So how does the Church gain the confidence that a particular person is in heaven? Such miracles provide evidence that the person can offer effective assistance because he or she is now with God in heaven. They love those of us still on earth as God loves us. They want to help us; they want to see us reach heaven as well. So they have the desire to assist us in any way they can.
God allows them to see and hear what He sees and hears, so they can hear the requests we may make of them. They are able, through His grace, to act on our behalf, to intervene in earthly affairs, just as He does. By His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has conquered death. Death does not have the power to separate those who are in Christ from one another; in Him, they maintain a deep communion, whether they are in heaven, on earth or in the purgatorial process on their way to heaven.
For this reason, we on earth can help those in purgatory through our prayers and sacrifices. And those in heaven can help us on earth through their prayers and other interventions. As members of one Body, the Body of Christ, we are able to share the spiritual goods that we have through mutual prayer and assistance. Some may ask why God would be willing to share this power. Why would He want in the first place to grant intercessory roles to the saints, the angels and even those of us still on earth? The answer is simple: That he wants to know Christ, in not only the power of His resurrection, but also in the fellowship of His sufferings.
Communion of saints
The apostle Paul is drawing attention to a principle which Jesus Himself stated over and over, as He explained to His disciples in the upper room from John 13 forward, that they were united to Him. He explained to them that what happens to the Master will happen to the disciples. The glory of the Master will be the glory of the disciples one day.
There will be enough glory by and by, but that also means that the suffering of the Master will be the sufferings of the disciples, because the disciples will join in and follow in the way of suffering of the Master. And the Apostle Paul says here that he prays for this. Now, this is stunning. And therefore, we know the sweetness of communion in this life, not simply in the times of joy in some ecstatic mystical experience of the nearness of God, but we know the communion of God in the midst of the deepest desolations which we experience in this life—the hardest bereavements, the most grievous trials, the moments at which we are laid bare and do not feel that we could go on.
At that moment, we are experiencing of the essence of what it means to be united to God. It's not getting through those things so that you can go on and experience communion with God; it's right in the midst of your weakness that you experience the unparalleled power of communion with God. And the Apostle Paul prayed that he might have that. He didn't just pray that God would help him through those times; he prayed that God would give him the privilege of entering in to that kind of communion with the risen Savior.
I want to think about that with you in two aspects. The believer's unity with the Church Triumphant.
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First, I want to thing with you about the believer's union and communion with the glorified Church in heaven. Believers are in communion with all other saints, even those above, by virtue of our union with Christ. Believers, through union with Christ, know a communion with the glorified Church in heaven.
Now, we've already said that we don't have that communion by praying to the dead, nor do we have that communion by the saints pouring out the benefits of the treasury of merits upon us as they pray for us, so how do we experience this communion? Notice what the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews And furthermore, we know what they long for.
We know what their heart's desire is, and it is our heart's desire, if we are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Book of Revelation, 6: He sees them under the altar as the lamb breaks the fifth seal. And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brethren who were killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
And so, it is their desire that the consummation would come, and that the judgment would come, and that Christ would be glorified, and that they would be vindicated and that the plan of God would be consummated, whereby He brings all things together in Christ in the heavens and on the earth into one. We know that is their desire and we are united with them in that desire. When you come to the Church visible, to the Church militant, to the Church local, to worship the living God, you have come to an outpost of heaven; to a little taste of that new age breaking in on this one.
You have come to the suburbs of glory and you commune in your worship in word and prayer and sacrament with the saints above in glory.
CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Communion of Saints
That's what we sing about when we say in hymn, The Church's One Foundation: With all her sons and daughters, who by the Master's hand, led through the deathly waters reposed in Eden's land. Let me share with you two of the stanzas that are not in our hymnal. Yet, all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Oh, may Thy soldiers faithful, true and bold fight with the saints who nobly fought of old, and win with them the victor's crown of gold. And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long steels on the ear, the distant triumphant song and hearts are brave again and arms are strong.
And then, to know that one day with them, we will stand and see this: From earth's wide bounds from oceans farthest coast, through gates of pearl stream in countless hosts singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I would like to see the Father of the Lamb. I would like to see the Spirit of the Lamb. But next to that, I would like to see the Lamb's wife. I would like to see Her; I would like to be Her.
We commune with the saints above. But, of course, the great emphasis of the New Testament is on our communing with one another in the here and now.
- What is the communion of saints?.
- The Communion of Saints.
- The Communion of the Saints.
And that's the third thing I want you to see. The vision of St John in Revelation may seem a far cry from the reality of life as we live it, and so too the very idea of sainthood. Holiness does not have the same currency as it used to have, although in these times Saints are still raised up, and now given that the Process of Beatification and Canonisation is more efficient and quick, thanks to better communication and research facilities, many of us may well have met and spoken with a Saint or Blessed. This may well be the intention of God: If we had the privilege of such an encounter we must surely see the grace of God for our times: We are to be included in the Communion of Saints, and not just in heaven, but even now here on earth: Today, then, we celebrate our brothers and sisters, the Saints , and pray that we may one day be with them.
In the communion that binds us, we are one with them in faith, hope and love. They accompany us each day with their prayers and presence, and they watch over us commending to God our needs and prayers. They love us , and in their affection and concern we see manifested the extraordinary love of God who binds us all together and draws us to himself.