself that our Lord gives us to nourish and strengthen us.  May we never take it for granted and show it the reverence it deserves.


About our guest blogger:

William is a convert to the Catholic faith.  Before entering the church he was ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary.  William lives with his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults.  Check out his website/blog at williamhemsworth.com for more great and informative Catholic content!

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The Power of Gratitude

Today started out much like a normal day. I woke up. Ate breakfast. Got ready for work. Arriving at work, I encountered a lot of negativity. Frustration from customers. Lack of understanding from co-workers. Dullness, dreariness, pessimism besieged me.

Pessimism

My ego weakened and trust damaged I felt like giving up. Something provoked me to pause. Wait. Think it through. To fight back.

Gratitude caused me to push back against the negativity. Pulling out a post-it notes I quickly jotted a ton of things (ability to write, family, life, job, pens, calculator). Most of these were blessings immediately in front of me. I soon relearned that I have much to be thankful.

Stopping to reflect on my blessings put distance between myself and the negativity. Recognizing all the things large and small I have to be grateful for proved to be the turning point in my day.

Gratitude

Gratitude is the greatest weapon to defeat negativity. If you are encountering pessimism daily, at work or home, please don’t despair. Think about the blessings in your life great and small. Thanksgiving will help dispel the storm.

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