A little boy I never met, who I never got to cuddle, is the one who broke down barriers and began to introduce me to asking the saints to pray – to join with me in intercession.
His name is Ewan Eliezer Petermann. He would have been three years old today. Ewan was born with a congenital heart defect, and he lived for sixteen days. In those sixteen days he impacted the world as his mama shared his story on a blog.
About thirteen months ago I met Kirsten, Ewan’s mama, in person for the first time. We’d corresponded off and on, known each other through the world of blogging, and I’d followed closely in the days before Ewan’s birth as she wrote about the decision that she and her husband made to join the Catholic church. It was during the week I spent in Florida, gathered with Kirsten and three other friends made via blogging that I attended the mass that started my own journey towards Catholicism. And it is through knowing Kirsten that I have come to know Ewan even more.
I’ve known for years that there was confusion between the teaching of my protestant upbringing and Catholic teaching about the saints. I was told growing up that Catholics prayed to Mary and the saints, that they worshipped them. A number of years back someone who was then part of my life pointed out that if I believed truly that those who have died are alive with Christ, that if I believed in what the author of Hebrews describes as “the great cloud of witnesses”, why didn’t I believe that those who were alive in Christ could intercede on my behalf? It was a conversation that came on the heels of dreaming about St. Clare, and one that resulted in intellectual assent to the concept of the intercession of Mary and the saints. Since then I’ve worn a medal with the image of St. Clare around my neck off and on (the same medal pictured in the blog header) to remind me of that intercession that I experienced in a dream.
There’s an evangelical saying that is both trite and truthful – the furthest distance is often the twelve inches between your head and your heart. It’s a saying that rings true when I consider the concept of begging the intercession of Mary and the saints. I thought about it, I gave intellectual assent to it, and I stopped firmly short of ever asking for it – of ever praying a rosary, or crying out for the intercession of those who are already near to Jesus in heaven. Even as I’ve journeyed towards the Church this last year, even as I visited a Catholic shrine built in honor of Mary, Queen of the Universe, even as I’ve read extensively about Saints, I’ve firmly stopped short of seeking them out, of including them in my prayer life.
That is, until this summer, when I worked some shifts in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In the NICU I couldn’t help but be reminded of my friend Kirsten, and her sweet son Ewan, already living with Jesus. As I worked alongside the nurses I was paired with, caring for those tiny, sweet, helpless babies, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to ask Ewan to pray with me for my patients. It was natural to ask one who had experienced what I hadn’t to pray with knowledge that I couldn’t possess.
Ewan has continued to usher me towards this new form of prayer that still so often feels strange and foreign. It was his face that came to mind as I prayed the rosary for the first time last week, begging Jesus for mercy in an emergent situation in a family that I love dearly. And it was Ewan I thought of first as I prayed for and with a friend, asking the saints to join my intercession to theirs.
A tiny boy that I never got to hold has taught me about prayer, and I can’t wait to hold him in Heaven one day.