Cemetery at Conception Church in Bangkok, Thailand: with pwang mahlai (พวงมาลัย)
There is no sense to living a contemplative life alone, if by saying “alone” one were to also exclude the Church of Heaven. To be alone with God is not to be lonely. To be alone with the saints and angels is not to be lonely.
After the passing of his wife, Jacques Maritain started to concentrate some of his attention on the indissoluble link between the pilgrim Church here-below and the Church of Heaven. They are, of course, one and the same Church under different states. In a seminar given to some Little Brothers of Jesus, he said,
The Church triumphant and the Church militant are but a single Church, a single and unique mystical body under two essentially different states…
The living link and the living relation between the two are manifested in the public life of the Church here on earth by the liturgy. The liturgy is wholly turned towards Heaven. And Heaven listens to it… the liturgy and the breviary assure and maintain in this way a continuous communication between earth and Heaven.
But in our private prayer, in our personal spiritual life? Heaven, it seems to me, is very distant, abstract, impersonal. Naturally I am not speaking of the Holy Trinity, nor of Jesus and of the Blessed Virgin. Yes, we think of them, in a habitual and profound manner. But the Mystical Body, the angels and the innumerable saints, all the humanity who populate Heaven and who constitute the Mystical Body of which Christ is the head, all of this remains hidden, in general, as though behind a curtain of azure. This is due, without doubt, in part to the fact that Heaven is unimaginable and that Revelation teaches us only a minimum of things concerning the other world. Why? Because we would not understand. We have no landmark. (We are as it were primitives…) But this is due also to our stupidity and to our reluctance to attach ourselves to the invisible, to seek in it our daily bread.
It really is true that we cannot imagine Heaven, the Beatific Vision, the communications of saints and angels among themselves, or even how they interact with our own world. This is beyond our knowledge. We are like “primitives”. What is behind the curtain, we do not know. There is a curtain between us and Heaven, and we can barely hear the whispers that come through.
But the whispers exist. We may not be able to grasp the reality in itself. But Heaven comes to earth.
- The Humanity of Jesus is housed in countless tabernacles.
- The Eucharist is the sign and effecting of the Mystical Body of Christ.
- Feast days go ’round the calendar every year: feasts for the Humanity of Jesus, feasts for his Mother, feasts coming from the calendar of the People from whose roots Mary and Jesus were born, and (finally) feasts of saints and angels.
So, if we feel at home with the Church of Heaven – and if we don’t, why don’t we? – why would we not treat the Church of Heaven as we do God himself? Not, of course, that we are to worship a creature as the Creator – Heaven, itself, forbid! But quite simply, we ask for the will of God to be done on earth. Well, the will of each and every saint and angel is perfected by the Vision of God: why don’t we pray that the will of particular saints be done on earth? Why are we not familiar enough with Heaven to ask this? There is nothing stopping us but ourselves!
This is a bit different from asking saints and angels to do stuff for us. It is common to ask Saint Blaise to heal my disease of the throat or Saint Thomas to help me to study. That’s one way to talk to the saints. But it clearly has a strong element of me in it. It can be fine, but it’s not the same as asking for something that I know is invariably good. Unlike my will, the wills of the saints are invariably good!
We can beg and ask God to fulfil their special intentions. Their intentions are holy. But they are still creatures; they have special cares and concerns, based on their journey through this earth or based upon what God has given them to do.
Jacques Maritain puts it like this:
The idea which I would like to propose to you is the following: Since the Church triumphant is but a single Church with the Church militant, and since the saints continue to occupy themselves with the things of the earth and to interest themselves in them (they see all this in the beatific vision itself), well, they surely have their own idea and their own intentions concerning these things, concerning the life and the behavior of each of us, and the events of the world, and the progress and the expansion of the kingdom of God.
And without doubt each of them also has his ideas on what more especially concerns the mission which he had here on earth, and those whom he loved and was entrusted with protecting here on earth. The founding saints, certainly, have their ideas on their religious order, the patron saints have their ideas on the countries or the cities which are under their aegis. St. Thomas Aquinas on the progress of theological truth and of the truths which he himself established and defended on earth, St. John of the Cross on the progress of the contemplative life; Father de Foucauld on the vocation of those who bear witness for Jesus without preaching or teaching but through fraternal love, and who must be, like Foucauld, universal Little Brothers.
Therefore, is not the true manner in which we have to exist with them and maintain a living communion with them – still more than to pray to them for our intentions and to explain our needs and our desires (which is necessary, of course, and will always continue) – to pray to them for their intentions, for the accomplishment of their aims and of their desires concerning the things of here below, in order that in this way the will of Heaven may be accomplished more on earth? We say in the Our Father: “Your will be done,” and in this sense we pray to God for God, well, what I am saying is that we ought to pray to the saints of God for themselves also, in order that their will may be realized by the idiots that we are.
If the Dominicans all over the world said thousands of Masses for the intentions of St. Thomas Aquinas, well, the things of the intelligence would perhaps progress a little better here on earth. – And likewise
– for other saints and their intentions.
God wants us to be united with the Church of Heaven. In this lies strength!
The Church of Heaven is waiting to break into this poor world. We can only pray for it and live together with the saints and angels. All of this pertains not only to the saints who have been canonized, but for all the saints and angels of Heaven. We could start, quite safely, with the will of our Guardian Angel, whose name is unknown but whose will is united to Jesus’:
“May the will of my Guardian Angel be done, Jesus, through you!”
It opens our eyes. It really does. If we mean the prayer, it compels us to see things, hear things, and notice things that we did not previously care so much for. It is one to thing to ask for what we want. We know people altogether differently when we ask for what they want. It is a new degree of friendship and intimacy.
Jacques Maritain continues,
And these saints who concern us and whom we have known – do you believe that they have forgotten us? that they do not desire to help us, and that they do not have a better idea than we do about what is best for us, and that they do not have their own intentions concerning the things of the earth and their friends of this earth?
The Church of Heaven is a marvellous thing, a marvellous reality. God does not want less for us than we can imagine.