… and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won

I have always, even as a child, been drawn to this line from the great hymn “The Churches One Foundation.” Of course, I didn’t know what it meant. As I matured, I interpreted it to mean the mystic sweet connection I had with my favorite saints, such as St. Augustine. This, however, was thought of in terms of getting to know them through their writings. But they are living, not dead! If they live, they live with purpose, and their purpose must be connected to this world. Even now I must confess that I really do not have a very good grasp on this.

I think that we avoid any thoughts on this spiritual ream of saints and angels out of fear. We are not wired to such a mystery because of our western penchant to trust only our senses and reason when it comes to cosmological issues. We are afraid of venturing out beyond them. Surely if we did we would seem unintelligent and naive!

Many are also afraid of what they perceive is an abuse in the medieval church even down to our own days where people only pray to saints and angels and not to God. Granted, this was and is the case in many places. This can only be explained as a pagan impulse to disregard a relationship with the Transcendent God for sub-deities or local spirits that can be manipulated by prayers, amulets, and magic. And so we see that we humans flop from one extreme to another. We either embrace a radical transcendence where there is only this material world and the transcendent God above, or we reject transcendence and deal with the gods and spirits below in radical immanence. Neither cosmology is biblical.

I once met a very sincere woman who said something like, “I do not need to pray to Jesus; I pray to Mary His mother, and since she is His mother, I’m sure she will use her influence on Jesus.” I cringed, and still do! (By the way, this is not official Catholic doctrine; for an official view of the saints and angels, see the Catechism.) The proper way of understanding Mary and her role in the Church is to see that she belongs to the created world of spirits. She is not the fourth member of the Trinity! She does not inhabit eternity! She belongs to the great cloud of witnesses in the created spirit world. We may reasonably conclude that since Jesus, the eternal Logos, received His humanity from Mary (and therefore she has been honored in the Church as “Mother of God”) she holds a special place in heaven. Think of this; the Incarnate Christ who now has a glorified human body that inhabits eternity but also the spirit world we call heaven has a mother! Her “I will” to God in contrast to Eve’s “I will not” makes her our new mother as well. She does not stand as a mediator between us and Jesus. Rather, she is, along with all the other saints and angels, a channel of Christ’s grace to us. The first generation of reformers, by and large, believed this. It is only since the enlightenment that Mary has been demoted to utter insignificance in some circles, along with the spirit world.

But how do we get back? Can the toothpaste ever be put back into the tube? How can we shift our cosmology? Well, it is a life-long task to see reality as it really is. Yet we have to believe that if all we have said is true, that God wants us to see and experience it. Prayer is the only way back. There is an old saying in the Church; lex orandi lex credendi (The way we pray shapes the way we believe). We should pray with a sense of the reality of heaven and the spirit world where our departed brothers and sisters somehow and somewhere inhabit even now before the resurrection. We never fail to ask our brothers and sisters here on earth to pray for us, why not those saints which we knew on earth or those long ago with whom we connect well? We all belong to one great unified reality!

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