A number of years ago a student came to me with an interesting pastoral situation. His mother had died in a car wreck about a year before. After working hard on his grief, he had begun to ask some questions about her status in the afterlife.Then she reflects on the great cloud of witness from Hebrews 12 and says:
“Does my mother know anything about my life, or is she just kind of a zombie?” he asked. “Will she know when I get married, when I have children, what happens in my life?
I responded to my student by saying that yes, his mother would be aware of his life and would take enduring interest in it. I suggested that it would be OK to talk with her and share the significant passages of life with her. I assured him that she was with Christ and would be reunited with him in resurrection to the life everlasting.Other than the semi-obligatory comment denying purgatory this is a very good reflection on the Catholic doctrine of saints. It is very simple. If we believe our dead loved ones still live then why should we stop being concerned about them and why should they stop be concerned about us? If their prayers were powerful and effective on earth (Ja 5:16) then why should they be any less so in heaven?
He was comforted. And I would suggest the same for us. While we are not trying to spring our relatives out of purgatory by buying indulgences, we must remember those who have gone before us and intercede for their well-being. We may also be confident that their concern for us is an instrument of grace, as well.
She even goes the other direction and talks about interceding for their well-being. I am not sure how that makes logical sense if you deny purgatory but it does make emotional sense. Again, we prayed for their spiritual health while they were on earth, why stop?
When it comes to men and women more widely known for their holiness it is just as intuitive. Should I be able to ask Mother Teresa to pray for me? Why not? For that matter, why not St Paul? If they are really alive would they not want to help people like me just as much as they did when they walked the earth? You have some issues with numbers, how many people can one saint help? But why not try?
So what is the problem? I think it is related to the difficulty protestants have in defining what it means to be a Christian. When we proclaim saints we define the faith. Who are the spiritual giants we should be looking up to? Does it just include those in your own tradition? Does it include Catholics? Does it include anybody before the reformation? This would force protestants to compare their faith with the faith of the most respected Christians in history. I can see why they don't want to go there.