Dear Doctimus Prime,
I cannot help but shake my head when “Caths” scamper for fear that their faith will be stolen from them by unsuspecting faith sceptics, because it’s all wrong. By the way “Caths” is what I call baptised and practising Catholics. It’s not funny when Caths have to call me in the middle of my own busy day to ask about things that they should know. It must be the ‘scush-syndrome’ (Sit-Comfortably-Until-Something-Happens). Caths don’t know what they believe but they are cool with it. We have scriptures and two thousand years worth of tradition but questions that were resolved over a thousand years ago continue to rack their nerves (not mine!).
So I was in my office one morning still savouring the aftertaste of a piece of cake I ate with my cup of tea moments before, when someone sent me a text message asking me to come online (I don’t want to say where). We got talking and the passage of controversy between him and another Christian was Exodus 20:23. Here, Moses admonishes Israel to desist from IDOLATRY. Now, this “other Christian” believes that Caths worship idols. To his mind, when we kneel before a statue or an image of Christ or Mary or the Saints, we are worshipping them. The problem is first of all one of definition before it is a question of faith.
By definition, IDOLATRY is the worship of a graven image, either of stone, word or metal, as gods in themselves. The worship of idols expressly intends to replace the One True God who is maker of heaven and earth. This is what Exodus 20 condemns. But is that what Caths do? In the very first commandment of the Decalogue (the 10 commandments is what is referred to as the “Deca-logue”), God condemns the worship of any other god(s), whether they are images of things on earth or in the heavens (cf. Ex 20:3,4). But God did not condemn the carving of graven images per se. In Ex 25:22, the Jews made images of Cherubims to decorate the Ark as God had commanded (cf. Ex 25:18-22). Moses made a bronze serpent on which the people gazed to obtain healing when poisonous snakes besought their heels (Num 21:4-9). Scriptures, clearly, did not forbid the carving of images but idolatry.
Statues, Images and Icons are fundamentally different from idols. The aim of having them is to ASSIST A PERSON IN ORDERING THEIR MIND TOWARD GOD AND HEAVENLY THINGS. The reason Caths keep statues in their homes and churches is so that they may be reminded of our Lord and the heroes of our faith; the Blessed Virgin Mary (Yes, she is “Blessed” beyond what any human person can ever hope to accord her cf. Lk 1:38), the Saints and Angels. When a person bows to them, it is not because he or she believes that Jesus or Mary or the Saints are before them. Neither do they believe that these statues are gods in themselves. Rather, they are made conscious of the continued prayers and intercession of the saints. In case you don’t know, the prayers of the saints who are the most righteous of persons, avails much (cf. James 5:16). To believe that you are bowing before Christ or the saints when you bow before these images, is the same as believing that you are carrying you husband or wife or children when you put their pictures in your wallet.
Matter of Faith
The audacity to make images of Jesus or His mother and the saints comes from the fact that Jesus Himself longed to be seen and touched; He took on human nature so that we may see Him, touch Him, speak to Him and even eat Him (cf. 1Jn 1:1-4; Jn 6:53,54). God, in his wisdom, wanted us to know what He looks like and that He cares for us. Every time we look at a picture or statue of Jesus or a crucifix, we are reminded of how much God loves us (cf. Rom 5:6-8). That is why Saint Paul describes Jesus as the “image” of God (“image” translates the Greek work ‘ikonos’ from which the English word “icon” is derived. cf. 2Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). Even more interesting is the fact that God wants to transform us into His own image. This desire is seen in the lives of many men and women who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Their lives are testimonies of God’s grace working through human frailty. When we gaze on their images or read about their lives, we draw strength to soldier on in a fierce world, riddled with temptations and the lure of sin (cf. Heb 12:1,2). I have nothing against anyone who doesn’t need images to help them focus their mind. I have nothing against people who are their own source of inspiration. I respect their point of view. I am weak and I need as much help and inspiration as I can find to keep me on the straight and narrow. Is that too much to ask?