This week was another week in RCIA that I wished could have been covered over several days. We discussed the Saints, starting with a prayer known as “The Litany of the Saints.” Among the topics was a brief overview of how a person becomes a officially recognized saint and how that process has evolved over the millennia. Also covered was the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe and how that apparition changed the lives of many future generations of indigenous peoples of Mexico and the Americas in general.

For me personally, it took my meeting with a local monsignor last winter to fully understand why Catholics pray prayers to Mary and to the Saints. I remember sitting in his office and asking him point blank, “How is it not idol worship to pray to a saint?” Of course, now I cringe at the brashness and ignorance of that question, but at the time I thought I was fully justified in leveling such a accusation. The monsignor was an older man nearing retirement, his face and smile instantly put me at ease. Even though I had never met him before, I could tell instantly that he was a kind, gentle, intelligent man who must possess more patience than I could ever hope to.

Monsignor answered my question very simply. He said that the word “pray” in the Catholic church comes from the old-English word to ask for something; such as “I pray thee, give me rest.” The word was never understood to just mean the things we ask of God. He said Catholics would never and have never worshiped saints; rather they “venerate” or give high respect to Mary and the saints. Because of their recognized closeness to God, Catholics ask or “pray” for Mary and the saints to intercede with or pray to God on their behalf.

Monsignor used this analogy. If you knew that someone was the brother of a CEO of a company, and you wanted a job at the company, it would be only natural to inquire of the brother to use his closer connection to assist you. He went on further. If you knew the mother of that CEO and was a close friend of hers, it would also be a usual and common place thing to as for her support as well. In this analogy, no one is mistaking the mother of the CEO for being the intended target of the request, because it is understood that the power comes from the CEO, not the mother. Likewise, the brother of the CEO is not the person with the authority and power; and no one has to say that because it is well understood that again, the CEO is the real power.

Catholics pray to Mary and to the saints because, among other things, they are the closest to God so their prayers have more weight or influence or proximity. Also, the monsignor pointed out as well, the we have all asked those around us to “pray for us.” When you are sick, or injured, or in need, all Christians know that praying for one another is not just traditional, but scriptural. Finally, monsignor brought this idea full circle and said that if we believe (and I do) that saints are in Heaven and can hear us (for which there is ample scriptural proof), then asking them to pray for us is no different than asking our family, our mothers, our fathers, our friends, etc. to do the same.

He explained that Catholics are in the truest sense of the word Christian in that they follow the scripture, and tradition, in the Church. Catholics recognize the one true God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that there is no other god. Praying to Mary and the saints does not diminish from the Catholic faith in God. Instead it makes it more complete. Every time a Catholic says the Hail Mary, they are saying “…Mary, Mother of God, pray for us …” in just the same way we ask our earthly parents to pray for us in times of need.

It is easy to say “show me where the Bible says to pray to Mary or the saints.” But as I am learning more and more with each day on my journey, Catholics don’t use a “either/or” mentality; instead, they use a “both/and” mentality. Most Christians believe that Jesus was both man and God. Catholics take that same idea and apply it to many things. The Catholic church isn’t either all scriptural or all traditional; but both scriptural and traditional in the context of the Church’s understanding.

Praying to Mary and the saints has been with the Church traditions since the very founding. Paintings in the catacombs, writing of early church fathers, and even historical accounts from other non-Christians attest to this. I am now fully at peace with praying and venerating Our Lady and the saints, and in part to trying so hard to find proof to the contrary. The best thing I ever did to increase my faith was to start to follow it where ever the evidence lead, and would encourage any one else to do the same.

-A Brother In Christ