Thursday, November 07, 2013

I Stand Corrected

Remember that piece I posted recently about invoking (with an outward expression) the saints and angels for their intercession?
One of my readers responded beautifully to the theological question I posed, and I'd like to share his words with you today in the form of a "guest" posting.  Please enjoy!

And thank you, Scott, for sharing your wisdom with all of us! 

Scott Johnson blogs over at Yearning for Plenitude.  Be sure to check him out!

Hi Lisa!

Your blog said to email any response, so here are a few thoughts from my perspective. Thanks for asking!
I would think that no matter in what manner we invoke the Saints or angels to pray for us, God's grace is involved in making it possible for them to hear us. (actually, perhaps less so in the case of angels, who have spiritual powers that we don't have; just speculation).
Any Saint who is in heaven is no longer living in this world. Their life is now in eternity with God, in a different realm (the heavenly realm) than we are in. They do not experience earthly life or events (that is--by their own natural powers alone). In other words, Saints in heaven, it seems to me (and I could be wrong here), are not able simply by nature, to "hear" us, whether we are saying something out loud or using our body to gesture, or, just speaking in the silence of our minds. They are not here to hear us, so-to-speak. So, just by nature, I don't think they can hear or see us no matter what we are doing, externally or internally. (And after all, until the resurrection of the dead, they have no bodies, so, they literally have no physical ears or eyes until the resurrection restores their bodies; but that doesn't really matter because there is no physical connection in air or space between them and us, as though sound waves could reach their ears from our lips). So, not to belabor this, but, in a way, the Saints are more removed from us than a person here on earth on the other side of the planet. That is merely physical. They are no longer in the same created realm of existence with us. (they, living in heaven, are in a more "real," more alive "place," than we are).

BUT, all that being said, whenever we pray and ask a Saint to pray for us, in whatever way we pray (external or internal), they do hear us, because God makes it possible for them to hear us. Exactly how does this work? I don't know (I don't think we'll know until the next life). But, keep in mind, being in heaven, the Saints enjoy a direct living connection "face-to-face" with God. They have an immediate friendship with God in His loving presence that means they have a certain ongoing and direct link/contact/encounter, with God in His living reality. That means, I think, that it would be very natural for God to permit particular persons (saints in heaven) to have little windows of access to what He sees and knows in His omniscience. So, whenever we are praying to a Saint, God of course is fully and totally aware of this. It's a simple thing for Him to allow that Saint to "see"--through and in their living heavenly contact with Him--our prayers . Merely a matter of God's moving aside the veil for them, to one very particular aspect of His ongoing divine awareness of the created realm. I also imagine that the level of completeness of this awareness could be significant, or perhaps only somewhat dim. Perhaps it varies. (so, in one instance, maybe they have only a distant awareness of the words; perhaps in another maybe they "hear" our voice, perhaps in another they have a vision of our physical reality as well as our voice, etc.)

I would hesitate to go so far as to think that the Saints cannot be aware of merely mental prayers asking for their intercession. Personally, over the course of a day, I often say a Hail Mary silently in my mind in situations where it would be inappropriate to pray out loud. I don't think there's really any difference between how they can know our internal mental prayer vs. externally expressed vocal prayers. It "works" the same way in either case--totally needing God to make it happen. (Indeed, it's an inherently supernatural thing to be able to be aware of the thoughts and words of people in one realm of existence--earth--from within another realm of existence--the eternity of heaven).

Also, though, I would agree that there is definitely something to what you say in regard to more pious, more physical ways of praying as compared to merely mental prayer. We know that there are different levels of earnestness and seriousness to our prayer. And anytime we pray with our whole self in a more complete way (body and mind and heart all together), that's a good thing.

And, also, it's good to remember that none of this is simply automatic. In other words, a person praying with their body and verbally out loud can actually be doing so in a way that is very rote--in a sort of mindless autopilot--and their mind and heart be quite disengaged. It's possible a person laying motionless in bed could be praying in much a deeper and devout way than someone kneeling in front of an icon praying out loud. Now, the ideal, I would say, is when we can pray in such a way that we involve our whole being, with our mind, heart, soul, body, all deeply involved and engaged. That's the ideal. But we still, of course, need to be actively engaging our will in a disposition of attentiveness and love. Involving our bodies normally helps with this. But it's not necessarily automatic.

Perhaps thinking about some various situations when people might be praying, can shed further light on this interesting subject. Here's a few that come to mind:
--I heard of a woman (Fr. Groeschel mentioned her in a talk) who was bed-ridden and fully paralyzed. She could not talk and could move nothing except her eyes. There was a large rosary hung on the wall opposite her bed that she could look at. Fr. G said she would look at those beads and follow the rosary with her eyes and was in constant prayer. If I recall, he said something to the effect of those are probably some of the most powerful rosaries ever prayed, and were the most deeply moving rosaries he had ever prayed when he joined her in prayer and all she could do was move her eyes. I think he said he learned a lot about prayer simply sitting silently with her and praying with this woman of great faith. He knew she was a woman of very devout faith and was deeply in union with Jesus.

--Religious communities that pray in common, including times when they are together in silent meditation, recognize that individual brothers or sisters when present in the chapel with other community members, for the sake of everyone's own peace and individual prayer not to be disrupted by others, need to pray silently, and usually this also means with a minimum of physical movement as well. There is a certain prayer decorum, if you will, that attains among a religious community when they pray in silent meditation together in their chapel. Of course, it's good also for individual members to have private prayer time alone with Jesus (wherever that is; it could be the chapel at other times, in their own room, outside in a garden, etc.). But there is something valuable in itself to be together as a community even in silent meditation. In Dominican life, the daily communal prayer of the community included both the verbal prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours that we would sing together (Morning prayer, Evening prayer, etc.), as well has (shorter) times of simply being silent together in personal meditation. And also, it was important too for each brother to have private prayer time alone as well (which might involve more external postures of the body, according to the inclinations of the individual).

So, I think what the above shows, is that there is no one-size-fits-all rule for what prayer looks like that is necessarily more powerful or deep compared to other types of prayer. A person unable to use their body, or a person in quiet meditation in a community, could be engaged in extremely deep and powerful prayer--and the Saints invoked in such prayer times surely hear them.

I hope this doesn't come across in any way as being at all negative about praying with our bodies in an external way (kneeling, verbally speaking out loud,, etc.). These things are very good! But, depending on the situation and our circumstances, they don't automatically mean that our prayers are more powerful.

 All things being equal (ha! when is that ever true?), it is probably true to say there is something more ideal when we pray with our entire being. But sometimes it's actually not appropriate (e.g. in silent communal prayer with a community). And it's only more ideal (when it's possible and appropriate) if it is the case that our heart and mind are in agreement with the outward devotion expressed by our bodies.

Oh, and one last remark that comes to mind! :) St. Francis de Sales would counsel that our religious devotion should be exercised in a way that we do not make our faith and our piety an unnecessary burden that we put upon other people. Trying to become a person of deep and regular prayer and growing in closeness to Christ should not mean that in so doing we add to what other people suffer because of us. One easy hypothetical example that comes to mind . . . I would imagine that in the case of spouses sharing the same bed, it may actually be inconsiderate for one spouse to remember that she didn't pray as she ought before going to bed and to get out of bed to kneel and pray even though doing so would wake or disturb the spouse next to her who was asleep and, say, is a light sleeper. But the particular circumstances matter here (e.g. If the spouse were a heavy sleeper and would not be disturbed, then this would be fine; or if they were both awake and desired to pray together, etc.).

St. Dominic when he prayed in private at night, was known to be very physical in his personal prayer. He was known to hardly ever use a regular bed in the various communities of the Dominicans he founded because he would spend the night in the community chapel praying (I guess he took power naps at various times and situations in the day; I think he would also spend short times asleep in front of the tabernacle, altar, or cross in the chapel--it's almost like given the choice between a bed in a cell, and being with Jesus in the chapel, he just could not resist the latter). The brothers would be curious about the holy Saint's prayer life, so they would sometimes go to peek in at him to see what he was doing in the chapel. This is how we have some of these descriptions of his personal prayer. His personal prayer became known as the "Nine ways" of prayer of St. Dominic and they tend to be quite physical. Reading these, to me at least, is quite moving. Here is a link. Enjoy!

God bless you and love you!