Question: My sister-in-law is a Protestant and says we should not pray to saints because the Bible states, “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all” (1 Tm 2:5-6). How can I answer her?
— Anastasia Ogene, Hyattsville, Maryland
Answer: Catholics do not speak of or teach a substitutional mediation in invoking the saints as if we were trying to go to the Father apart from Jesus’ mediation. Rather, we speak of a subordinate mediation when we seek the prayers of the saints or of one another. For indeed we could have no communion with them or each other if it be not for Jesus Christ, who as the head of the Body the Church, unites all his members and facilitates our communion with each other.
Objectors like your sister-in-law seem to speak of there being one mediator in an absolute sense, excluding any other possible interaction or any subordinate mediation. But consider, that if there is only one mediator in the absolute sense, then no one ought ever again to ask anyone to pray for them. Neither should the objectors attend any church, read any book, listen to any sermon or even read the Bible (since the Bible mediates Jesus’ words to us).
Now, a “mediator” is someone or something that acts as a kind of go-between, as something which acts to facilitate our relationship with Jesus. And though Jesus mediates our relationship to the Father, he also asked apostles, preachers and teachers to mediate, to facilitate his relationship with us. And thus Jesus has his relationship with us mediated through his Word and through the apostles and others who announce that Word and draw us to him.
For those of us who see that there is a subordinated mediation in service of Christ’s supreme mediation, the prayers of others (and preaching, and teaching, etc.) all make sense. And just like the Bible can mediate his presence and will so too the prayers of others, including the saints, can also convey my prayers to him.
Question: I have written to my bishop for several years now about liturgical abuses in my parish, and I get no response. It seems to me that bishops don’t care about their flock anymore. How can I, a lowly layperson, possibly get through to my bishop?
— name withheld, location withheld
Answer: The insularity of many leaders is a common human problem that has gotten worse in the modern age. This is due to the pace of life, increasing demands to be many places, be on top of many issues and communicate in countless ways. As a result, many leaders require staff who help them manage the many requests for their attention. Bishops are usually not an exception. And thus many, as you articulate, are frustrated at a lack of response or ability to talk directly to bishops or even pastors of large parishes.
I would encourage you to address your concerns at the lowest level possible before going straight to the top. Most dioceses have deans who help oversee a group of parishes.
Dioceses also have personnel directors who oversee the priests. Sometimes, just finding a sympathetic priest who can help you navigate the diocesan structure may produce a better result.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.