“For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name” (Isa 63:16).
There are various objections to the intercession of the saints. Turretin has a characteristically thorough discussion of the subject. Cf. Institutes, 2:38-51,385-90.
For now I’m going to focus my attention on one particular obstacle. Even if, for the sake of argument, we waive other objections to the intercession of the saints, this dogma presupposes that the saints are in a position to know the precise circumstances of the supplicant.
That, in turn, raises the general question of what the dead can know about the living. What, if anything, would be their source of knowledge?
The most obvious source of knowledge would be the newly departed. Men and women die every day, and go to heaven or hell. Presumably, they take their memories with them. In principle, then, that would furnish a lot of detailed, up-to-date information about earthly affairs.
However, that’s far from sufficient to deal with the case at hand. In order for a saint to intercede on behalf of the living, he would need very specific, timely information about that individual supplicant.
In theory, what specific information is available about any particular individual? Well, here’s one scenario. My granddad dies before I’m born. In the afterlife (whether heaven or hell) he knows nothing about me.
Say his wife (my grandma) dies 20 years later. At that point she can fill him in on what she knows.
Likewise, when my mother and father die (if they predecease me), they can update his information.
That’s roughly how it would go. Of course, that involves extended intervals of time when my granddad has no current information about me.
And there are other potential complications. Suppose he goes to heaven, but his wife goes to hell. Then he’s not privy to her information.
And, of course, Catholics don’t pray to their ancestors. Rather, they pray to some official saint who’s not even related to them. So, it’s not as if every decedent is debriefed by one of the saints as soon as he dies regarding the state of the survivors.
Indeed, given the sheer number of people who die every day (about 250,000 - 300,000) in relation to the number of official saints, it would be impossible to debrief every new arrival.
Suppose I pray to a saint about my job interview tomorrow. On the face of it, the saint has no source of information about my situation.
It is, of course, possible to conjecture makeshift news outlets. You could postulate that every Christian has a guardian angel who keeps track of everything we do.
Seems to me that this would be pretty voyeuristic. But the other problem is that it’s sheer speculation. Sure, it’s hypothetically possible, but shouldn’t you have some positive evidence that it’s true before you pin your hopes on praying to the saints? Otherwise, why have any more confidence in your prayers to St. Jude than Shinto prayers to the dead or Tibetan prayer-wheels?
Perhaps, at this point, a Catholic would say he does have good reason to believe it–and that’s because his church teaches it. But, from what I can tell, all his church did was to ratify a popular custom. The basis of the practice is not the dogma; rather, the basis of the dogma is the practice. A preexisting custom. A pious superstition.