I Can’t Breathe!

I Can’t Breathe!

            I can only imagine how a drowning person may feel.  My Uncle, Bill McCulley, taught me to swim on his farm in Illinois, in a pond on the Wilt Place.  He was a Navy veteran, and an excellent swimmer, and I trusted him to save me if anything happened to me.  The fish and snakes brushing up against my legs did not seem to matter.  One of Bill’s attributes, besides being very strong, was his ability to go under water, without breathing, of course, for a long, long time.  I know he loved me enough to save me if I went under water.  Jesus died because he could not breathe under water.  I can only imagine the suffering he felt.  I know Jesus loves me, and will save me, just like my Uncle, Bill would have.  We will get back to Jesus, and breathing under water later.

I am writing this reflection about Breathing under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, by Richard Rohr, a well know Franciscan teacher and priest.  We are discussing addiction and will also draw upon Addiction and Grace, by Dr. Gerald May as appropriate.  I am specifically selecting one concept, extant in both books, concerning our addiction to war.  Refusal to submit to Satan’s political ploy, to fall down and worship Satan, cost Jesus His life, as we will see as we go along.  Because of our addictions to “oil, war, and empire; the church’s addiction to its own absolute exceptionalism;” (Breathing Underwater, p. xxii), among other addictions, Jesus had to die.  Because He died trying to breathe under water, Jesus is able to save us from our own addictions, all of them.

When we cannot breathe, and are under water for a long time, we must eventually surrender, or give up our life.  As Ignatian students we are aware we should give up everything to live only in God’s love and grace. Step three of the twelve steps in Breathing Underwater is about our decision to give up to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understand God (p.17).  We have not been taught this surrender by our nationalistic political systems, nor have our institutional religious systems as a whole taught us this surrender, but Jesus teaches us (Matt. 5: 39) (p. 19).  Bye, bye ego.  Addiction to the ego and to power must go (p. 21).  The devil wants to make us a great “deal”.  The art of Satan’s deal is to give us instantly the power without pain and without self-surrender (p. 21).  This was Satan’s third temptation which most institutional religions have accepted even to this day.  It is a myth, a myth of redemptive violence that we can personally save ourselves by violent means.  For thousands of years this myth has never worked.  Rohr calls it the “myth of heroic sacrifice” (p. 21).  It is the American “way”, and the way of most every nation.  We have learned well and are addicted to this myth of self and violence and our society, our nation, (p. 22) and in too many ways our churches are co-dependents to help us believe in this myth and be self-glorified as martyrs of the church (p.23).  True believers, we are giving up our body to supposed chastity, poverty, and obedience to look good, to fool many people, and to puff up the self (p.24).

To give up this puffed up, narcissistic self, as individuals, politicians, nations, and institutions including business and religious institutions is to realize we are sinners, yet loved sinners surrendered to the lover (God the Higher Power) who loves us (p. 24, 27).  As the Holy Spirit helps us, we are infected by the Spirit of Jesus (p.25).  Rohr says the Holy Spirit “sneaks in through the ducts and the air vents (p. 25).  In some ways we would rather just have someone tell us what to do, to manage our sins for us in the confessional booth or church sermons than surrender our will and accept God’s radical grace freely.  This grace is given to us by a higher power we understand to be God, as much as we understand Him, who loves us without expecting to be paid back.  He loves us because He is love (p. 27).  Only grace given in love can cure addictions.

Both Rohr and May speak of nonviolence and trust in a higher power for our salvation.  Jesus spoke Truth to Power when He refused Satan’s third temptation to fall down and worship Satan and did not accept the “deal” to be given earthly kingdoms before it was time.  As a result, Jesus had to suffer and die to save us, who are addicted, and complicit with this warmongering society.

Referencing May’s book, Dr. May echoes rule 98 of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises when he states “detachment does just the opposite.  It seems liberation of desire, an enhancement of passion, the freedom to love with all one’s being, and the willingness to bear the pain such love can bring.” (Addiction and Grace, p.15).  This can be freedom from political slavery too, and freedom to love even our enemy, one of Jesus’ primary commandments (Matt. 5: 43, 44).  The Spiritual Exercises, rule 98, promotes the willingness to bear all wrongs.  It is this suffering love that brings detachment and personal freedom as it is greased by the wheels of grace.

See:

(098)

Eternal Lord of All Things

Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of Thy infinite goodness, and of Thy glorious mother, and of all the saints of Thy heavenly court, this is the offering of myself which I make with Thy favor and help. I protest that it is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only it is for Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life (http://spex.ignatianspirituality.com/SpiritualExercises/Puhl#marker-p101)

True freedom is the freedom to love one another, including our enemy.  If we maintain our addictions to war and killing this is what May describes as a security addiction (p.31).  May states, “we can and should trust in God for our ultimate security” and he speaks of relaxing our grip about lessor sources of security.

It is Jesus, who is our ultimate source of security.  Rohr states “only people who have suffered in some way can save another” (p. 123).  Jesus died and suffered on the Cross.  He did not die of blood loss.  In excruciating pain, His feet nailed to the cross, and His hands too, Jesus couldn’t breathe unless He pushed up on His pierced feet, and said, “I thirst.”  He was given the fourth cup via the hyssop branch which should have been given at the Passover meal, and He surrendered just for you, and just for me, to save us from our addictions to sin.  His lungs had filed up with water and blood.  He could not breathe.  He had to die; He could not breathe, but now He saves us, we who think we can breathe, but are underwater with all our addictions.

John Cooper

 

 

Examen Prayer for the Parish

Examen Prayer for the Parish

                Examen Prayer should remain the foundation of balanced psychological thinking and of personal and communal spirituality.  My thoughts are intended to expand upon principles in The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for our Lives Today, by Timothy M. Gallagher, OMV.  I intend to extrapolate on Chapter 13, Examen and the Community, by more specifically discussing the concept of using Examen Prayer in the local Parish in community as a basis for Church growth.

Fr. Gallagher states, “the prayer of examen breathes spiritual clarity and a capacity for decisive spiritual action into his day.  The spiritual fruits of Ignatius’s daily examen bless him, his companions, and, through them, the whole People of God.” [1]  The personal Examen can be the basis of action in community.  God loves us as He looks upon us who pray the Examen. God also loves us as a special people called in community in a local Church Parish.

The Examen is a source of continuing spiritual growth.  Gallagher states concerning the Examen, “it is indeed the prayer of continuing spiritual growth.” [2]  and that the examen “channels them toward that holiness to which we are called.”[3]  How can we harness this power for growth in our Church communities?

I could not immediately find much about using the Examen in a local church community.  I asked advice concerning the viability of this topic from Fr. Christopher Viscardi, S.J., Fr. Joseph Tetlow, S.J., and Bob Fitzgerald.  I received positive encouragement.  Fr. Tetlow said in his email response to me, “We’re convinced that the examen is a key to making progress in religion and spirituality, that is, in staying alive instead of just vegetating.”  Fr. Tetlow suggested beginning in a group for Examen prayer in preparation for Sunday Mass.  He suggests we ask ourselves as a church body what virtues we have practiced and which virtues we need today and tomorrow.

Fr. Viscardi pointed me to Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, vol. IV, November, 1972, COMMUNAL DISCERNMENT: REFLECTIONS ON EXPERIENCE, by John Carroll Futrell, S.J.[4]  Although this 52-page treatise is not specifically about the examen in a Parish community setting, it is about using the examen as the foundation for communal discernment and using deliberation to arrive at communal decisions. The paper has a section concerning bringing together results of small group deliberations in coming to unamity in the total group, which may be useful if several small group examen prayer clusters were active in a Parish setting.  I read, highlighted, and annotated this paper which I can email to you upon request.

Fr. Gallagher’s states, “we always make our personal prayer of examen within the context of the Church and of the world.”[5]  He speaks of the beneficial aspects of the examen for our family members, community members, parish, and all whom we meet.  The examen is a connector between us and community. What is to stop us from having a church or Parish examen?

He states, ““One of the benefits of doing the examen communally is that we are encouraged to do it even when, if left to our own devices, we would “skip it”.”[6]  He states that the examen is a personal encounter with God that blesses the entire People of God who, praying it, strengthen each other into an endless multiplication of Grace.[7]  I have designed a beginning Corporate Examen Prayer below:

Examenation of Parish Consciousness

  1. Thanksgiving
    1. Express thanks for all God has given St. Francis Church, pastors, people, students, facilities, income, spiritual blessings, new people, etc. etc.
  1. Petition (ask for graces desired, knowing our shortcomings)
    1. Ask for corporate graces for the Body, Love, peace, kindness, humility, patience, etc.  What Graces does God desire for our Church Body?
    2. Ask for God to reveal virtues we should desire for the Body, to care for the poor, sick, lonely, grieving, etc., etc.
  2. Review
    1. For the last day, or month, or season, or time, what has St. Francis done for Christ, what is St. Francis doing for Christ, what should St. Francis do for Christ?
    2. What consolations have we had?  Are there any desolations?
  1. Forgiveness
    1. Ask for awareness of the virtues of the Holy Spirit with which our Church has been endowed and we have practiced corporately and ask for additional virtues we lack and for the Holy Spirit to bless us with those virtues, pardon and forgiveness of our corporate shortcomings so we can know Jesus more clearly, follow Him more nearly, and love Him more dearly.
    2. We do not judge ourselves but fall into the arms of God who loves us.
  1. Renewal (resolving to amend)
    1. Recognize God’s presence in our Body, and dedicate our corporate Body to renew our vision, and implement actions of love.

End with “Our Father.”

Additional recommended reading for consideration is the article, Moving into a Deeper Communion: Communal Discernment through Contemplative Dialogue, by Liz Sweeney, SSJ[8] which draws partially on Fr. Futrell’s work, and adds recommendations for corporate contemplative and centering prayer, although corporate examen prayer is not mentioned.

John Cooper

 

 

[1] The Examen Prayer, p. 160

[2] Ibid, p. 161

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/jesuit/article/viewFile/3671/3256

[5] Examen Prayer, p. 165

[6] Ibid, p. 168

[7] Ibid.

[8] http://www.srcharitycinti.org/members/chapter/Liz%20Sweeney,%20SSJ.pdf

Alabama Dreamin

Alabama Dreamin

Somewhere in the news a week or so ago I glimpsed at a report that some DACA Dreamers[1] had come to the U.S. Congress and attempted to wash the feet of congressmen outside the congressional offices.

A week or so went by and a quiet urging came to my mind that this is a wonderful idea for the whole State of Alabama, a State that is viewed by some as solid red, and less than progressive in social causes.  What can be done?  I brought the idea to my church, the Roman Catholic Church in Tuscaloosa, and copied several people who work with the Hispanic communities and other immigrants on the idea of having a footwashing event for and by the Dreamers in our midst.  I emailed to a contact in the Mobile Archdiocese and a contact in the Birmingham Archdiocese who work with the Dreamers and copied the Fellowship of Reconciliation[2] which I am a member of and which has been involved in non-violent social causes such as the Civil Rights Movement for decades.

I am merely offering my voice and the idea that came to me for a non-violent footwashing event or events organized and conducted by what we in the United States call Dreamers.  As a little background, we who are Christians will soon be celebrating Easter and just before Easter, before the Passover, some unusual to some events are recorded to have taken place, like Footwashing.[3] Footwashing has an ancient tradition and is viewed by some as a Sacrament.  A type of this tradition is observed by Roman Catholics on Holy Thursday.[4]

Mary Magdalene is said to have said to have done it with tears of love and remorse.  Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus is said to have done it too.[5]  Both women did it to Jesus and wiped His feet with their hair.  Jesus washed His disciples’ feet too.[6]  Jesus tells his disciples, if we consider ourselves to be disciples, to do it to, to one another.  Is this real?  Is it figurative? Is it both?  Footwashing does not have to be done in church, it can be done anywhere.  It can be done in our imagination too, which may be about as far as this idea goes at this time.

My vision, my dream for Alabama and I wish I could dream the whole world, is that we would want to wash each other’s feet all around the world, in North and South Korea, in Syria, In Yemen, Iran, and Qatar, Ethiopia, and everywhere.  I know this is all and grad idea that we should love one another and love our enemies, just like that, but forgive me, please, I am just Dreaming.

Let’s start little – just where we are…  All it takes is two pans, two towels, two gallons of water, a little Spirit, a little Love, to get the job done.  If a person cannot afford that, and some can’t in the world, take some tears with you and your hair, or your shirt off your back to dry another’s feet and just do it.  Do it to people you love and people you don’t love.  You ain’t gonna wash no feet if you got no Love. [Sic]

As for Alabama, I dream that this idea, this dream, would be seed for greater action beyond out State, and beyond politics and helpful to all immigrants.  I dream the Dreamers would take up this cause and offer to wash the feet of those in power, speaking to the powers,[7] and symbolically telling those powers, be they congress people, police, religious powers, educational powers, all powers, that we are here to serve you, that we love the United States, and all nations for that matter.  Let us serve you, pay our taxes, contribute to our society, support our families off the welfare system.  We want to work.  We want to love one another.  We believe America will be great again when America can love again.

Maybe, I am just Dreamin…

 

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DREAM_Act

[2] https://forusa.org/

[3] https://www.zionlutherannj.net/footwashing-in-the-old-and-new-testament-the-graeco-roman-world-the-early-church-and-the-liturgy-2/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maundy_Thursday

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anointing_of_Jesus

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_washing

[7] http://www.quaker.org/sttp.html

Jesus, You Here?

 

Jesus, You Here?

          It was a beautiful day yesterday, a fall day at the end of October in 2017.  Leaves are changing and I am at St. Ignatius House in Atlanta, GA, for a class in Spiritual Direction.  I arose very early this morning intending, I thought, to do my daily reflections with Scripture and do some review of material for the class, but I didn’t.

It came to me to go first into the Adoration Chapel to just sit with the Host and Jesus (Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist).  I did some centering prayer, trying not to think of anything, just breathing in, “Yah” and out “weh” or “Yahweh.”  I did that a while and since I was very close to the Monstrance,[i] I got up just to be sure the Host was actually in there.

Now I believe that God is in all things and all things are in God.  The Apostle Paul noted a Greek poet, “In Him you live and move and have being.”[ii]  I believe that, but some theologians don’t believe Paul really believed what he quoted.  I recently talked to one of them who does not believe that.  But I do.

I was reminded while I sat in meditation of the last complete sentence my Uncle, Bill McCulley, said to me as I, my wife, Wink, my sister Janelle Deblois, and I heard as we put him to bed toward the end of his life and Bill looked up in a fleeting glimpse of his old self and asked, “John, you here?”  Bill soon died of Alzheimer’s, an insidious disease.  Bill didn’t know anything much, even most of the time what his name was.  Of course I “know” a lot more how to talk, how to add and subtract, how to read and write, etc.  Bill did not know anything.  It was like he was in a vast cloud of unknowing[iii]  But as I looked down on him and heard the words, “John, you here,” it was so precious to me.  I hope to remember those words all my life.  Maybe he is looking down on me now as a part of the vast cloud of witnesses or the Communion of Saints.[iv]  Maybe he will welcome me again when we meet again and I arrive wherever he is, in God, in heaven, wherever, and Bill greets me in a loving voice, with the words, “John, you here.”

Now I was not supposed to be thinking of anything in my centering prayer, attempting to enter the vast cloud of unknowing, the Divine union with the Mystery, the One God, but my prayer turned into meditation and I went up to the Monstrance and looked closely, knowing not to touch it, and looked to be sure the Host was present there, it was, and I asked, “Jesus, You here?”

I sat back down and wept silently since other people here are in a silent retreat, although I was all alone in the Adoration Chapel, excepting with Jesus, of course.  Jesus was there too.  If you don’t believe that, believe Jesus was is in me and He is in you, at least the image of the Divine and Mysterious One is in us all.  I thought that as little as I know, and all the religions and religious institutions of the world know, including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic, if all poured together in a bucket, would know nothing, being just be a drop in the ocean compared to what God knows.  God knows how to talk in all languages including Angelic ones, He knows how to read and write in all languages too, and how to order and create the whole universe, how to create life and how to take life, just at the right time, like he took my uncle Bill’s life and received him unto Himself.

I know God heard me when I asked, “Jesus, You here?”  I know He was looking down when I asked Him that, thinking I am precious in His sight, that I am a beloved sinner and He knows all of my sins since He lives in me, and I live in Him.   I love you Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Divine One, and you too, Bill McCulley, and you too, the reader whom God loves, and is in, at least by His image inside of you.

Please ask yourself, if you do not believe, or if you do believe, “Jesus, You here?”

 

John Cooper

 

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monstrance

[ii] Acts 17:28

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cloud_of_Unknowing

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communion_of_saints

Consciousness After Death, Prayers, and the Afterlife

Consciousness After Death, Prayers, and the Afterlife

Preface: I wrote the following as an Appendix to a book, “One Ignatian Journey” which I am writing concerning the St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises.   Having been out of Roman Catholic theological circles for 49 years, I hit a roadblock in the section of the Exercises regarding prayers to the Saints. This roadblock was later challenged by a Homily by my pastor regarding the “Communion of the Saints.”  This is my present attempt to sort it all out… Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Before determining if one should pray “to” or ask saints to pray “for” us, we should attempt to understand if the saints are conscious after their spirit leaves the body and enters into a Mystical Union with God, (or, returns to the God who gave it.)  Death is a Mystery, and cannot be completely understood by humans still alive.  Consciousness after death can be argued several ways from the Scripture, but I submit my views on the matter as they are now, and some reasons for those views.

 

Luke 12:22-30

 

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

NIV

 

Comment: This is NOT a Parable.  Some believe doctrine is not to be established from Parables because of the figurative nature of Parables.  This Scripture views the State of the Dead as being one of consciousness.

 

Luke 23: 39-43

 

43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

NIV

 

Comment: This is NOT a Parable.  This views entering Paradise today, or immediately, (without Purgatory,) and implies there will be consciousness upon the entry into Paradise, although it does not specifically say so.

 

Luke 9:28-36

 

29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.

NIV

 

Comment: This is NOT a Parable.  God is the God of the living, NOT the dead.

 

Luke 16:19-31

 

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

 

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

 

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

NIV

 

This IS a Parable, but if the dead are not conscious, how would Abraham know, having died 450 years before the law, anything about Moses and the Prophets who came much later than him?

 

 

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

 

1 Cor 15:22

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

NIV

 

Comment: This is NOT a Parable, and comes from the Apostle Paul, who according to tradition was taught by Jesus for 3-1/2 years.  Mysteriously, the dead in Christ have been raised to more human life on earth.  These individuals would most likely have shared their after death experiences with the early church, and the writings written of the catacomb walls concerning the state of the dead could have been traditions from these individuals.  How many died in Adam?  ALL.  How many are to be made alive? ALL.  Therefore, the wicked will also be made alive and experience consciousness after death, although most likely in a state without communion with God, having a vast gulf, or another dimension separating them from God.  This is at the same time the dead in Christ, are in Communion with the saints, and in Communion with the Mystical union of One God.  See the next verse:

 

1 Thessalonians 4

 

13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.

NIV

 

Comment: To me this speaks of the Mystical dimensions of time and space, being that there is NO time in eternity, that we now experience Communion of the Saints, with those who have died, and with those who are alive.  By not precede, somehow, the fulfillment of God’s promises occur mysteriously outside of the parameters of time and space, perhaps in a another dimension.

 

 

 

Finally, see:

 

Revelation 22

 

Rev 22:14-20

 

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

 

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

 

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

 

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

 

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

 

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

NIV

 

Comment: At the end of time, after the New Jerusalem is here, those outside the gates of the city, are alive and conscious.  The Spirit and the Bride call out “Come!”  Is there still hope for the dead in Hades?  Will ALL be saved, as God has Himself indicated is what He hopes for, and none perish?  At least it appears the dead, all who die, are in a state of consciousness after death.

 

Now, given that they are conscious, should we pray “to” the saints, or ask them to pray “for” us?

 

Having examined whether the dead “in” and “outside” of Christ (I actually don’t believe anyone can exist “outside” of Christ.) are conscious or unconscious, or “asleep” or unconscious after the Spirit given by God returns to God who gave it, and promoting the belief that, according to what we think from our very limited knowledge of the state of the dead, that is, that the “dead” (actually they are alive) in and out of Christ are conscious, I believe the next step is to meditate on the following Scripture:

 

Heb 12:1-3

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

NIV

 

If we are surrounded by this great crowd of witnesses, which may imply has reference to the Communion of the Saints, mentioned in the ancient Nicene Creed, how could these dead be witnesses if they are unconscious, or “asleep?”  Could these witnesses be the ones who, In Rev. 4 & 5, have their prayers presented with incense before the throne of God?  Do the prayers submitted to God by the 24 elders include our own prayers, who are “alive?”  After all, we just read in Hebrews 12 that we ARE surrounded by this great crowd of witnesses, the ancient believers, ancient even at the time Hebrews was written 2,00 years ago, who died before Christ, but aren’t these witnesses  “dead?”  NO, apparently not, according to the logic of the Apostle, Paul, or whomever wrote the book of Hebrews.

 

As we examine the Mystical Union with the One, (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henosis) spoken of by the Greeks and others attempting to understand our relationship with God, and spoken of by many others in relationship to a Christian understanding of our union in Christ, (see http://www.christianperfection.info/tta102.php) the One, the only, and One True God, we can see from scientific evidence that all material matter, and every human being, in flesh, is doomed to a state of non-existence physically speaking, and our only hope is to enter into communion with this One God, the One, who is Eternal.  It is by Faith, not works, that we enter into this mystical Union.  It is a gift.  It is the Faith of the Ancient ones mentioned in Hebrews that is commended and it may be imagined that it is our Faith, given to us as a gift from the same source as the Ancient ones, that will also be commended.  Therefore it is important to approach our understanding of the Communion of the Saints from a perspective of Faith, realizing that some things will always remain a Mystery.

 

I grew up in the Catholic Church, until about 19 years old, accepting all such matters of heaven and hell, and the state of the dead, purgatory, and nearly everything as a matter of Faith.  I was not a converted person, although I had outward signs of being “religious” when I was 19, and came to a still ongoing conversion experience at about 19 and was drawn into a type of cult which believed in the doctrine of “soul sleep,” where the understanding was that a person is unconscious after death, until one is resurrected on the day everyone else who has ever lived and died is resurrected.  Jesus himself uses the term, as does Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4:14:

 

1 Thess 4:13-18

 

13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

NIV

 

When I was 19, I believed the statement of Jesus, since there was no punctuation in the Greek text, should read concerning the thief on the cross, “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”  Putting the comma in that place allows one to think that sure, the thief will be in Paradise, but after an indeterminate time, and the thief will be asleep until he is resurrected in a general resurrection.  Looking at it now, it makes no sense to put the comma there.  Everyone knew that it was today already.  Jesus had no need to tell anyone that it is today. It is today, I am writing this, but I do not need to tell everybody it is today, they already know it is today.   I have believed for many years that the correct translation should be, “Verily I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

The Book of Revelation speaks of life and time in another dimension different from ours where exact chronology appears to be in flux.  See Rev 5:

 

Rev 5:7-10

8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song:

 

“You are worthy to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

because you were slain,

and with your blood you purchased men for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation.

10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,

and they will reign on the earth.”

NIV

 

One can think of the prayers of the saints being the prayers of the saints whose spirits are currently in heaven, or Paradise, and also of our own prayers.  We are assured a resurrection of our bodies here too.  One can think of the Witnesses witnessing to God in prayer, and of our doing so too, continually.  Thus, it makes sense to me, that we do actually pray “with” the saints.  According to whether one should pray “with” the saints, the Ancient ones, with whom we are in communion, and ask the saints to pray “for” us, or if we should pray “to” the saints as part of this Communion, Let’s agree that we can and do pray “with” the saints as they present their continual conscious prayers to God, along with our prayers too.

 

Another reason for our agreeing we pray “with” the Great Cloud of Witnesses, and are in Communion with the Saints, can be found in Rev. 8:

 

Rev 8:3-5

 

3 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

NIV

 

With the prayers of all the saints, means, to me, the prayers of ALL of the saints, the Ancient ones, before Christ, all those who  are in Christ since his earthly life, and all of us today who are “in” Christ.  I think the subject of praying “with” the saints, including these Witnesses, is clear, we do it, let’s continue to do it.

 

Again, see Hebrews 12:

 

Heb 12:1-2

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

NIV

 

It appears these witnesses are watching us, watching our life in pursuit of perfection, watching in a state of consciousness, all we do for and “to” each other.  They are witnesses to our lives, also giving testimony as witnesses to the lives they have led, the sufferings they have suffered, to us.  Therefore, if they are conscious, and we sense their communion with us in Christ, it is logical, that in addition to praying “with” them, as we see is Biblically promoted, to take another step, and ask the saints to pray “for” us.  This is a step of Faith, witnessed to by Tradition, those who have gone before us in the Early Church, beginning as early as the third century, witnessed to even earlier by writings on catacomb walls, (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Christian_inscriptions) allow us to entertain the same precepts as those who wrote on the walls, that of asking the saints to pray “for” us.  Let us also keep in mind the traditions expressed here had a living memory recollection of speaking to those who personally knew Jesus, the apostles, and the 500 or so who were resurrected from the dead mentioned in Matthew 27.

 

Matt 27:50-56

 

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

 

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

 

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

 

55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

NIV

Let us imagine that these holy people resurrected form the dead, although they were to die again, could tell of their experiences in the state of the dead, in a similar way that those who have had Near Death Experiences can also testify to the afterlife.  Let us imagine they, who are to in Communion with the saints, and are now a part of the Vast Cloud of Witnesses, told the many women present, watching from a distance, who would live even longer, women whom Jesus chose to be his living witnesses, of the Traditions of the afterlife told them by those resurrected at Jesus’ death.

 

Thus, I accept as a matter of Tradition, asking saints, who are alive, and conscious, and witnesses to and for us, to pray “for” us, according to the Tradition of the Early Church, written on the catacomb walls.

 

As to the matter of praying “to” the saints, I do not see it.  I think one should pray “to” God alone, and I refer to Jesus’ instructions about praying “to” the Father, or “to” God.

 

John Cooper