The Merry Catholic by Bill Dunn
There’s a fascinating Catholic doctrine called the communion of saints. It states that all the believers who have gone before us are not isolated away in some far corner of heaven. Instead, they are aware of our activities here on earth and they can intercede on our behalf. Pretty cool, huh?
Now, don’t misunderstand; the communion of saints is not superstitious folklore, like those scary movies about ghosts and séances. The communion of saints is a genuine doctrine, clearly taught in Scripture. When Jesus was being harassed by the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, he said to them, “Have you not read in the Book of Moses … how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead but of the living” (Mark 12:26-27).
So the souls and spirits of those who have died in faith are still very much alive. They are now in Purgatory or in a more glorious state of being, and are able to know what we’re doing down here. The epistle to the Hebrews clearly teaches this. In chapter 12, immediately following a list of many saints in heaven, it says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses … let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
What this means is, the saints in heaven can see us and are actually cheering us on as we struggle in this difficult and often painful world. Those of us still on earth, fighting the good fight of faith, are like athletes in a stadium, and the saints are like the spectators in the stands, yelling and cheering and eating hot dogs. (Okay, maybe they don’t have hot dogs – but on the other hand, if heaven is the place of perfect joy, I will be very sad if there are no hot dogs.)
The Bible also commands us to pray for one another – something all good Christians surely do. Who better to ask for intercessory prayer than those who are continually in the Lord’s presence, and who, because of their special glorified existence, can simultaneously pray fervently and eat a hot dog? That’s why the Catholic Church has a long history and tradition of asking the saints in heaven to pray for us. It’s right in the Bible (except the part about hot dogs).
It can be very comforting to know that the saints in heaven, the communion of saints, are cheering us on and can intercede on our behalf before the throne of God. That’s why people have devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Saint Joseph, or they ask Uncle Lenny to intercede, assuming Uncle Lenny was faithful and wise, and now most likely is in heaven.
However, the doctrine of the communion of saints can be a little disconcerting if you’ve always assumed, like the Sadducees, that those who have died don’t really exist anymore. If you’re in the habit of making snarky comments about dearly departed Aunt Shirley’s driving skills or Uncle Mike’s weight problem, and then you come to realize they are in heaven listening to your smart-aleck remarks, it can feel a little weird.
Even though the communion of saints is a fascinating Catholic doctrine, I can honestly say I’ve never once heard a homily on the subject, and I’ve been going to Mass for over 50 years. Although in fairness, I’ve only been paying attention at Mass for the last 15 years. But it would be a great topic for a sermon, first because it’s true, and second, because it helps us comprehend that this world is not all there is: Heaven is real. And I’m hopeful there will be hot dogs there.
Bill Dunn is a freelance writer who resides in Torrington. His most recent book is titled The Gospel According to Morty. He can be contacted via his blog at MerryCatholic.blogspot.com.