Saturday, November 22, 2008

Communion of the Saints For Protestants

I am reading a book right now called "True Devotion to Mary" by St. Louis De Montfort. This is a far cry from anything I would have read in my Protestant days. If Catholics are known for devotion to Mary, this book takes it to all new levels. In fact, among Catholics, this is known as the text for true Marian devotion. But I must confess that my Protestant upbringing still keeps me questioning it all.

When I was a Protestant, I had my favorite preachers. Leonard Ravenhill had more effect on me than anyone else through his books. Reading them at about 16 years of age revolutionized my life. He introduced me to many other great preachers through the ages. Among my favorites were Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley, to name a few. I would read about their lives, do all I could to imitate their devotional practices, and strive to be a man of God like they were. If I could have asked them for help, advice, or their prayers, I would have. If I had the opportunity to sit at their feet and drink deeply from their teaching, I would have. And what do I recognize that as today? The Communion of the Saints.

The only essential difference between what I experienced with those men as a Protestant and what I now believe as a Catholic is that I now believe that death does not separate us from our communion with one another. As today's Gospel points out: God is God of the living, not the dead (Mt. 22:32). So those who die, continue to live in the presence of God. Those who have attained heaven are even more alive than we are here on earth. They hear our prayers and intercede on our behalf so we may eventually join them.

But there's more. Communion with the Saints is more than sentimental expression, or even an imitation of their virtues. It is what the name implies: communion- fellowship. We have the opportunity to get to know these Saints, just like knowing fellow believers here on earth. And what I am beginning to realize is that God has so constituted the Church that there can be no true devotion to God without having a devotion to others as well. This is what is behind the injunction to not forsake the assembling of yourselves together (Heb. 10:25). It is only as we are in communion with the Church that we can truly know God.

God has provided us with many examples in our lives who are worthy of imitation. He expects us to seek out mentors in our spiritual lives so that we can truly make progress. Otherwise, we devolve into our own religion. We worship a god of our own making and observe a spirituality larrgely of our own creation. It is only as we are in communion with others that we are protected from such. We follow them as they follow Christ. Catholics would refer to this as devotion. Protestants observe the principles but refer to it by other names.

With all of this in mind, Marian devotion is making a lot more sense to me. She alone is immaculate among all of God's creation. She is the perfect disciple of our Lord. Her words ring true through the ages- "Whatever He tells you, do it," (Jn. 2:5). Her purpose is not to draw attention to herself, but to our Lord. It is to direct us to the most complete union with Him. We follow her as she follows Christ. We devote ourselves to her because it really is one and the same as devoting ourselves to Him.

Now some may object saying we can go straight to God. We do not need any intermediaries. Strictly speaking, that is true. But practically speaking, it is not. For we all follow someone other than God, even if it's just ourselves. By subscribing to a devotion to a Saint, we find ourselves being mentored and brought beyond ourselves. We find ourselves drawn to God and we discover that there are many ways in which He is wholly unlike anything we would have imagined on our own.

So I see that devotion to the Saints, and especially devotion to the Blessed Mother, pleases God, and that is as it should be. I find myself more drawn to them because I am discovering there is no difference between that and devotion to our Lord.

I once longed to meet the great preachers of Protestantism. My longing was so intense, it truly was devotion to those individuals. And they led me to God. But now I continue my journey looking to the Saints of the Church, and most prominently to the Blessed Mother. And really, I am simply continuing in a path that I have been walking for many years.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us that we may become worthy of the promises of Christ!"

Amen!

1 comment:

Joni said...

I still wrestle back and forth with it all as well. But what a beautiful privilege we have in the communion of the saints. What joy in knowing we have their prayers, example, fellowship...it's quite amazing!

Thank you for this post.