Archive for the ‘Intercession’ Category

Our Many Friends in Heaven

August 14, 2022

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews celebrates the faith and actions of Old Testament heroes: beginning with Abel, Enoch, and Noah; Abraham and Sarah; Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph; Moses and Rahab; Israel’s judges Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah; David, Samuel, and all the prophets. Then comes the passages of today’s second reading:

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”

These witnesses surrounding us who can help us follow Jesus are not far away. As The Letter to the Hebrews tells us later in the same chapter:

You have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

St. Paul once wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” But can the holy dead help us in more ways than merely being a good examples? Indeed. First we must understand that the holy dead are still alive.

The Sadducees who questioned Jesus about the resurrection of the dead did not believe in life after death and only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament. So using only those five books (known as the Torah), Jesus proves that the dead still live. Jesus asks them: “Have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the [burning] bush, how God told him, ‘I AM the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.

But have the holy dead ever been of any help to the living? “Behold,” at Jesus’ Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, “two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Even before he opened the gates of heaven, they are aware of the nature of Jesus’ salvific mission and encourage him before he undergoes his Passion. By the will of God, Jesus was aided by the saints and they would help us too. The Book of Revelation shows saints in heaven now, before the end of the world. They express concern about events down here on earth and offer their prayers to God.

Offering prayers to the saints above goes back to the Early Church. The first centuries saw huge theological fights over things like deciding on which date to celebrate Easter or choosing the very best word in Greek to articulate a tenet about the Trinity, but the Early Church never blinked at prayers asking the intercession of the saints. If this practice had been some novel innovation alien to the Faith passed down by the apostles, it would have raised major upheaval. The presence of such prayers in the historical record and the simultaneous absence of major controversy tells us something.

Now when some non-Catholic Christians hear about us praying to saints, they assume this means we worship saints. We love and honor saints, but we worship God alone. The objectors misunderstand by equating all prayer with worship. The word “pray” is an old English word which means “to ask, or request.” This word is commonly seen in Shakespeare plays, as in “I pray thee, hold thy peace.” Praying to saints is asking them to ask God to help us.

At this point some critics counter, “Then why not simply go to Jesus? Why not just pray directly to him?” We can and we do, but I would ask these persons if they ever ask their family members or friends to pray for them and whether they consider this a good and worthwhile thing to do. Scripture indeed teaches us to “pray for one another,” noting that “the fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.” If you’re going to ask anyone to pray for you, who better than a holy saint in Heaven?

In preparing for this homily, it occurred to me to look up the saint for today to use as an illustration of what we can learn from them and how they can help us. I typed into my search engine: “August 13 feast day” and information about St. Anthony of Padua popped up. This was both a outstanding and peculiar result; outstanding because he’s a great and fascinating saint, peculiar because his feast day is not August 13th but June 13th. I took this as a sign that acquaintance with St. Anthony is meant to be more widely shared today.

St. Anthony of Padua was born in Portugal in 1095. Though from a prominent family, he entered religious order at the age of fifteen. He sought to become a martyr by preaching Christ in Muslim lands, and eventually received his superiors’ permission to do so, but illness prevented his journey. He then tried to live quiet life of prayer and penance as a hermit, but God again had other plans for him. When asked to give a short sermon during a meal held for Dominicans and Franciscans following an ordination Mass, Anthony’s previously unknown brilliance shined through.

Anthony was reportedly “gifted with a prodigious memory, so that he retained all he read, and could have it ready at hand whenever needed.” St. Thomas Aquinas is also said to have had a memory like that, having written his book “The Golden Chain” (a collection of the Church Fathers’ commentary on each chapter of the Gospels) from memory. These anecdotes are plausible to me because I personally know a cardinal who could have met you once years before and at your next meeting would remember your face, your name, where you had met, and what you talked about. Though you and I lack this incredible gift, there is an encouragement for us in it. If natural human brains in this fallen world can sometimes possess this amazing ability, then our minds in glorified bodies will be capable of the same and more one day.

St. Anthony met and befriended St. Francis of Assisi, who sent him forth to be a traveling preacher. His preaching drew crowds so large that the churches could not hold all of the people. One of the things I love about saints’ stories is learning about how they handled difficulties, be they personal, interpersonal, or practical problems. For instance, how does one preach to a crowd of 30,000 gathered in an open field in the time before electricity? St. Anthony would stand and speak from a raised platform in the center, then brothers posted at increasing distances around him would repeat his message, phrase by phrase, to the crowd.

Like many other saints, we can read St. Anthony’s wisdom online for free. Some quotes from St. Anthony include: “Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.” He said, “Earthly riches are like the reed. Its roots are sunk in the swamp, and its exterior is fair to behold; but inside it is hollow. If a man leans on such a reed, it will snap off and pierce his soul.” And, “Attribute to God every good that you have received. If you take credit for something that does not belong to you, you will be guilty of theft.”

St. Anthony was once a victim of theft. One of the monks ran away from his monastery and took with him one of Anthony’s books. In those days before the printing press, books could be very pricey and might be resold for fast cash. This particular book was dear to St. Anthony so he prayed it might return. His prayer was answered when the runaway brother had a change of heart, returned to the community, and repentantly gave back the book. This story is the reason why St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items.

His intercession in finding lost items is powerful. I encourage small children be taught to say this delightful prayer while spinning: “Tony, Tony, come around, help what’s lost to soon be found.” (Of course, adults may choose different words and omit the action entirely if they prefer). This February, during the process of selling St. Jude’s Church, I realized that the key to the church I needed for a meeting in New Auburn that same hour was missing. I checked all over my rectory’s floors, tables, and countertops. It occurred to me I might have lost it amongst the dirty laundry, so I took my hamper down to the laundry room. Before searching my fresh, clean clothes I began checking my dirty clothes’ pockets. Then I thought, ‘I should pray for St. Anthony of Padua’s help.’ At the very moment I began to speak to him, my hand touched the key in a pants pocket. It was surreal and I felt very, very grateful.

Like the story I told at yesterday’s funeral, as Anthony lay dying (at the age of 35 from an illness) he had a vision of a heavenly visitor. One of the friars asked Anthony what he was staring at so intently. He replied, “I see my Lord!” Saints’ stories also contain weird and wonderful miracles, which show that there is more to reality than the world we see. When Anthony’s tomb was opened thirteen years after his passing, his body had naturally decayed to dusty bones, but his motionless tongue—which had proclaimed Jesus Christ so well—appeared healthy, moistened, and alive.

Are you called to be a European religious brother, priest, and Doctor of the Church like St. Anthony of Padua? Almost certainly not. Nor are you called to be an celibate Middle Eastern carpenter like Jesus Christ. But the saints show us powerful and beautiful reflections of Christ, different ways of being like our Lord, in every age and walk of life.

I hope that you will get closer to St. Anthony and the many friends we have in heaven. Ask God to introduce you, learn about them and befriend them. By the time you discover a new saint, he or she knows and loves you already, for the knowledge and love possessed by the saints in glory partakes of the wisdom and love of God.

Five Reflections on St. Joseph

December 11, 2020

By Fr. Victor Feltes

This week, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the Universal (that is, the entire) Church, Pope Francis declared this “The Year of St. Joseph” through December 8th, 2021. The Holy Father also published an apostolic letter about Jesus’ beloved foster-father entitled “Patris Corde” (or “With a Father’s Heart”). In it, Pope Francis writes about Christian devotion to this great saint and mentions how the phrase “Go to Joseph” has an Old Testament origin. These are five of my personal reflections on St. Joseph.

Go to Joseph

In the Book of Genesis, during a time of famine across the known world, the Egyptians begged their pharaoh for bread. He in turn replied, “Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.” Pharaoh was referring to Joseph the son of Jacob who had risen from a very lowly state to become the viceroy of the kingdom. Enlighted by divinely-inspired dreams, this Joseph’s leadership went on to feed and save the whole world from death, including his own family. According to the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the New Testament’s Joseph also had a father named Jacob. Though poor and obscure, St. Joseph’s heaven-sent dreams enabled him to guide and protect his Holy Family, leading to the world’s salvation through the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. Today, as a powerful intercessor in the Kingdom of God, we are wise to “go to Joseph” for needed help.

His One Word

Within the Gospels, St. Joseph has no recorded words. There is no indication the foster-father of Jesus and spouse of the Virgin Mary was physically unable to speak or ever took a vow of silence; he is simply never quoted. Yet the Gospels suggest he said at least one specific word.

Matthew’s Gospel records how an angel (probably the Archangel Gabriel though perhaps another) told Joseph in a dream: “‘[Mary, your wife,] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus…’ When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” Just as John’s Gospel tells us “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book,” so St. Joseph almost certainly said many unrecorded things. But the one word that Scripture most clearly suggests St. Joseph said is “Jesus.” The name of Jesus is the sum total proclamation of St. Joseph’s life. May it be so for us as well.

Image of the Father

The Letter to the Colossians says of Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Something analogous was true of St. Joseph for Jesus in being the earthly image of his Father in Heaven. Joseph’s life has no recorded beginning or end in the Bible. We know that he was a carpenter craftsman – a creator of many things to be blessing for others. Perhaps he looked at everything he made and found it very good. Alongside Mary, Jesus was obedient to Joseph; he was Jesus’ boyhood teacher, deliverer, and role-model. Jesus lovingly called him, “Abba, father.” St. Joseph was a holy and loving image of God the Father for his Son. Though imperfect, may we likewise be images of God for each of our biological and spiritual children.

The Hour of his Death

When did St. Joseph die? Luke’s Gospel tells us that when 12-year-old Jesus was found at the Temple in Jerusalem he went down with his parents to Nazareth and was obedient to them. After that joyful reunion, St. Joseph makes no further personal appearances in the Gospels. Joseph had apparently passed away by the time of Christ’s Passion since Jesus on the Cross does not entrust his blessed mother’s care to her faithful husband but to a beloved disciple. Other episodes in the Gospels suggest that Joseph died before the start of Jesus’ public ministry.

How did St. Joseph die? If Joseph, the heir to the throne of David, had been murdered we would expect this prefigurement of Jesus’ own death to be described in the Gospels like the death of St. John the Baptist. Unless some sudden catastrophe befell him, an ailing Joseph would have reached his deathbed. And who would have been compassionately comforting him and powerfully praying for him at his bedside as he reached his hour of death? His having most likely died peacefully in the loving presence of Jesus and Mary is what makes St. Joseph the patron saint of a happy death.

The Terror of Demons

St. Joseph is called “the Terror of Demons” and his spouse “the Queen of Angels.” Yet the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation was greatly troubled and afraid at the Archangel Gabriel’s greeting, and when resettling his Holy Family from Egypt Joseph feared mere flesh and blood – avoiding Judea because Herod’s son ruled there. How can this man and woman now be leaders of awesome angels or banes of dangerous demons?

One key trait Joseph and Mary shared is obedience. The Book of Exodus displays Moses’ obedience by recording God’s instructions to him and then repeatedly presenting Moses doing “just as the Lord had commanded.” Whenever St. Joseph receives instructions from God (to take Mary into his home, to escape to Egypt, or to return to Israel) the text that follows has Joseph doing exactly as God commanded. Mary was also radically open to God’s will, as when she famously said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” The demons, for their part, fell from Heaven’s glory because they refused to do God’s will.

Joseph and Mary were also among the first on earth to accept and love the (then still-unborn) baby Jesus. The demons, in contrast, were the first to reject the Son of God. We do not know the exact reasons for their primordial rebellion but some theorize the demons took offense at God’s plan that the Eternal Son would become an incarnate human being, crowning that creature with a greater glory than the angels. “By the envy of the devil, death entered the world,” says the Book of Wisdom.

Joseph and Mary’s obedience to God’s will and their love for Jesus on earth lead to them being gloriously empowered in Heaven. Jesus told his disciples, “you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” and St. Paul reminded the Corinthians “we will judge angels.” It seems that faithful human creatures who, by God’s grace, love and serve the Lord in the likeness of Christ himself are best suited to become powerful, humble, servant rulers in the Kingdom of Heaven.

St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, pray for us throughout this holy year!

Abraham’s Intercessions for Sodom & Gomorrah

July 23, 2016

A Mathematical Analysis of Genesis 18:22-33

Bid # for Innocents
# Decrease
% Decrease
Factional Decrease







10% 1/10




11.111% 1/9




25% 1/4




33.333% 1/3




50% 1/2

Esther & Our Father — Thursday, 1st Week of Lent

March 13, 2014

Readings: Esther C, Matthew 7:7-12

Esther was an exceedingly beautiful, orphaned, young Jewish woman who was drafted by the king of Persia into becoming one of his wives. When the wicked government minister, Haman, manipulated the king into legalizing the killing of all Jews in the empire, Esther gathered her courage to intercede with the king. She feared not only because she was secretly Jewish, but because the potential punishment for appearing before the king (the “lion” as she calls him) without having been summoned was death. However, when Esther came before the king he extended his scepter for her to touch, sparing her, and invited her to ask for whatever she wished.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus likewise reveals to us that we should not be afraid to ask God, our loving and almighty Father, to provide good things for ourselves and others:

If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.

Pray for Politicians

September 19, 2010

Do you recall St. Paul’s words from this Sunday’s second reading?

First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.  (1st Timothy 2:1-4)

With faith in prayer’s power to turn hearts and do good, and recognizing the Catholic duty to act for the transformation of culture, I invite you to join in a new spiritual effort, to earnestly pray for our political leaders.

My new blog, Pray for Politicians, will highlight a different federal elected official each day. Pray for them and leave a note of your spiritual offering in the comments.  (If you prefer, you can click the subscribe button to receive the daily posts by email.)

I invite and encourage you to be a part of this effort.

Pray for Politicians Blog

Pray for Peace — 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

September 12, 2010

I have a friend… let’s call her Kelly. Kelly works for a private company that does high-tech, scientific analysis for its clients. Most of this work is connected to criminal cases, examining and testing physical evidence on behalf of the prosecution or defense, but sometimes they also do sensitive work for the federal government, work about which Kelly shares no details. Kelly also wants to enter into religious life and become a nun. It’s a vocation she has considered for many years, and her job has only intensified her certainty of that calling.

You see, her work has shown her that if people want to do great evil in our world they would not seem to lack the opportunity. The technology and resources are out there; all that is needed is the malevolent will to use them. Kelly sees that our world is not preserved from self-annihilation by law enforcement, militaries, or government agencies alone. Just as important as these is the work of the spiritual battle which is invisibly waged amongst angels and demons and souls and whose primary battlefield is humanities’ hearts and minds. All of the peacekeepers and diplomats in the world cannot achieve peace, unless peace first wins its victory within the human soul. This peace is won through prayer.

In July of 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children near a Portuguese town called Fatima. While the First World War was still raging, Mary told them, “The war is going to end. But if people do not stop offending God, another, even worse one will begin in the reign of Pius XI.” (At that time, the pope was Benedict XV.) “To prevent it,” Mary said, “I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays. If people attend to my requests, Russia will be converted and the world will have peace. If not, she will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, and various nations will be destroyed.” Russia at that time was a war-devastated nation, poor and militarily weak. It was unclear what sort of “errors” they could spread. Four months later, the Communists came to power in the November Revolution. Mary’s call for prayer and conversion was not heeded and the worse war Mary which spoke of did come to pass; this was the Second World War.

Mary told the children, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me; it will be converted, and a certain period of peace will be granted to the world.” I think many people here of a certain generation will remember having prayed for the conversion of Russia, and it came to pass. The Cold War ended not with the explosions of a thousand suns, nor with a thousand years of darkness, but peacefully with a new dawn of freedom. It was a miracle which no one saw coming, but a miracle for the whole world to see.

Despite the present conflicts around the world, we seem to be now living in that “certain period of peace” of which Mary spoke, but for how long will it last? That depends, in part, on us. We must offer prayers of intercession for the world, even for our present enemies, for there to be lasting peace.

In our first reading, did God really want to annihilate His people for their sins before Moses interceded for them? God said to Moses “Let me alone… that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.” But what was really holding the Lord back from punishing them instantly? Nothing really. In saying, “Let me alone,” the Lord prompts and gives Moses the opportunity to be their intercessor. In this, Moses prefigures Christ, who intercedes to save all sinners. God calls us to pray for sinners, too.

In the second reading St. Paul tells us, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost.” He says, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated…” Paul was shown mercy, saw the light and converted to Christ. This happened in part because the Church was praying for him. He was one of the most feared and notorious persecutors of the early Christians. He was their enemy, but the Church had not forgotten Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

The early Church’s prayers converted one of their greatest enemies. Moses’ intercession preserved the welfare of his nation. And the prayers of Mary and her children converted a misled people, and saved the world from destruction. The power of prayer has not diminished with time. It can still win our enemies for Christ, safeguard and bless our nation, and convert distant and misled peoples. The Lord calls us to pray for our enemies, for our nation and for our world, because as much as anything else, lasting peace depends on our prayers.

 [See the image I had to resist using to illustrate this post.]