Do Catholics Worship Statues?

When chatting with a lady recently, she identified herself as being “born again” and said that she had left the Catholic Church many years ago. I asked her, “Do you have any questions about particular Catholic beliefs?

She said, “As a matter of fact, I have a big problem with the Catholic Church: I don’t think Catholics should worship statues.”

I replied, “Well, I don’t personally know any Catholics that worship statues, and if you do, then please tell them to stop immediately! That’s idolatry!”

I continued, “You know that God forbids the worship of idols (Exodus 20:4-5), but God commanded His people several times to make images and statues for use in their worship of Him. For example He once commanded the Israelites to ‘make two cherubim (angels) out of hammered gold’ and put them over the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:17-22).”

I went on, “and in the book of Numbers, we see God commanding the Israelites to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole so that anyone who had been bitten by a poisonous snake looked at it would be healed. (Numbers 21:4-9). And God certainly commanded His people to create engraved images of angels, trees, flowers, oxen, lions and even pomegranates for His temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 6:23-29, 7:25-45). God certainly hates idolatry, but He doesn’t seem to have a problem with the use of religious art in worship.”

“You see, for us Catholics, statues and religious images are just like photographs – they help us remember our holy brothers and sisters, the saints. When you gaze lovingly upon a photograph of someone you love or admire, nobody accuses you of worshipping the photograph, so please don’t accuse us of the same thing.”

My friend, replied, “I have to admit that sometimes I look at my mom’s picture, and say, ‘Mom, if you can hear me…’”

I replied, “Exactly! And furthermore if your mom was a member of the Body of Christ when she died, she can hear you and even pray for you.” But that’s a subject I’ll leave for another day.

Forty Days

Several years ago my brother Carl, a drummer, announced that he was forming a new band. When I asked him what he was going to name his new group, he said, “Forty Days.” “Hmm,” I replied, “How did you come up with that name?” He responded tersely, “It’s biblical.”

I have always had an interest in biblical things, but at that moment I could only think of one or two bible stories that had anything to do with “forty days.” So, my interest piqued, I found eleven stories in the Bible concerning “forty days,” each having some good point for reflection.

The number forty had a special significance to the Hebrew authors of the Bible. For them, it connoted a time of testing, trial or preparation. The number forty also signified a “long time”.

Starting at the beginning of the Old Testament, Noah spent forty days in the Ark contemplating God’s awesome power in the floodwaters and His determination to cleanse and save His creation (Gen 6-9).

Joseph mourned the death of his father Jacob for forty days while his body was being embalmed. The Spirit of God must have been working through Joseph’s grief, however, because upon burying his father, he immediately offered his treacherous brothers his forgiveness (Gen 50:1-21).

On two occasions Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mt. Sinai in the presence of God, receiving His covenant. He even fasted during both of his sojourns on the mountain (Ex 24:18, 34:28, Deut. 9:9,18).

Many years later, Moses sent twelve spies out into the promised land of Canaan. There they spent forty days savoring the lush land that God had promised them in His covenant (Num 13:25).

After killing the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, the prophet Elijah ran from the evil Queen Jezebel for forty days before reaching Mt. Horeb (Sinai). There he heard the voice of God in a quiet, gentle breeze (1 Kings 19:8).

God gave the people of Nineveh forty days to repent of their sins. They repented after three days however, and spent the rest of the forty days praying and doing penance (Jonah 3:4).

And finally, the prophet Ezekiel spent forty days lying on his side, “bearing the sins of the House of Judah (Ezk 4:4-8).”

Moving on to the New Testament, we find that Mary, following the Law of Moses, went to the Temple forty days after the birth of Jesus to complete the rites of purification (Lev 12:1-5, Luke 2:22-40). As most new parents know, the first forty days of life with a newborn are joyful, yet also a time of great adjustment and change, and this was undoubtedly true for Joseph and Mary.

Jesus himself spent forty days fasting and praying in the desert after His baptism, after which He returned to Galilee to begin his ministry “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:1-4).”

After His Resurrection and before his Ascension into heaven, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples, teaching them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-11).

So, like the prophets of old, we too can spend forty days repenting of our sins and savoring God’s covenant promises while fleeing from evil, forgiving others, and meditating upon God’s absolute determination to cleanse and save us. We too, like Mary and the apostles, can spend forty days adjusting our lives according to His presence, attending to His words, fasting to strengthen our wills against sin and doing works of charity to help those in need.

Have a blessed forty days!

Melted Rosary Beads

My family and I traveled to Nagasaki, Japan last week, a few days after Pope Francis left.  It was a pilgrimage of sorts, and our goals were twofold:  to visit the Atomic Bomb Museum and the 26 Martyrs Shrine and Museum.

We saw these melted rosary beads on the afternoon of our first day in the city when visiting Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Museum.  It seems that Nagasaki was a hub of missionary activity and the home of many “hidden Christians” whose families struggled to keep and pass on the Faith during 250 years under persecution and ban.   Many Japanese Christians called Nagasaki on the day the bomb fell.

Melted rosaries seen in Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Museum

We also saw a remnant of the original Urakami Cathedral (Catholic) in Nagasaki’s Hypocenter Park, which was within a kilometer of the hypocenter of the plutonium bomb explosion.

A remnant of the Urakami Cathedral

But they rebuilt it, Deo Gratias!

There was also POW camp within a kilometer of the hypocenter, and the Soviets had declared war in Japan the day before. 75,000 people were killed instantly,  and most were women and children. 75,000 were injured. The Japanese posit that the Americans spent $2B on the Manhattan project and had to show something for it.

Adjacent to the Atomic Bomb Museum are the Hypocenter Park with a cenotaph at the hypocenter of the explosion, and the Peace Park.

The Nagasaki Hypocenter Cenotaph

We also spent a good deal of time at the 26 Martyrs Shrine and Museum.  Perhaps you know that St. Paul Miki was crucified with 25 others there in 1597, at the start of over 250 years of persecution of Christians.

Here’s the hill upon which they died.

26 Martyrs Shrine, Nagasaki, Japan.

And the relics of St. Paul Miki and others.

Relics of St. Paul Miki and companions.

Their feast day is not until February, but it’s never too early to ask, “St. Paul Miki and companions, pray for us!”