From the time I was a wee lad, my dear ol’ pappy drilled several lessons into me, one of which was, “If you’re going to do something, do it right.” Another was, “Don’t do something half-baked,” although he used a different word than “baked.”
Maybe this explains why I’ve always been a stickler for the rules, and why it’s always bugged me when people do things sloppily or don’t follow them.
Do it right or go home
So for instance, in my fraternity, when it came time to initiate new brothers, I couldn’t stand that some guys would wear a coat, tie … and sneakers. ‘This is important,’ I thought. ‘Dress accordingly. Show respect for the awesome ceremony in which you’re about to participate and are about to give witness. Don’t dress like some slob who doesn’t care. And if you truly don’t care, scram.’
Or when there was a portion of the fraternity’s “liturgy” that was supposed to be recited from memory … and the brother reciting that part read from the ritual book. It wasn’t as though he didn’t have time to learn his lines. He was just lazy.
For me it’s the same thing when a priest doesn’t “say the black” and “do the red” in the Mass.
Hey, Father: We don’t need your improvisations. No matter how creative and wonderfully “pastoral” you are, nothing you can conjure is going to be as good as what the Church has given us. Plus the Second Vatican Council and the Popes since then have said no one has a right to change a single jot or tittle of the rubrics on their own. Ergo knock it off, will ya?
This disregard for rules and protocols, we see it everywhere today, don’t we? Maybe we even do it ourselves (yes, I’ve three fingers pointing at me; crossing at crosswalks is super difficult, after all).
Hard to miss that one
One big place we see it in the Church is with those who are on their way to possible beatification, the Servants of Gods and Venerables.
“Oh, come on,” some will think. “Don’t we have more important things to worry about?”
Of course. That doesn’t mean this isn’t important, however. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have any concern over this. If it’s true that “in the Mass everything matters” (as one seminary professor I know of teaches his students), shouldn’t we also be careful and diligent in the other things pertaining to God and what He’s given us through His Church?
For the Church tells us to do things and how to do them for a reason. We don’t get to – or shouldn’t – decide on our own where the Church is wrong. That will lead – and always has led – to some really bad things happening.
Saint So-and-So … pray for us!
What am I talking about, already? Simple: Prayers to the saints. Or in this instance, prayers to saints in the making.
If we’re praying to a canonized saint, we can pray directly to them. If we’re praying to a beato or beata (i.e., someone who’s been beatified), we can pray directly to them.
Why? Because despite the differences in titles, both saints and blesseds (aka, beati) are in heaven. We have the Church’s infallible assurance of this.
The same cannot be said of Servants of God and Venerables. They may be in heaven. They may be in purgatory. In some rare – hopefully exceedingly rare – instances, they may even be in hell. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 1033 and 1035 for the reason why.
Absent a miracle or a declaration by the Pope of a person’s or persons’ martyrdom—which are the ordinary ways we ask God to reveal someone is with Him in the Beatific Vision—we have no way of knowing the disposition of their soul.
For Jesus’ injunction to “Judge not lest ye be judged yourself” speaks not to judging someone’s actions (we have to judge the rightness or wrongness of actions – stealing, murder, alcoholism, addiction, sexual crimes, sins of all types, etc. – or else we’d have chaos). Rather it warns against judging the eternal disposition of someone’s soul. He is the Judge. We are not.
That works both negatively and positively.
So we’re not to say someone is roasting in eternal fires, no matter how wicked, sinful, and evil they were while alive. You will notice the Church does not claim to know whether one single soul is in hell, even Judas or Hitler or Osama bin Laden or Mao or anyone.
Similarly we’re not to claim someone is in heaven without definitive proof. The Church will and often has made that determination, but only after thorough investigation and examination and God has revealed this.
Until we have that certainty, we are not to pray directly for that person’s intercession.
The proof is in the prayers
Don’t believe me? OK, don’t take it from me. Take it from the beatification causes of two “saints-in-waiting,” let’s call them.
First let’s look at one of my favorites, the Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, who spent years incarcerated by the Soviets, first in solitary confinement in the terrible Lubyanka Prison and then in Siberian labor camps.
Here is a prayer asking for his intercession:
Almighty God, we love, adore, and praise You as our Creator and Loving Father. Look with compassion and mercy upon us. Hear our prayer in this time of special need and through the intercession of Father Walter Ciszek, grant the following favor if it is Your Holy Will.
(Mention the Request)
Most loving God, accept our gratitude for hearing this prayer. May the knowledge of the virtues and holiness of Father Walter be recognized and known to provide a lasting example to draw sinners to reconciliation and to lead souls to sanctity.
For You are our God, and we are Your people, and we glorify You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.
What doesn’t happen in this prayer to the Servant of God? Nowhere do we say, “Fr. Ciszek, pray for us.” Instead the prayer is addressed to “Almighty God.”
Now let’s look at a prayer from the cause of Ven. Pio Bruno Lanteri, founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, who also is up for beatification.
O Father, fountain of all life and holiness, You gave Fr. Bruno Lanteri great faith in Christ, Your Son, a lively hope, and an active love for the salvation of his brethren. You made him a prophet of Your Word and a witness to Your Mercy. He had a tender love for Mary, and by his very life he taught fidelity to the Church. Father, hear the prayer of Your family, and through the intercession of Fr. Lanteri, grant us the grace for which we now ask…. May he be glorified on earth that we may give You greater praise.
We ask this through Your Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
“But wait! But wait! The website promoting the cause of my favorite Venerable says, ‘Ven. So-and-So, pray for us’! What about that, eh?”
“But wait! But wait! Father always asks for the prayers of the Servant of God directly. Father would never do anything wrong or against the Church.”
It’s true. Various causes do this. That doesn’t mean they’re supposed to.
And Father may be unassailable in his orthodoxy and fidelity to the Magisterium.
That doesn’t mean in both instances ignorance isn’t involved. Very likely, it is.
In life, if we do something, we should do it right. Shouldn’t that especially be true when it comes to venerating the saints, especially if the person in question isn’t yet a saint?
Some people will pooh-pooh what I’ve written. But ask yourself: What do you have to lose being obedient to the Church? What do you have to gain by ignoring her?
You don’t need a saint’s intercession to discern the answer.