Mother Teresa is going to be canonized by the Catholic Church. No surprise there—her soul-crashing doubts about God’s existence notwithstanding. Once the ball starts rolling toward sainthood, does it ever stop? Those two required miracles will be found, if the Vatican wants to find them badly enough… even if they have to find post-mortem miracles!
I know, I know… Who am I to judge? I’m Protestant. But I am ecumenically inclined. I’m not especially sectarian. Unfortunately, when I read the following in the New York Times about the two certifiable miracles of Mother Teresa, it only strengthens my Protestant resolve:
Two miracles are generally required for canonization. Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 after the Vatican concluded that an Indian woman’s prayers to the nun caused her incurable tumor to disappear. The second miracle involves a Brazilian man who suffered a viral brain infection that caused multiple abscesses, and eventually left him in a coma and dying. His wife had been praying for months to Mother Teresa, and on Dec. 9, 2008, as he was about to be taken to emergency surgery, she and her husband’s priest and relatives intensified their prayers.
Praying to the saints offends me. It’s contrary to the biblical witness. By all means, intercessory prayer is commanded by Christ and the apostles in scripture, but as N.T. Wright once observed, “Why talk to someone standing outside the throne room when you can go directly to the One sitting on the throne?” I’ve never read or heard a satisfactory answer to that question—only appeals to a tradition that is, at best, centuries after the apostolic witness.
Moreover, even granting the biblically unfounded idea that saints in heaven can hear our prayers to them, how are they now endowed with god-like powers—transcending time, space, and human limitations—such that, like God himself, they can simultaneously hear the prayers of potentially billions all at once? One theological answer, perhaps, is that God grants them these powers by his grace—through the Holy Spirit—but doesn’t that beg the question?
If it’s only through God’s grace that these departed saints’ prayers on our behalf are efficacious, then who’s really doing the “miraculous” work here? In which case, since through Christ’s atoning work we Christians are now God’s beloved sons and daughters who are privileged to call God Father on the same basis as his Son Jesus, why not just pray directly to the Father?
Even worse, in the case of someone like Mother Teresa, she’s credited for two miracles that she performed after she died! Literally. If I were Catholic and believed in praying to saints, on what basis would I pray to Mother Teresa, who, at the time, wasn’t even recognized as a saint? Were they guessing that she might be one, so they were praying to her just in case?
It’s hard enough for me to pray to God without doubting that he’ll grant my petitions; what extra measure of faith would be required for me to believe that praying to someone who’s less than God will have any effect—especially doing so without biblical warrant!
If it’s true that Pope Francis is ready to declare, during 2017’s 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, that the Reformation is over, and Protestants of good faith are fully equal brothers and sisters, he must also declare that this issue is at least adiaphora—one over which we Christians can rightly disagree.
See Anglican theologian Glenn Peoples’ blog post from July for more information on the tradition of praying to saints.