A blog post in 2013 gave 10 reasons why Halloween was better than any other holiday. Reasons ran from “allowing gluttony” to the best time to dress up your dog or cat.
I love watching the “Thriller” dance and wiccans as much as anybody, but … as a Christian I know it is really “All Hallows’ Eve” or the vigil for All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1.
I was talking with a very Protestant friend yesterday about the approach of All Saints’ Day and happened to mention the tradition that St. Jude, the last named of Jesus’ apostles in the gospels, is popularly considered to be the saint of last resort, the one to ask when all else fails. It seems his name, Judas, son of James, is so close to Judas Iscariot that if someone is asking a Christian brother now with the Lord, i.e., a saint, for intercessory prayer, it would be better to ask one of the other apostles first.
She failed to see my humor and asked if I really thought “praying to a saint” was legitimate and not, in fact, idolatrous. I know you are all waiting for my answer.
In the first place, the expression, “praying to St. X” is misleading and unfortunate. In older English “pray” simply meant to request politely. Thus, in the King James Version in Luke 5:3, we read that Jesus boarded Simon Peter’s ship and “prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land.”
Thus, the idea of “praying to St. X” is simply the idea of asking a fellow Christian to intercede with God on one’s behalf. It is not different in principle from asking your Christian friends, family or church members to pray for you.
However, in modern English, the word “pray” is generally understood to refer to worship. So, to be more correct in these post-modern times, instead of talking about “praying to St. X,” one might say she is “asking St. X to join me in praying to God for the recovery of my sick aunt,” or whatever.
The other way of talking can mislead others, and it can mislead the speaker. Rather like St. Paul’s reference to eating the meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:10, some might be led astray.
That was a preliminary comment on terminology, now to the question. Undoubtedly asking one’s fellow Christians in heaven for their prayers is something that can be abused. It can readily degenerate into the notion that getting what you want from God is a matter of knowing what channels to go through, what strings to pull. One ends up thinking of heaven as a place like the seat of a corrupt government, where favors are traded and deals are made by K Street influence peddlers.
But the fact that something can be abused does not mean that we ought to give up its proper use. And surely one of the most valuable truths of the Christian faith is that God’s love for us moves us to love in return, not only God but also one another, so that every Christian is a mirror in which the light of Christ is reflected to every other Christian.
The Rev. Dr. Mike Fay is rector of Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Salida.