Pope Francis: what it means (and does not mean) to pray to a saint
Below is the text of Pope Francis’ weekly Wednesday audience, delivered on February 2, 2022.
To receive these remarks and more in your inbox each week, register for Americadaily newsletter.
Dear brothers and sisters, hello!
In recent weeks we have been able to deepen our understanding of the figure of Saint Joseph, guided by the few but important information given in the Gospels, as well as by the aspects of his personality that the Church over the centuries has been able to emphasize through prayer and devotion. Exactly from this feel common (common sentiment) of the Church that accompanied the figure of Saint Joseph, today I would like to focus on an important article of faith that can enrich our Christian life and also shape our relationship with the saints and with our deceased loved ones in the best possible way: I am talking about the communion of saints.
We often say in the Creed, “I believe in the communion of saints”. But if you ask what the Communion of Saints is, I remember that as a child I immediately answered, “Ah, the saints receive Communion. It’s something that… we don’t understand what we’re saying. What is the Communion of Saints? It’s not the saints who communicate, that’s not it. This is another thing.
Sometimes even Christianity can fall into forms of devotion that seem to reflect a mentality that is more pagan than Christian. The fundamental difference is that our prayer and our devotion to the faithful people is not based, in these cases, on trust in a human being, or in an image or an object, even when we know that they are sacred. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man, […] Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord” (17:5,7).
It’s not the saints who do miracles, no! “This saint is so miraculous…” No, stop there. The saints do not work miracles, only the grace of God working through them.
Even when we rely fully on the intercession of a saint, or even more on that of the Virgin Mary, our trust has value only in relation to Christ. As if the path to this saint or to Our Lady did not end there, no. Not there, but in relationship with Christ. He is the bond, Christ is the bond which unites us to him and to each other, and which has a specific name: This bond which unites us all, between us and us with Christ, is the “communion of saints”.
It’s not the saints who do miracles, no! “This saint is so miraculous…” No, stop there. The saints do not work miracles, only the grace of God working through them. Miracles are done by God, by the grace of God working through a holy person, a righteous person. It must be clear. There are people who say, “I don’t believe in God, I don’t know, but I believe in this saint. No it is wrong. The saint is an intercessor, he who prays for us and we pray to him, and he prays for us and the Lord gives us grace: the Lord, through the saint.
So what is the “communion of saints”? The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “The communion of saints is the Church” (no. 946). See what a beautiful definition it is! “The communion of saints is the Church. What does it mean? That the Church is reserved for the perfect? No. It means it is the community of saved sinners [peccatori salvati]. The Church is the community of saved sinners. It’s beautiful, this definition. No one can be excluded from the Church, we are all saved sinners. Our holiness is the fruit of God’s love manifested in Christ, which sanctifies us by loving us in our misery and saving us from it.
The joy and sorrow that touches my life touches everyone, just as the joy and sorrow that touches the life of the brother and sister next to us touches me too. I cannot be indifferent to others, because we are all in one body, in communion.
Thanks always to him, we form a single body, says Saint Paul, of which Jesus is the head and we are the members (cf. 1 Cor 12, 12). This image of the Body of Christ and the image of the body immediately make us understand what it means to be bound together in communion: Let us listen to what Saint Paul says: “If a member suffers”, writes Saint Paul, “all the members suffer together; and if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with him. Now you are the body of Christ and, each according to his part, his members” (1 Cor 12, 26-27). This is what Paul says: we are all one body, all united by faith, by baptism… All in communion: united in communion with Jesus Christ. And that’s the communion of saints.
Dear brothers and dear sisters, the joy and pain that affects my life affects everyone, just as the joy and pain that affects the life of the brother and sister next to us affects me too. I cannot be indifferent to others, because we are all in one body, in communion. In this sense, even one individual’s sin still affects everyone, and each individual’s love affects everyone. By virtue of the communion of saints, this union, every member of the Church is deeply connected to me. But I don’t say “mine” because I am the pope; [I say] to each of us he is linked, we have been linked, and linked in a deep way and this link is so strong that it cannot be broken even by death. Even by death.
In fact, the communion of saints concerns not only those brothers and sisters who are at my side at this historic moment, or who are living this historic moment, but also those who have concluded their journey, the earthly pilgrimage and crossed the threshold of dead . They too are in communion with us. Consider, dear brothers and sisters, that in Christ no one can ever truly separate us from those we love because the bond is an existential bond, a strong bond that is in our very nature; only the way of being together with each other changes, but nothing and no one can break this bond.
“Father, let us think of those who have denied the faith, who are apostates, who are the persecutors of the Church, who have denied their baptism: are they also at home? Yes, those too. All.
“Father, let us think of those who have denied the faith, who are apostates, who are the persecutors of the Church, who have denied their baptism: are they also at home? Yes, those too. All. The blasphemers, all of them. We are brothers. It is the communion of saints. The communion of saints unites the community of believers on earth and in heaven, and on earth saints, sinners, everyone.
In this sense, the relationship of friendship that I can build with a brother or a sister next to me, I can also establish it with a brother or a sister in heaven. Saints are friends with whom we very often establish friendly relations. What we call devotion to a saint – “I am very devoted to such and such a saint” – what we call devotion is in fact a way of expressing love from this very bond that unites us. Also, in everyday life, we can say: “But this person has such devotion for his old parents”: no, it is a way of loving, an expression of love. And we all know we can always turn to a friend, especially when we’re in trouble and need help. And we have friends in heaven. We all need friends; we all need meaningful relationships to get us through life. Jesus also had his friends, and he turned to them at the most decisive moments of his human experience.
In the history of the Church, there are constants that accompany the community of believers: first of all, the great affection and the very strong bond that the Church has always felt towards Mary, Mother of God and our Mother. But also the special honor and affection she bestowed on Saint Joseph. After all, God entrusts him with what is most precious to him: his Son Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
It’s not some kind of magic, it’s not superstition, it’s devotion to saints. It is simply talking to a brother, a sister, who is in the presence of God, who has led a righteous life, a model life, and who is now in the presence of God.
It is always thanks to the communion of saints that we feel that the men and women saints who are our patrons, because of the name we bear, for example, because of the Church to which we belong, because of the place where we live, and so on, as well as by personal devotion, are close to us. And it is this confidence that must always inspire us to turn to them at the decisive moments of our lives. It’s not some kind of magic, it’s not superstition, it’s devotion to saints. It is simply talking to a brother, a sister, who is in the presence of God, who has led a righteous life, a model life, and who is now in the presence of God. And I speak to this brother, to this sister, and I ask their intercession for the needs that I have.
It is precisely for this reason that I want to conclude this catechesis with a prayer to Saint Joseph to which I am particularly attached and which I have recited every day for more than 40 years. This is a prayer I found in a prayer book of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, from the 1700s, late 18th century. It is very beautiful, but more than a prayer it is a challenge, to this friend, to this father, to this our guardian, Saint Joseph. It would be wonderful if you could learn this prayer and repeat it. I will read it.
“Glorious Patriarch Saint Joseph, whose power makes the impossible possible, come to my aid in these times of anguish and difficulty. Take under your protection the serious and disturbing situations that I recommend to you, so that they may have a happy outcome. My beloved father, all my trust is in you. All my trust is in you. Let no one say that I invoked you in vain, and since you can do anything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power. Amen.”
And it ends with a challenge, calling on Saint Joseph: “You can do anything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power. It’s a prayer… I entrust myself every day to Saint Joseph with this prayer for more than 40 years: It’s an old prayer. Amen.
[While Pope Francis was reading this prayer, a man in the back of the audience hall began shouting, including about wearing masks. Vatican police escorted him out of the building.]
A few minutes ago, we heard a person screaming, screaming, who had some sort of problem, I don’t know if it was physical, psychological, spiritual: but he is one of our brothers in difficulty. I would like to end by praying for him, our brother who is suffering, the poor: if he cried out, it is because he is suffering, he has a need. Let us not be deaf to the needs of this brother. Let us pray together to Our Lady for him: Hail Mary….
Let us go forward, let us have courage, in this communion of all the saints that we have in heaven and on earth: the Lord does not abandon us. Thank you.
Catholic News Service reporting was used in this article.