When I got home from Havre, I told Nolan the news and e-mailed Chris. Even with the distance of Montana to Alaska, she had become one of my closest friends and I wanted her to know and to pray. However, the e-mail I got back wasn’t from Chris, but from John. Chris was at something called a “Marian Conference” and would be gone all weekend, but he had let her know what happened. He assured me she would call when she got home and that she was offering her prayers and sufferings for me. In addition, he added that he wished we knew Mary as our own mother because she would be such a comfort to us, since she also had lost her Son.
Needless to say, along with the comfort the e-mail brought, there were also some things to puzzle over. What did he mean by Chris’ “sufferings” being offered for me? How could Mary identify with me? What was a “Marian” conference?
The following week Chris called me and we spent at least two hours on the phone. We talked about the miscarriage and the grace God had given me in dealing with it. But I also began asking her some questions about John’s e-mail. She did her best to explain things, but it’s hard to comprehend things that have never been on your radar. Take Mary, for example, how could she know I was even suffering and give any help if she’s dead? I think that was the first time someone suggested to me that death as humans understand it and death as God understands it are two different things.
As humans, when we see someone die, we feel we are separated from that person. They are no longer there. Their body lies before us, but the soul that animated it is gone. Where is it? Well, if the person died as a Christian, then we trust they are with God. If the person is with God, are they dead? No, not really. In fact, I believe they are more alive now than when they walked the earth! And I think most Christians would agree with that concept. Jesus said He came to give life and to give it abundantly. He said He was going to prepare a place for us so that someday we would be with Him. All of Scripture talks about the hope of the hereafter for those with faith in Christ. St. Paul says to die is to be with Christ! A person can’t get more alive than to be with Christ! We’re also taught that we are one body. Do body parts die off? Only on a diseased body. The body of Christ, His church, is not diseased. Body parts, Christians, don’t cease to be a part of the body because they have left life on this earth.
Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” Verses 22-24, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…”
What does this mean? First, to be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses would bring to mind, for the first century Christians, the witnesses at the games held in places like the Coliseum. During the days of the gladiators when “games” were deadly, those fighting in the arena often looked to the crowd for advice. When a gladiator was poised to kill, he would look to the crowd for their wish, should he go ahead, or let the victim live? If the crowd was impressed with the bravery of the victim, they might give a “thumbs up” and indicate that he should live. But if the response was “thumbs down,” so to speak, then the gladiator would finish him off.
We as Christians are surrounded by a great cloud of heavenly witnesses and they’re not there just to watch us. We can turn to them for advice and encouragement. Who are they? There are angels, of course, but there are also “the spirits of just men made perfect.” These are people, just like us, who have been justified and then made perfect. They are there as part of this crowd watching us and doing what they can for us from Heaven. In the Catholic Church, they’re called “saints.”
The Bible speaks of “saints” as Christians on earth (as when St. Paul asks for the saints to be greeted in his letters), but also of those in Heaven. When the Catholic Church refers to “saints,” she’s referring to those people who have died in the grace of God, having lived (at least at the end) a holy life, and who have been shown through miracles to be in Heaven. (Yeah, I know, you were with me until that last part, right? 🙂 I’ll put the process of sainthood in another post.)
Catholics believe those who have gone before us are not separated from us. Nothing separates us from the love of God, therefore we are not separated from those who are in His love. And just as we can ask our fellow Christians here on earth to pray for us, believing that God hears their prayers on our behalf, so we can ask our brothers and sisters in Heaven to pray for us, especially since they are in the very presence of God.