Saint Worship - Part 7

from the fact that we pray to God to grant us favors through the intercession of the blessed Mary ever-virgin, and of the saint honored by the Church, I infer, first, that the honors paid to the saints are religious, not merely civil; secondly, that we do not pray to the saints on the supposition that we cannot pray directly to God Himself, or that the saints are nearer to us, in closer relation to us, and more ready to hear and assist us; and, thirdly, that what in the worship of the saints we ask of them is their intercession, or simply their prayers. We do not ask the saints, not even the Blessed Mary, for pardon, for mercy, for grace, or blessings of any sort, as things in their power to grant; we simply ask them to aid us by their prayers, or to intercede with God to obtain these things for us from Him from Whom comes every good and perfect gift.

What we ask of the saints in glory is only what we may and do ask of one another while living in the flesh. Many years ago, before I had the happiness of being received into the communion of the Catholic Church, I was, as most Protestants who retain some respect for religion are, in the habit of frequently closing my letters to my friends with the words, pray for me. One day, writing to a very dear friend, but one who was not precisely a saint, I concluded [in the same way]. I did so from the force of habit, but I had no sooner written the words then a sudden thought struck me, and I exclaimed to myself: "There is the justification of the Catholic practice of invocation of saints. Here I am asking a sinful mortal to pray for me; how much rather should I ask the prayers of a beautiful saint in heaven, always in the presence of God." From that moment to this I have had no difficulty with the invocation of saints, nor hesitated to ask them to pray for me; and long before my conversion I had specially invoked the prayers of Our Lady, and I have no reason to doubt that her intercession obtained for me what I needed – the grace of faith and docility, whether I have profited by it or not; for from that day my mind began to open to the truth of our holy religion, and it seemed as if the dark clouds that had hidden its beauty from my view began to part and roll back and disclose the splendor beyond, and nothing was more easy than to believe.

But still it is asked what need to pray the saints at all, and why not pray directly to God Himself, since He is infinitely nearer to us, and more ready and able to help us than any saint is or can be? In reply, I answer that Catholics do pray directly to God, and perhaps even more than they who reject prayers to the saints; and I might ask, in our turn, why pray even directly to God, since He knows all our wants better than we ourselves know them, knows what we are going to pray for before the prayer is formed in our own heart, and is infinitely more willing to help us than we are to ask His help? The same principle that justifies prayer to God justifies prayers to the saints to intercede for us, and certainly nothing in religion is more certain than that prayer is enjoined as a duty, and that if offered not amiss it availeth much. There is not, and never was, a religion without prayer, and prayer is an integral part of every religion service, in every age and nation. On what principle does it depend? Is there a universal or catholic reason for it?

Every dogma and every practice enjoined or approved by the Church rests on a catholic or universal principle, and therefore she is really, not merely called, the Catholic Church. She is the Catholic Church because all her doctrines are catholic or universal principles, always and everywhere true, whether we speak of the order of nature or of the order of grace, and all her authorized practices have their reason in these universal principles. The principles of the order of grace are the principles of the order of nature, for grace does not contradict extinguish, or supersede nature, but presupposes it – gratia supponit naturam – accepts it, and completes, consummates, or fulfills it. "I am not come," said our Lord, "to destroy, but to fulfill." Nature has its fulfillment in grace, generation in regeneration and glorification. God, if I may so speak, creates always after one and the same divine plan, and is, both in His ordinary and His gracious [extraordinary] providence, fulfilling one and the same original design. He is the infinite and eternal logic; and though infinitely free in all His external acts, alike from outward coercion and inward necessity, He is never illogical, inconsequent, arbitrary, or capricious in any of His works. He never deviates from the plan His won wisdom has devised, never alters or amends it, but carries it out with infinite self-consistency both as a whole and in all its parts.

Hence the uniformity, the regularity, the harmony of the universe, and the universality and immutability of what are called the laws of nature; and hence, too, the difficulty that men who devote themselves to the study of the natural sciences find in admitting miracles, or the supernatural facts of our religion, which seem to them to be deviations from the uniformity of the plan of creation, inconsequences in the divine action, so contrary to reason that no possible evidence can prove them, for no evidence can rise higher than reason itself. Their difficulty arises from not knowing or not reflecting [upon the truth] that the miracles and supernatural order does but carry on in the same line and complete the natural; or in other and more precise terms, that grace simply fulfills nature (or completes what is not ultimate, but inchoate or initial, in the world they study), and is not more nor otherwise supernatural than the creative act itself. Nature is supernatural in its origin and end, and the natural is only that which God does mediately, through the ministry or agency of second or created causes. There is in what we here assert the principle of the harmony of faith and reason, of the truths of revelation and the truths of science. The principles of both are the same, and they differ only in the fact that faith reveals their origin and ground in the divine mind, and is the medium of their development and application beyond the power of human reason.

Whenever we find any proposition or fact which we can refer to no catholic or universal principle, we may always rest assured, either that it is false, or that we do not understand it – have failed to seize its real meaning; for every real fact, every true proposition, has a universal as well as a particular sense. It is on this ground that the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church seek always in the Holy Scriptures more than in the simple historical sense, and regard the moral and spiritual sense which transcends it as by far the more important. We see this especially in Origen and Saint Augustine (though in the works of Origen as transmitted to us there are some grave errors). We see it in all the Christian mystics, from whom, if we know how to read them, we may best seize the spirit and inner sense of religion, for they give us our faith in its synthesis, as a living whole, not simply in detached propositions and isolated particulars.

All the works of God are at once particular and general, and every particular fact is at once a fact and a sign or symbol; and it is chiefly as a sign, as significant of a universal principle, that it deserves to be studied, meditated. He who sees in the Holy Scriptures only the literal meaning determined by grammar and lexicon has never learned to read the written word of God, and the philosopher who has never looked "through nature up to nature’s God" knows as little of nature as he knows of the Divina Commedia who has simply learned its letters and syllables, without being able to join them together in words. Nature is real, not merely ideal or phenomenal; but while real, it expresses or symbolizes a higher reality than its own. It is the characteristic of genius to see, through the sign, that higher reality; and to see and express it under the form of the beautiful is the province of the true artist, the true poet. There is always more in every fact and under all appearances than those minds dream of which stop with the literal material fact, the mimetic (to borrow a term from Plato), and it is a good side of modern transcendentalism that it is aware of this great truth; but unhappily it forgets that the material, the mimetic, though symbolizing the spiritual, is itself real, not, as they hold, a mere appearance.