Who is Praying For Matthew Warren?

Twenty-seven-year-old Matthew Warren committed suicide on April 5. He was the son of Rick Warren, pastor of the well-known megachurch Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. During this time of grief and devastation for the Warren family, Rick and his wife, Kay, a couple well-known and warmly loved throughout much of the world, have been graciously flooded with condolences and prayers of support. 

Sadly, though, as I follow the aftermath of this tragedy I cannot help but see in it a second, almost hidden tragedy: Spiritual care for Matthew Warren has ceased; it ceased the moment his death became known.

Saddleback, a Southern Baptist Church, rejects the doctrine of praying for the dead, as do all major Protestant denominations. This is due in part to the Reformers’ rejection of 2 Maccabees, which clearly demonstrates the doctrine in action. That book records a story of fallen soldiers who were found to be wearing tokens of idols under their tunics—thus, they died committing the sin of idolatry. Even so, their leader Judas Maccabeus and his men prayed for them:

[T]hey turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out . . . [Judas Maccabeus] also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering (2 Macc. 12:42-43a).

Maccabeus and his men sought to provide for the spiritual welfare of the fallen soldiers even after their deaths. The soldiers had died in God’s friendship, fighting a holy battle, but they had committed idolatry in the process. Their sins still needed atoning-for. The passage continues:

In doing this [Maccabeus] acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Macc 43b-45)

This Scripture passage indicates that praying for the dead is an honorable act that can help the deceased be purified of imperfections before entering heaven. Of course, prayers are not needed for those already in heaven, and those in hell cannot benefit by prayers. But prayers can and do help those destined for heaven who first need purification. All of Christianity recognized and practiced such “holy and pious” deeds until the Reformers came along. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1032) explains:

From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.

But who is praying for Matthew Warren? Saddleback Church isn’t. Southern Baptists aren’t. Other Protestants aren’t. Their thoughts of Matthew in the glory of heaven are surely comforting to them but, especially considering the way he died, he quite possibly could be in need of purification that their prayers and other intercessions could greatly help with.

Just as Judas Maccabeus and his men could pray for fallen idolaters, Christians today can pray for fallen suicide victims. The Catechism (2283) notes that, “The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives”. So should all Christians.

For the repose of the soul of Matthew Warren, we pray to the Lord.

Winning Doesn’t Take Care of Everything

Last week Tiger Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and regained his title as the No. 1 golfer in the world, a title he had lost in 2010 after the consequences of his adulterous lifestyle caught up with him and affected his “game.” His faithful endorser Nike was quick to celebrate Woods’s return to the top with an ad stating, “Winning Takes Care of Everything” (pictured). Many PGA fans understood this message to mean that winning is all that really matters. Forget Tiger’s problems off the golf course; his game is back.

Tragically, today it seems that too many athletes, endorsers, and fans share this sentiment. Athletes are no longer held accountable as role models off the field as well as on it. Success in their respective sports reigns supreme. As long as they are winning, what they do in their personal lives is not important. This is tragic, because many fans look to them as role models—even in their personal lives—whether they like it or not. Pope John Paul II, an avid athlete himself, brought attention to this matter in an address to young athletes:

[P]eople tend to extol you as heroes, as human models who inspire ideals of life and action, especially among youth. And this fact places you at the center of a particular social and ethical problem. You are observed by many people and expected to be outstanding figures not only during athletic competitions but also when you are off the sport field. You are asked to be examples of human virtue, apart from your accomplishments of physical strength and endurance.

The main reason for this should be obvious. As role models, athletes are particularly susceptible to leading others astray in life. They are susceptible to giving scandal. The Catechism of the Catholic Churchexplains: “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death” (CCC 2284). Thus, athletes have a duty to their fans to lead lives of virtue because their fans may tend to emulate them. Being good examples to their fans is part of the loving care that is due them (cf. Matt. 19:19).

But even beyond a duty to their fans, athletes have a duty to themselves to not allow their successes to overshadow what is truly most important in their lives. There is a goal far greater than being the best at what they do in this temporal life, and that goal must always remain in focus. John Paul II went on to explain this in his address:

[T]here are certain values in your life which cannot be forgotten. These values will set you on that clear track which has to be followed in order for you to reach life’s ultimate goal.

Primary among them is the religious meaning of human existence. Sport, as you well know, is an activity that involves more than the movement of the body: it demands the use of intelligence and the disciplining of the will. It reveals, in other words, the wonderful structure of the human person created by God as a spiritual being, a unity of body and spirit. . . .

May this truth never be overlooked or set aside in the world of sport, but may it always shine forth clearly. For athletic activity is never separated from the activities of the spirit.

If athletes succeed at sports but overlook or set aside spiritual matters, where does that leave them? I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matt. 16:26). And where does that leave sports? John Paul II continued:

If sport is reduced to the cult of the human body, forgetting the primacy of the spirit, or if it were to hinder your moral and intellectual development, or result in your serving less than noble aims, then it would lose its true significance and, in the long run, it would become even harmful to your healthy and full growth as human persons. You are true athletes when you prepare yourselves not only by training your bodies but also by constantly engaging the spiritual dimensions of your person for a harmonious development of all your human talents.

Athletes like San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers seem to understand John Paul II’s message. We should pray for such understanding among all athletes because, in the long run, winning really doesn’t take care of everything.