Sunday morning our deacon closed his homily with a reminder that we can turn to Mary in our times of need. He mentioned all the bits that can make a protestant really squirm: She is a mother who loves us, that she will answer our prayers, and that she will pray with us to Jesus.

It is understandable that evangelical protestants view all of this as a bundle of blasphemy, wrapped up in idolatry, with a little necromancy thrown in for good measure. And the reason for their concern ought to be self evident: Mary is doing God’s work.

Years ago when the SuperHusband and I were first married, I went with him on a business trip to Quebec city. We went to dinner one evening with another person attending the conference, this really entertaining eccentric old guy that SH knew from previous conferences. It was mid-June, so conversation naturally turned to plans for the rest of the summer. Our dinner partner informed us he was going to the Ukraine. (This was in the the early post-cold-war era.) We asked what he was doing there. And he answered very plainly, these are his exact words, “Doing the Lord’s work.”

Now neither SH nor I were Christians at that time. We were, however, faithful agnostics, so we understood that God is omnipotent. Or at the very least, He ought to be. Our immediate reaction, therefore, was, “Why isn’t the Lord doing it Himself?”

We are no longer agnostics, and know that we can turn to the sacred scriptures to learn exactly what God is like, and how He does things.  

Is He a Delegator?

The answer is yes.

Consider the commissioning of the 72: During his ministry on earth, Jesus went about healing people and proclaiming God’s kingdom. And then he turned to his disciples, and sent them out to do the same thing — heal people and proclaim God’s kingdom.  Our Lord gave his disciples the power to do His work.

After his resurrection, Jesus does it again. He turns to the eleven apostles and tells them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. For those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” (John 20:23). Jesus is here delegating his power to forgive sins. He could have told the apostles to simply direct people to God for forgiveness of sins, but instead He chose to delegate.

Making disciples, healing, forgiving – these are all the Lord’s work. And scripture records very plainly that the Lord in turn assigns these jobs to mere men.

There is a logic to this, in that if we are to be the children of God, it makes sense that our Heavenly Father would do what any father does, train his children to do the work of the family.

Therefore though some may disagree over the precise details (a topic for another day), I think there is a general consensus among all Christians that while we are here on earth, yes, we are expected to do the Lord’s work. When our dinner partner referred to his pending mission trip to the Ukraine, yes, indeed, he was about to go and do what His Lord had delegated to him. 

I think, however, that a parting ways occurs among Christians when it comes to the question of  what will happen in Heaven.  And this is the root of disagreement over the catholic understanding of the communion of saints.

In the book of Revelation we see the saints in Heaven offering prayers and singing praises to God. Christians agree, therefore, that one of our eternal activities will be something like a giant praise and worship service. Only much, much better. Songs everybody likes, for one thing. Maybe that’s why St. Paul tells us to quit our grumbling and complaining – because there’s no sense practicing now what we won’t be doing later.

And I think that is where catholics (and the orthodox) part ways with evangelicals: Catholics recognize that all this doing of the Lord’s work here on earth is not just a way to bide time until we get our new, glorified voices that make us fit for a heavenly choir. We practice doing the Lord’s work here on earth, because we will actually be doing the Lord’s work in heaven.

Why should Mary, or St. Jude, or any other Christian be given the power to hear and answer prayers and perform miracles? Because they are the grown-up children of God, now working side by side with their heavenly Father. They proved themselves trustworthy with small things delegated to them on earth, and now they are trusted with much greater things in Heaven.

 

So yes, Mary is doing the Lord’s work when she hears and answers prayers.  But this isn’t because she is a deity.  It is because she is a Christian, doing what all Christians are called to do — be a true child of God.  Be a real, active part of the family.  And thus to live with Him in Heaven, as we all hope to do one day, and to share in the work of the Lord, whatever it is that He chooses to entrust to us.

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