“Gotcha!” St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:5, ‘… there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…’ yet, you Catholics pray to Mary and the Saints! See? The Catholic Church is not scriptural!”
Once, a few years ago, I stopped at a gas station to buy some coffee on my way into the office. The man behind the counter, we will call him the “employee”, noticed I was wearing my “Fullness Of Truth Catholic Evangelization Ministries” polo shirt and decided to question me about why the Catholic Church teaches contrary to scripture (so he thought). “Why do you Catholics pray to Mary when the bible says Jesus is the ‘one mediator’ between God and Man?” he asked me bluntly, thinking he would catch me off guard. Needless to say, it wasn’t the ideal circumstances to try and explain the Communion of the Saints, along with all the other points of doctrine that come up, while needing to get to the office by a certain time, and trying to engage him in conversation over a counter while the “employee” was still attending to his other customers. However, when the Holy Spirit gives you a job to do, and you want to be a utensil in His hand for His glory, then you had better be ready at all times, because you just never know when those opportunities will come.
This is another one of those examples of how non-Catholics take a single verse out of context, and then lob it at a Catholic like a grenade, thinking it will inflict quick, massive damage to the unsuspecting Catholic’s view of the Church they “subscribe” to. It is rather the five centuries of Protestantism that has inflicted the most damage to the family of God, splintering us into a legion of shards, to the ends of the earth! Yes, the real casualty has been the family of God. The key to understanding the doctrine of the communion of the Saints… is the family!
I asked the “employee” that if I were to ask him to pray for me, because I had an illness and needed God’s healing, would he do it… would he pray on my behalf? Seeing where I was going with this, he said, he would pray “with me” but, wouldn’t pray “for me.” To which I said, “you’re being dishonest! Of course you would pray for me, I’m sure you have prayed many times for other people, and I’ll bet you never once said to them you wouldn’t pray for them; did you?” After squirming a bit, he finally admitted that he has, and would again, pray on behalf of others. “Ok then” I said, “you are interceding for others, acting as a co-mediator of sorts between God and that person. Why then, is it ok for you, but, not ok for Mary or the Saints to do this same thing? Aren’t they too apart of the body of Christ?” Without missing a beat, he looked me right in the eyes and said “because their dead, they can’t hear your prayers, and they don’t care either way! You are praying in vain!”
Is this true? Does St. Paul teach that ONLY Jesus mediates on our behalf, thus no one else can? Does their intercession somehow detract from Jesus? Is praying to Mary and the Saints un-biblical? Could it be possible that they can’t hear our prayers, or aren’t even interested in our needs because they are so hyper focused on God in heaven? The short answer is, no, its not true at all! In fact, communion of the Saints can be easily demonstrated from scripture, and yes, Mary and the Saints can both hear us, and do in fact care about us and our needs. Do families work any other way? Well… at least perfected families do! Let’s dive into this and see what scripture has to offer on this topic. To begin with, let’s take a closer look at 1 Timothy 2:5 in context, by considering the verses immediately before and after it.
1 Timothy 2:1–7 (RSVCE) : 1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. 3 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
“Right off the bat”, the first thing St. Paul instructs Bishop Timothy to do is to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings … for all men”. Why? Because it “… is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior!” In fact, through our prayer we grow closer to God and, therefore, our priorities are more closely united with His, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” So the context of verse 5, “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”, is actually more of a description of who we are to become, rather than a referendum on avoiding all actions that make us co-mediators. It would seem that our intercession for others is pleasing to God.
After all, wasn’t it St. Paul who also wrote “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” in Galatians 2:20? Doesn’t that mean therefore, that the “one one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” now lives within me? Yes, of course! Is Jesus somehow then prevented from acting as that “one mediator” from within me? No, of course not! In fact, St. Paul goes on to say in 1 Timothy 2 verse 7, “For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” For what? Why? To intercede, to act as a co-mediator on behalf of the Gentiles, that they too may be grafted onto the vine (Romans 11:24), and become children of the Most High God (1 John 3:1)! Rather than condemn us for acting as a co-mediator, 1 Timothy 2:1-7 encourages, no… it mandates us to unite ourselves to Christ and allow Him to work as the “one mediator” from within us for the sake of His body, that is the Church (c.f. Col 1:24)!
“Ok, fine, but, you’re alive and can hear the requests of those who ask you to pray for them. How can Mary, or any of the Saints, hear not only your prayers, but, also, the millions of prayers from around the world? They are dead, and they are certainly not God!” The answer to this is, quite simply, the family! It’s the family of God which spans both heaven and earth. Are we really to believe that the “body of Christ” is made up of only those “alive” here on earth? Are those who have gone on to their reward in heaven now “dead?” If you believe this, then I would simply refer you to the words of Our Lord in Mark 12:27, “He is not God of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong!” No, in fact, as Hebrews 12:1, makes clear “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” because we have come to “…the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering…” (Hebrews 12:22), not the city of the dead! Just as we have “communion” with those here, working out their “salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), we also have “communion” with those who make up the “… assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven … to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23)! It is one communion of all the faithful, the family of God.
John 15:1–8 (RSVCE)
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.
One of my favorite passages of scripture, Our Lord here reminds us of the need for our constant action, always striving to “abide” in him lest we bear no fruit and are pruned away and cast into the fire. Notice though that Jesus says that He is the “vine” that connects all of us, the “branches.” This raises the question, if one of those “branches”, after abiding in Him until their death, enters into the beatific vision of God in Heaven… are they no longer connected to the “vine?” No, of course not! They are not less connected to the “vine”, rather, they are more connected to Him, because they are now more alive than we are! The communion we enjoy with the Church Triumphant, the Saints in Heaven, is accomplished solely through the “vine” which is Jesus Christ Himself. Mary and the Saints can hear the prayers of all the faithful, not on their own power, but, rather, because they are connected to the same “vine” which is the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus!” In a sense, Jesus is like a “divine internet” connecting all the computers/saints wherever they maybe… whether on earth, or in heaven. The prayers of the faithful are heard because God wills it for His glory and for the betterment of His family.
“Alright, but, why would the ‘Saints’ even care about what’s happening on earth? Aren’t they just focused on God?” Let me answer that question with another question. What do you call a family whose members couldn’t care less about what’s happening to their siblings? Dysfunctional, that’s what! Blessed John Paul II hit the nail on the head when he wrote in “A Pilgrimage of Faith” 86, “God in his deepest mystery is not a solitude but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family which is love.” God is family itself! The closer we get to God, the more we become like Him, the more our desires are aligned to His, the more our priorities are set aside to make way for His. What does God want? He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). So what do those who are perfectly united to Him in heaven want? What do they desire most? Easy! They want what God wants, that “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth!” Do they care? Yes, of course they do! They want the absolute best for you because they long for the day when you will join them in heaven.
Luke 16:19–31 (RSVCE)
19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
In this famous parable, Our Lord gives us an insight into the the ability of those who have “crossed the divide.” In verse 27 the rich man begs Father Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, who are still alive, that they might mend their ways prior to their death and avoid paying the price that he is now enduring! Clearly the rich man not only knows the status of his brothers, being still alive, but, also, he cares about their ultimate destiny and wants the absolute best for them. “Hold on!” you might respond, “this is only a parable, and the characters are only fictional and not real people.” To which my response would be “well… maybe!” Yes, this is just a parable, however, notice that out of the two main characters, Lazarus is the only one to be named. It just so happens that Lazarus was also the name of the real life friend of Jesus whom he raised from the dead in John 11. Whether the story is real or just a parable doesn’t matter much, either way it is Jesus who is telling us this story and nowhere does He recant any of the details, nor is there any debate or discussion from those listening about whether or not it is possible for the dead to know what goes on with the “living” here on earth. Not yet convinced? Let’s look at another example.
Revelation 6:9–11 (RSVCE)
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
Here is another example from scripture of those who have died and are interceding for the living, only this time, they do so from heaven itself. In verse 10 they cry out to God, that His will be done, you might say “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6). Did you notice that they are aware of the fact, so far at least, that God’s justice has not yet been fully realized on earth? Wanting only the best for mankind, and the protection of the saints on earth, they intercede on behalf of the “living” that God will judge the world and bring forth the fullness of His justice. So not only are they “tuned in” to the happenings of the Church Militant, the Saints on Earth, but are also very interested in their well being, which is why they were interceding on their behalf. The book of Revelation gives us several examples of the “family” of God in heaven interceding, you might even say acting as co-mediators, for the “family” of God on earth. For instance, the Angel who offered up our prayers as incense rising up before God in Revelation 8:3-4. After all, as James 5:16 points out “… the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” Who is more “righteous” than those united to God in heaven? Those who stand before God and offer up our prayers? Those who desire that God’s justice be made manifest on earth?
“But why would God allow this? God doesn’t NEED us to intercede for anyone?” Right you are! God doesn’t NEED anything from us. However, God is not just a good father, He is a perfect Father (Matthew 7:11)! God doesn’t allow us to participate in His mediator-ship, His life of grace, because He “needs” something from us. Rather, He allows us to participate because that’s what a “Good” Father does, giving His children the best… what they need most… life, love, and charity for their silbings (Mark 10:18).
Let me put it this way… my wife and I have five children on earth and three entrusted to the mercy of God. Often we will ask our children to help around the house, performing chores of one type or another. Many times too, my kids will ask me if they can help with whatever I’m working on at the time. I can tell you that most times its actually a greater burden for me to include them in the work… I have to take the time to teach them how to do it, monitor them while they are “helping”, and cleaning up the mess they create as a result to their “help.” Do I “need” their help? No! Clearly, it’s just easier for me to do it myself, rather than include them. However, a “good” father will always include his children in the work of the family, not because he “needs” it, rather, because its a necessary participation of the members of the family… it is God like. The family works together, as one, to accomplish the work of the family. The family cares for one another, and deeply desires the best for each other. If a father didn’t include his children in the work of the family, training them to sacrifice and serve one another, then what kind of people would they grow up to be? Completely selfish ones! What kind of people make it to heaven? Completely selfless ones… thats who!
Colossians 1:24–26 (RSVCE)
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.
What is “lacking” in the afflictions of Christ? We are! Whenever we refuse to unite our sufferings to Christ on the cross! To die to self and allow Jesus to live within us. When we are baptized we enter into the passion, death, and resurrection of Our Lord, thus joining the family of God, and are grafted onto the vine for the work that He was sent by the Father to accomplish. It is through that “vine”, Jesus Christ, that we enjoy the communion of the family of God… those on earth, those being purified for heaven, and those already in heaven. Mary and the Saints, who are more alive than we are, want nothing other than what God wants, the salvation of mankind. This is the work of God’s family and His Saints eagerly strive for it through their intercession on behalf of their siblings, because it is “good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior. (1 Tim 2:3)” The Saints can hear our prayers through the “vine”, and they do offer them up to the Father because they have “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” casting away every provision of the flesh that He might abide within them (Romans 13:14). No longer do they live, rather it is the “one mediator, the man Christ Jesus” who lives and reigns within them. So let us please our Father who is in heaven, praying and fasting for one another that we might build up the one family of God for the salvation of all mankind! Rather than detract from Christ, the saints in Heaven glorify Him, come… let us join them!
Ephesians 4:1–7 (RSVCE)
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
About the Author:
Joe McClane – The Catholic Hack! – is the director and events coordinator for Fullness of Truth Catholic Evangelization Ministries, as well as an a Catholic New Media producer & Evangelist. He is married to his lovely wife Michelle and they have five children. The Catholic Hack | Catholic Apologetics, Theology & More!