When you ask someone to pray for you are you worshiping that person? Of course not! It’s the same when we ask the saints to pray for us! In our prayers to saints we ask them to “put in a good word” for us with God in Heaven. They are not the focus of our worship, God is.
In this regard, it is worth noting that many compilations of prayers to saints also include prayers by them as well, to our Lord. The important thing to remember is that all these prayers have the same Divine destination, for our salvation.
The authors of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (“light of the nations”) noted that it was important that we “suppliantly invoke" the saints and "have recourse to their prayers, their power and help in obtaining benefits from God through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our Redeemer and Saviour."
For example, in one well known prayer to St. Joseph we ask him to “assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord."
In the saints we have as advocates members of what is called the Church triumphant (those already in heaven.) We on earth are part of the Church militant.
In addition, with the Church suffering (those in purgatory) we all make up what is known as the Communion of Saints, part of one glorious mystical body of Christ in His Church. We are truly all in this together!
Note that the saints had their weaknesses and struggles just as we do and they were also sinners. But they had tremendous devotion to God. They became canonized (that is to say, officially recognized) as Catholic Saints after their deaths. This was usually done after a lengthy review of both the holiness of their lives and miracles associated with them.
What is comforting is that with the saints we have so many members of our Church in heaven to look out for us! Do you ever feel some days like you need all the help you can get? You can ask one of many patron saints for their assistance. Some have been “put in charge” of various causes, occupations, (and even countries!), through popular traditions or by the Church. These saints are considered our protectors as well as our intercessors.
St. Patrick is the patron Saint of Ireland, for example, and people get their throats blessed on the feast day of St. Blase. (Just as a reminder, a feast day in the Catholic Church is a day to give special honor, that is to say recognition, to God, saints, doctrines, or sacred events.)
Many saints are patrons of more than one occupation or cause, such as St. Joseph, who, besides being a Universal Patron of the Church is also considered a patron saint of fathers, carpenters, and social justice. St. Therese of Lisieux, the "Little Flower," is patron saint not only of florists but also of missions as well. The Blessed Virgin Mary is also considered a patron saint and has been given quite a few names as one, including many for places she has appeared (as in Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, and Our Lady of Guadalupe).
Many prayers to saints take these “patrons” into account. For example, people pray to St. Anthony for lost items; to St. Jude (or perhaps St. Rita) for lost causes; to St. Gerard for motherhood; and to St. Peregine for Cancer victims. For many years the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel was included at the end of Mass for his help in defeating Satan. (and it should be again!)
Keep in mind that God also calls on us to be saints. If this seems like too tall an order, remember that, with God’s help we can live our lives reflecting His love and goodness, letting Him work through us, just like the saints! Emulating your saint will certainly help you reach this goal!
As we read in the wonderful prayer of St. Francis “Lord make me an instrument of your peace…grant that I may not so much seek to be loved as to love.” Just ask for God's help in prayer. Remember, He’s an important part of your prayers to saints as well.