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Praying to God, Angels and Saints


Does God Hear Our Prayer?

Q: Does God truly know, see, hear all, every second and everywhere? Do saints hear our prayers? Do they know what is happening to us? Does the Blessed Virgin see and know, or just hear?

A: Catholics believe that God is omniscient, that is, he is all-knowing. He knows everything. He is also omnipresent—he is everywhere. For more on the attributes of God, you can read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

How God knows and is present differs from the way in which we humans know and are present to someone or someplace. Whenever we speak of God, we can only say, "It is something like." There is a vast difference between the divine and the human. The human attributes we assign to God are by analogy only. Theologians call this "the analogy of being." God is spirit; he does not have eyes, ears or tongue. How God knows and communicates with human beings is a subject for theologians to explain and ponder.

Yet Scripture and our own experience make it evident that God is aware of what is happening to his creatures and can act upon our senses to communicate with us.

In the Book of Exodus (2:23-24) we read, "As their cry for release went up to God, he heard their [the Hebrews'] groaning and was mindful of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

Exodus will go on to tell of Moses' encounters with God in the burning bush and at Mt. Sinai. When Elijah restores the widow's son to life, the First Book of Kings (17:22) tells us, "The Lord heard the prayer of Elijah."

The New Testament, too, is full of instances where God sees, hears, knows and responds to the pleas of humans. Luke tells us both Zechariah and Elizabeth were "righteous in the eyes of God" (Luke 1:6) and the angel tells Zechariah, "Your prayer has been heard" (Luke 1:13).

Jesus' words on prayer, "Ask and you will receive" (Luke 11:9), presuppose God hears and is aware of our prayers.

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man takes as fact that the dead have some awareness of what is happening on earth (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man fears his brothers will share his fate, and asks to have Lazarus warn them.

The Church plainly believes the holy ones are aware of our prayers of intercession and that God responds to their prayers on our behalf. This is evident, for example, when the Church accepts as genuine a miracle following prayers to someone proposed for beatification or canonization.

The extent of what the saints and angels know of earthly affairs, and how they know, is again a question of discussion for theologians.

In speaking of the beatific vision (knowledge of God after death), Adolf Tanquerey calls it intuitive (not sensory) knowledge. He goes on to speak of other knowledge, secondary to the knowledge of God, that belongs to the just after death. He says the blessed see many other things, especially those which pertain to their own proper state—past, present and future.

The blessed will know the mysteries which they have believed on earth, and they will know the other saints. Scientists will have greater knowledge of the things they studied on earth. They will know more about the things that pertained to them in their former state of life. And, says Tanquerey, the blessed will look upon their parents and friends who are still living on earth and hear the prayers which are directed to them.

In the end, remember we are talking about the mysterious. We have no firsthand knowledge of these things. Therefore, outside of faith, we can only speculate and theorize.

The Feast of the Divine Maternity Revisited

Q: You once admitted not knowing why the Feast of the Divine Maternity, in the old Roman calendar, used to be celebrated on October 11. I think you'll find that this feast was first celebrated on October 11, 1931, the 1,500th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma that Mary is the Theotokos, issued by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.

A: You're right. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, the Feast of the Maternity of Mary, which had been approved for Portugal in 1751, was extended to the whole Church by Pius XI in 1931. This was the 15th centenary of the Council of Ephesus. According to P. Rouillard, author of the entry, the feast duplicated Christmas, when the mystery of the divine maternity is celebrated with more solemnity.

This feast of the Maternity of Mary was one of 16 feasts of devotion added to the general calendar of the Church over the last three centuries.

This feast was removed from October 11 when the calendar reform that went into effect in 1970 placed the celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, on January 1, the octave of Christmas

Who Really Wrote the Peace Prayer of St. Francis?

Q: I have been told recently that the famous prayer attributed to St. Francis, "Lord, make me an instrument...," was not written by him. Is this correct? Who wrote it? Why is it then attributed to St. Francis of Assisi?

A: According to St. Anthony Messenger's columnist Albert Haase, O.F.M., in the January 1999 issue, St. Francis had nothing to do with writing the prayer. The earliest version has been found in the breviary of England's William the Conqueror, king from 1066 to 1087. That's nearly 200 years before Francis of Assisi.

According to Haase, Cardinal Francis Spellman attached the name of St. Francis, his patron saint, to the prayer. In visiting Assisi to celebrate his appointment to the College of Cardinals, he found the prayer under the title of "A Simple Prayer" with a picture of St. Francis.

After the cardinal returned to the United States, he passed out copies under the title of "The Peace Prayer of St. Francis."

While Francis did not write the prayer, it is very much in his spirit.

Place of Burial

Q: There is a national cemetery nearby for veterans and their wives. My husband and I are trying to decide if this is where we would want to be buried. Three of our close relatives have chosen to do this.

Is this appropriate for Catholics? I know Catholic cemeteries are blessed ground, but what about a national cemetery?

A: Canon 1180, #2, states, "All may, however, choose their cemetery of burial unless prohibited by law from doing so."

That does not exclude a national cemetery. I can't imagine any law that would prohibit you from choosing your cemetery.

When burial does take place in a non-Catholic cemetery, however, a priest should conduct the final committal ceremony at the grave site and bless the grave.

A Resigning Bishop

Q: In the news there has been a Florida bishop replaced due to his coming out—telling the press the truth about his past life. He said he was truly sorry for it. It makes me feel that the press is the devil in the flesh at times.

Shouldn't a good confession and absolution of an authorized priest be sufficient? I have always heard that Our Lord forgives all sins through the absolution of a priest. If he has repented and was given an absolution for the sin, if he is truly sorry and made a good confession and performed the penance he was assigned, why the big stink now?

A: We can all be glad that God is our final judge. And I believe that God will be more compassionate and merciful in the way he judges and forgives us than we are in the way we judge each other.

I have no doubt that God often uses weak and flawed human beings as his instruments of grace. I think we should be ready to accept the repentance of any and all sinners who ask the forgiveness of God, his people and all who have been hurt by their sins.

But it is also true, and our experience shows us, that some addictions and emotional or mental ills are not easily healed or overcome. Some conditions require long and serious therapy. Some conditions are so deep-seated there seems little hope of a definitive recovery or cure.

Most members of Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, speak of themselves as recovering alcoholics. Struggling with that addiction is a lifetime activity. We know, too, that some sex addictions do not easily give way to cure.

To move priests, monsignors or bishops from one post to another without addressing their basic problem does them no good and only creates more harm. Keeping acts and crimes secret without dealing with root causes only exposes more people to risk and harm. To ignore such problems creates scandal. The effectiveness of such affected ministers is practically destroyed.

We owe help to our ministers who have problems of addiction or who struggle with emotional problems. But we must also help their victims and protect the innocent. We can't just perpetuate the conditions and situations that produced past harms.

We can be grateful for what good the bishop did and for the fact that he is getting help now. We should pray for him and his victims.



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