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Saturday, January 15, 2011

We Journey with Companions...the Saints...

Journey on this earth can sometimes be harsh, confusing, bitter, painful, frustrating and lonely. Confronted with these, as travelers, pilgrims, striving to satisfy the hunger of their restlessness for the Almighty, are often seduced or distracted by “noises”.

“Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

We all share in the hope of the resurrection. Whether we are on earth or in heaven, we are all God’s people; in communion, in relationship with God through Jesus Christ – “one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5).

We are either “fighting or have fought the good fight of faith”. Those pilgrims who have travelled the path and gone ahead of us are already rejoicing in heaven, being united with God, the Father.

These saints in heaven remain in full communion with us who are still journeying the earthly paths.  Like them, St Paul also refers us as fellow “saints”.

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus…” (Ephesians 1:1, KJV)

We know that our journey here is only but a fleeting phase in comparison to our ultimate destination; the kingdom of heaven or eternal life.

Scripture gives us a glimpse of this from the many teachings of Jesus, who also insists that those of God’s people who have passed from this life are not dead. Jesus himself has defeated death!
 Jesus also demonstrated to his disciples Peter, James and John that the “saints” of the Old Covenant are alive when He spoke with Moses and Elijah on the mountain of transfiguration (Mark 9:4).

As pilgrims of Christ, we fear not, as we are not alone in our constant struggle against the distractions of the world, the seduction of the flesh and of course, the temptation of Satan.

We know that we are part of a greater and mighty army, spanning across space and time, led by Jesus, our commander.

For more than 2,000 years, Satan’s core strategy to defeat the pilgrims of the church has always been to divide and isolate us from one another; divide and conquer, it seems.

We, faithful pilgrims know that only Jesus Christ Conquers; in Greek, denoted by “IC XC NI KA”.

The Saints are witnesses that the simple life of faith and Christian perfection is possible. And because we are all members of one body, we support one another by praying for each other. Prayer is the normal way for us, saints on earth, to support each other.

Given this, we can also ask for prayers from the saints already united with the Lord. If the prayers of earthly living saints seem to have special power because of their great faith, how much more powerful and effective are the prayers of those Saints who are already fully united with God in heaven?

The book of Revelations often mentions about the 24 elders – representing all the saints of heaven, gathered round God’s throne in praise. In Revelations 5:8, St John tells us that these elders possessed, “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints”. This gives us a simple but beautiful image of “intercession”.

However, often, there is a worldly misconception that requesting for the intercession of the saints can sometimes lead to abuse – some fellow pilgrims think that such practices can lead to idolatry; worshipping the greatness of man instead of divine God.

The book of Acts 14:8-18, in the case of Paul and Barnabas, reaffirms that the saints themselves forbid anyone to offer them the worship they know is reserved only for God.  St Augustine further reinforces that, “…we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men of God still with us…But the veneration strictly called “worship”…that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone.”

Though worship may be in the form of prayer, faithful pilgrims understand that not all prayer is worship.

It is respectful for us to honor the great Saints, but we do not worship them.  Just as we can ask our fellow sisters and brothers to pray for us, we can also humbly request the Saints in heaven to pray and intercede to God on our behalf; they do have more effective “connections”.  We remind ourselves that true worship is due to God alone as there is only “one mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5)

The lives of the saints continue to inspire us on this journey - to be obedient, to pray quietly, constantly in our heart and most of all, to live simply.

This journey may be long but its fruits are beyond compare. Travelers and pilgrims have sought these spiritual fruits to bring rest to their hearts for more than 2,000 years. Wherever the pilgrim is, on his or her journey, they can take solace that Jesus, His apostles and their successors, including the heavenly saints will help lead the way …until we arrive at the heavenly kingdom.  Our hope and the ultimate destination of our journey is heaven, to be in union with God.  St Paul reminds us…

For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.” (Romans 14:8)

Our human condition is weak, confused and perplexed by the constant enigmas of life.  That is why God, through Jesus, came to bring light, hope and love into the darkness and coldness of this journey back home.  God has inspired great Saints to achieve incredible feats of faithfulness, unselfishness, obedience and trust.  As such, together with the communion of saints, we take courage that we too are capable, to complete our journey towards the ultimate God.

  "We are pilgrims, we live in a temporary inn, we are in transit, and this is not our homeland." 
- St Gaspar del Bufalo

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