Pope Benedict XVI took the remarkable step of beatifying Pope John Paul II today, an important step toward canonization of perhaps one of the most beloved papal leaders in history. Typically, beatification follows the acknowledgment of at least one posthumous miracle that is directly attributed to the person under consideration for sainthood. In Pope John Paul II’s case, Sister Marie Simone-Pierre, a French nun who said that she recovered from Parkinson’s disease after praying to John Paul, was evidence enough – a cure that Benedict had declared miraculous. From now on, Pope John Paul II will be known as Blessed John Paul II. A second miracle will be necessary before John Paul II can be canonized, the official act of declaring sainthood.
But what does this mean, praying “to” John Paul? Do Catholics actually pray “to” the saints? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God…their intercession is their utmost exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world” (CCC 2683). But is asking for intercession the same as praying to someone other than the Lord? In a word, No!
How many of us, when faced with a particular difficulty, have called up a friend and asked them to pray for us? We call our families, we call our co-workers, we even ask total strangers on Facebook to pray for various and sundry causes on a regular basis. This does not mean we are praying “to” these people – we are simply magnifying the power of prayer by asking as many people as possible to carry our desires to God. Including the saints in this declaration of faith, which is at the heart what prayer truly is, increases the power of our prayers, just the same as if we had gathered a dozen or so of our closest friends in a “prayer circle” to reach out to God on someone’s behalf.
“But they’re dead,” a recent non-Catholic friend shared when talking about the saints. Are they? Either we believe the Bible promise of eternal life or we don’t. When Christians die, they are not dead, but have everlasting life. Why wouldn’t their intercessions on our behalf be heard by the Lord? As the saints are already at home with the Lord, calling on them to pray for us is not an act of blasphemy or false doctrine, but rather Christians bringing to bear all their prayer partners when faced with difficulties or challenges that require God’s grace and mercy.
Of course we can bring our petitions directly to the Lord, through Christ Jesus and infused with the faith of the Holy Spirit. In fact, God already knows our needs and is working His plan to bring about all manner of good in our lives. But prayer, this true declaration of faith in the Bible promises, is always helpful, as it seeks to remind US, not the Lord, that He will never leave us or forsake us. And if we have a few of closest friends, those both alive in flesh and alive in spirit, praying with us, how much more confident will we be that the Lord hears our prayers!
No one knows how long it will be before John Paul is found to have interceded on another’s behalf once again and credited with facilitating a second “miracle”. But we do know that John Paul loved the children of God nearly as much as he loved God. The next time you’re looking at trouble and want someone to pray for you, think about giving him a call – he’s probably listening.