George K Paul writes about the ‘great cloud of witnesses’, how prayer brings us closer to them and a practical way of praying to them.

A few years ago, I was having the open terrace of my house converted into a room and it was decided to build a staircase from the small inner courtyard of our house to the newly constructed upper space. My contractor had an expert in his team assigned with the task of building the staircase, but he met with an accident that rendered him unable to work for a couple of months. It was during this period that Fr. Jomio, a close friend of mine, dropped by for a short visit. I explained to him my predicament. ‘You should ask St. Joseph to help you with this,’ said Fr. Jomio emphatically. He went on to describe the story behind the miraculous staircase at the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He also recommended praying the St. Joseph’s Novena for that intention. I had nothing against novenas, but I had never prayed one for a personal end. I decided to give it a shot because I had exhausted all other options to resume the stalled construction. To my great surprise, on the third day of the Novena, the ‘expert’ found himself out of the woods earlier than expected and returned to work! The staircase was completed in a couple of weeks.

The Great Cloud of Support

A verse that has remained with me when I think about the saints is Hebrews 12:1.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…

From the very early centuries, the Church has paid special attention and reverence to the saints, holding them up as models of Christian life and has kept their stories and writings alive for our edification. There is no venue where the pilgrim Church is closer to the ‘Church Triumphant’ than in prayer. And this is especially true about liturgical prayer, where we enter into communion with the saints and the heavenly hosts in offering true worship to the triune God.

In the Prayer Over the Offerings on the Solemnity of All Saints (November 1), the Church prays:

‘May these offerings we bring in honour of all the Saints be pleasing to you, O Lord, and grant that, just as we believe the Saints to be already assured of immortality, so we may experience their concern for our salvation. Through Christ Our Lord.’

The members of the pilgrim Church assembled for this feast ask that we ‘may experience their concern for our salvation.’ The Church recognises in its prayer that those who rest in glory are keenly attentive to the salvation of those yet to come. For the pilgrim members to ‘experience their concern’ means not only venerating the blessed saints as they are, but also apprehending their role in our journey towards heaven.

At a more ordinary level, we experience this concern of the saints in the many forms of popular devotions (novenas, prayers and pilgrimages). Some historians point out how the devotional practices of Gallic Christians between the fourth and fifth centuries for venerating the blessed dead led to the incorporation of communio sanctorum as an article of faith in the Apostles’ Creed. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis appeals to Paul VI’s words in recognising that popular piety ‘manifests a thirst for God which only the poor and the simple can know, making people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of bearing witness to belief.’ Popular piety is the gift of the poor and the simple.

Pope Francis’s understanding of the centrality of concrete devotions is rooted in his own experience of practicing the Catholic faith. In particular, he gives himself as one of the spiritual children of that great saint of simplicity: Therese. It was Therese who not only desired to spend her heaven doing good on earth, but who also pledged to bring a shower of roses through her prayer. From earth, Therese interceded for the poor man for whom she gave her First Communion and for Pranzini for whom she prayed for contrition. From heaven, she seeks the ‘souls to be saved’, and Jorge Bergoglio, who would become Pope Francis, has long offered himself as a candidate for her care. In the Pope’s own words, ‘When I have a problem, I ask the saint, not to solve it, but to take it in her hands and help me accept it. And as a sign, I almost always receive a white rose.’ The Pontiff is referring to actual roses here!

The intercessory role of the saints in our everyday life brings into focus the great truth about God’s care – it is always thoroughly particular, not at all generalised. Every cry for help is a moment of a singular act of loving care, ably facilitated by the saints in heaven.

A Practical Tip to pray with the Saints

A method that I found effective is to choose a saint to pray with at the beginning of each month. During the month, I try to devote myself to the saint by studying their life, reading their writings, and practicing their devotions. Depending on your vocation, your interests, and the time you have to spare, you can choose any type of saint – scholar, apologist, missionary, or mystic. I keep a notebook to collect quotes from their writings and use it for further reflection where I append to the saint’s words what I learned about my journey to discipleship. This has helped considerably in building a relationship with the saints and I have experienced their presence and help in more tangible ways once I have spent enough time praying and meditating with them.

The ‘Communion of Saints’ is a heavenly reality that serves as a constant reminder of our ultimate call and destiny—communion with the triune God. This great truth is manifested here on earth primarily through prayer, both liturgical and devotional, where we join the saints and angels in their heavenly worship and participate with them in their efforts to bring us into full communion.

…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1John 1:3).

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