Monday, April 13, 2015

The saints pray for everyone

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone [ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀνθρώπων] . . . This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved [πάντας ἀνθρώπους θέλει σωθῆναι] and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2.1, 3-4).

In light of this passage and command by the apostle Paul, I understand that it is the responsibility and calling of everyone who assumes the name of Christian to pray for the salvation of the whole world. Paul's language is rather unambiguous here: God desires the enlightenment and salvation of all human persons, and this is to be accomplished at least in part through the prayers of God's saints. In the way that the calling of Israel was to be a light unto the nations, that God's salvation should reach the ends of the earth (Isa 49.6), so also Christians are called to pray that this salvation continue to spread, until all persons are captured by it.

Catherine of Siena, aflame with ardent desire for the salvation of others, was captivated by God's love as demonstrated in his sending his son for our sins:

O supreme eternal Good! What moved you, infinite God, to enlighten me, your finite creature, with the light of your truth? You yourself, the very fire of life, you yourself are the reason. For it always has been and always is love that constrains you to create us in your own image and likeness, and to show us mercy by giving your creatures infinite and immeasurable graces.

O Goodness surpassing all goodness! You alone are supremely good, yet you gave us the Word, your only-begotten Son, to keep company with us, though we are filth and darksomeness. What was the reason for this? Love. For you loved us before we existed, O good, O eternal greatness, you made yourself lowly and small to make us great. No matter where I turn, I find nothing but your deep burning charity (Dialogue 134, in In Her Words, p. 201).

So impressed by God's great love, her heart immediately turns towards those who do not know him yet:

Therefore it is my will, ineffable Fire, joyous Love, eternal Father, that my desire should never weary for longing for your honor and the salvation of souls. . . . 

Now, I beg you, be merciful to the world and to holy Church. I am asking you to grant what you are making me ask. Alas for my wretched sorrowful soul, the cause of all evil! Do not delay any longer in granting your mercy to the world; bow down and fulfill the longing of your servants. Alas! It is you who make them cry out: so listen to their voices. Your Truth said that we should call and we would be answered, that we should knock and the door would be opened for us, that we should ask and it would be given to us. O eternal Father, your servants are calling to you for mercy. Answer them then. I know well that mercy is proper to you, so you cannot resist giving it to whoever asks you for it. Your servants are knocking at the door of your Truth . . . because in your Truth, your only-begotten Son, they have come to know your unspeakable love for humankind. Therefore your burning charity neither can nor should hold back from opening to those who knock with perseverance.

Open, then, and unlock and shatter the hardened hearts of your creatures. If you will not do it for their failure to knock, do it because of your infinite goodness and for love of your servants who are knocking at your door for them. Grant it, eternal Father, beacuse you see how they stand at the door of your truth and ask. . . .They are asking you through this blood [of Christ] to be merciful to the world and make holy Church blossom again with the grant flowers of good holy shepherds whose perfume will dispel the stench of the putrid evil flowers.

You said, eternal Father, that because of your love for your creatures, and through the prayers and innocent sufferings of your servants, you would be merciful to the world and reform holy Church, and thus give us refreshment. Do not wait any longer, then, to turn the eye of your mercy. . . .

Open the door of your immeasurable charity, which you have given us in the door of the Word. Yes, I know that you open before we knock, because your servants knock and call out to you with the very love and affection you gave them, seeking your honor and the salvation of souls. Give them then the bread of life, the fruit of the blood of your only-begotten Son, which they are begging of you for the glory and praise of your name and for the salvation fo souls. For it would seem you would receive more glory and praise by saving so many people than by letting them stubbornly persist in their hardness. To you, eternal Father, everything is possible. Though you created us without our help, it is not your will to save us without our help. So I beg you to force their wills and dispose them to want what they do not want. I ask this of your infinite mercy. You created us out of nothing. So, now that we exist, be merciful and remake the vessels you created and formed in your image and likeness; re-form them to grace in the mercy and blood of your Son (In Her Words, pp. 202-3).

Catherine's fervent prayers here are wonderful and provocative. She makes a number of very suggestive points: first, that her prayers for the salvation of all persons are commanded by God, and therefore he will fulfill them; God is more honored and glorified in the salvation of a human person than in her damnation; and God should even change the wills of persons heading towards damnation, if they should obstinately refuse to repent on their own, out of his mercy for them. Better that, than that God's creation should come to nothing.

An essential point I want to emphasize here is this: God's command that we pray for all persons everywhere has to transform our characters. We must go from being mere servants, repeating words which our master demands of us, to persons such as Catherine who fervently, ardently, compassionately desire the salvation of all persons, just as we pray. The command becomes character: we begin to love human person with the love that God had for them in Christ, increasingly so even if imperfectly.

Now a provocative and difficult question for some: does God form us into such persons only to disappoint us in the end? Do his actions work contrary to his commands?