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Phil Lenahan is founder of Veritas Financial Ministries, where he offers financial planning advice from a Catholic faith perspective, and author of 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free. He lives with his wife, Chelsey, and their seven children in Temecula, Calif.


 

The Communion of Saints

By Brian Caulfield

You have a friend in heaven …  and in purgatory … in addition to your friends on earth.

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In a few words, this is what we mean when we profess to believe in the “Communion of Saints” every Sunday in the Nicene Creed.

There are saints in heaven whom we can invoke for aid and comfort in our every need. There are holy souls in purgatory whom we can pray for as they are purified for heaven. And we have friends and family on earth with whom we share this temporal pilgrimage – we can pray for them and they can pray for us, as we set our hearts toward heaven, where we hope to enjoy eternity in the presence of Almighty God.

Unfortunately, we don’t hear much about these spiritual relationships even in Catholic churches these days. When did you last hear a homily on the “Communion of the Church of Heaven and Earth,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls it (#954)?

Have you ever heard about the three levels of the Church? The Church Triumphant in heaven; the Church Suffering in purgatory; the Church Militant on earth. Each of these levels or aspects of the one true Catholic Church works together with the other in the Body of Christ to save souls.

Three Important Words

Triumphant! Suffering! Militant! These words may sound a bit extreme to our soft spiritual ears. If we win, we aren’t supposed to be triumphant – after all, that smacks of triumphalism, a deadly sin in our current culture. As for suffering, life is for enjoyment and comfort, not suffering. We aren’t supposed to fight or be warlike even in our devotion to God, so the term “militant” has to go.

Today, the primary image of the Church on earth is that of a pilgrim – not a bad image, but one that can lead to lukewarmness if not bolstered by the militant image. Christians should not merely walk on a pilgrimage, they should march in an army. They should take up spiritual arms and defeat the enemy: the flesh, the world and the devil – sin in all its forms.

I am convinced that the loss of these three words from our religious vocabulary -- Triumphant! Suffering! Militant! – has been a key reason behind men losing interest in religion, for the decline in male vocations, and even for fathers neglecting their families.

If men saw religion as a battle against evil, and their attendance at Mass as a major front in the fight, they would be more drawn to church and religion. They would strive to find their place in the faith.

Communion with Others

Communion of Saints in not simply an otherworldly concept. It lays upon us serious obligations toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, and all our neighbors on earth.

If we are truly in communion, we must support the Church of Christ, and support those in the Church. This means that we must give as though nothing truly belonged to ourselves, as though everything good in our lives comes from the hand of God, as is truly the case.

The early disciples shared all things in common: “They would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s needs” (Acts 2:44-45). The difference between the way the early Church lived and what we call socialism today is that the disciples gave willingly, in reverence for God and his people, not by order of the state.

Though we live under democracy and capitalism, the obligation of self-giving (self-emptying) charity remains today for all Christ’s disciples. And we will be judged in large part by how we follow the early Church’s example. Jesus said, whatever we do for one of the least of our brethren, we do it for him. How much would we give to Jesus if we saw him in need? That same effort and monetary amount should be what we give to our neighbor in need.

Yes, fathers must care first for their families. But do they need large-screen TVs and every electronic gadget? If we redirected funds to those who lack the essentials of life, what graces would we not receive? It’s worth a try.

Fighting Without Force

Though the Communion of Saints is an inspiring and consoling teaching, most Protestant groups do not accept it, since belief in purgatory was rejected by Reformation leaders in the 16th century. Most Protestants also discourage prayers to saints in heaven as superstitious or at least unnecessary – since Jesus is the only one you need to pray to.

What a shame. No wonder in the 500 years since the Reformation, Protestants have splintered into thousands of churches and groups that are divided by the smallest subtlety in Scripture, but united only in their rejection of the Catholic Church.

Praying without the Communion of Saints in mind is like going into battle without a full force. Jesus is sufficient, of course. But it helps to have those who are closest to him, such as the saints, to plead your cause and watch your back.

Brian Caulfield is editor of Fathers for Good.