Question: Where does the Catholic Church stand on images of Christ, statues of saints, pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Guadalupe, etc.? Is it wrong for me to have these items in my home? I know that our Church does not worship idols. Yet I would like some more information on what we believe.
Answer: When I was a young man, I read a story by Stephen Vincent Benét titled “By the Waters of Babylon.” The mood was one of a traveler finding the ruins of a previous civilization. Throughout the story the hero kept coming across an idol of the God Ashing. At story's end, the reader discovers Benét has looked into the future and the city of New York, after some great catastrophe. The “idol” is simply the ruins of a bust of George Washington.
My point is simply that people can misinterpret, misconstrue and fail to understand what others are doing or have done.
The next time someone criticizes your use of statues, or accuses you of idolatry, you might ask him if he has a picture of his wife or children in his wallet. If he says yes, ask him why he is worshiping them.
Or ask him if he thinks all those tourists going out to see the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., or the faces of the presidents on Mount Rushmore are guilty of idolatry.
Those statues, like pictures of George Washington in so many courthouses, are ways of honoring heroes from the past. They put us in touch with great people in our history. They become occasions for teaching children about the past and offering examples of great citizens.
Stained-glass windows, statues and paintings have long served these same purposes in the Church. Crucifixes and statues of the Good Shepherd or Sacred Heart remind us of Jesus’ sacrifice and love for us. Statues of Mary and the saints recall the heroism of the saints and suggest to us what we should strive to become.
They are occasions for telling the children of today about the real saints and heroes of the past, for telling children what it means to live out their faith and religion. To all of us they offer the occasion to reflect and pray on the action of God in our lives. They help us to better sentiments of piety, call upon us to express our own faith and love. In honoring the saint we honor God who has worked such good and holy things in and through the saint.
In our fast track world, people like instant gratification, or at least quick results. Disappointments can occur if your expectations are too high. You can become disenchanted with people, places and things. This can happen even in the place you go to for rest, renewal and refuge - your place of worship. For simplification of terms, I will call it a church.
As part of a faith-sharing group, I listened to multi-denominations share their expectations and disappointments regarding their Saturday, Sunday or any day of worship.
1} Many of the group did not like the emphasis of the church asking for money. Some of them complained that it was an on-going practice. We all know that worship establishments have bills like the rest of us. They pay electricity, heating and air conditioning, cleaning, taxes, salaries, etc. Usually the church offers a balance sheet of where the money is going. If not, offer to be part of the Finance Committee. You will see where it goes and have a voice in how it is distributed. If you are not asked to join, most Finance Committees have an open door policy whereby you can sit in and listen to where the money is going. If they don’t, initiate one by addressing it to the building or church administrator.
2} Closely related to regular collections is the matter of tithing. How much treasure do you tithe? Tithing is explained in Deuteronomy 14:22 “You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year." The definition of the tithe was very simple and plainly laid out for Israel. They were to gather their harvest and count the tithe out from what they’ve gathered. For instance, if you had 100 apples, you must count them out from one-to-ten, and the tenth one you set aside for the Lord – Leviticus 27:32. Today, many denominations pay heed to the 10% of income for church tithing. And many people complain that they cannot afford that. I am not here to argue church’s expectations of tithes or what you should give. I believe that it is an individual choice - some give more; some give less and it should be a personal, private choice and not made public. What you give is between you and God no matter how much or how many times you are asked.
3} Some of the group complained of their leader, minister, pastor or priest. They simply did not like him or her. They did not feel (s)he was leading the congregation correctly, said improper things, was insensitive, and many other things. In other words, (s)he was imperfect. We all are imperfect. Even church leaders. It is a difficult life for many of these leaders; it is a solitary life, especially if they don’t have partners to share stress with. And there is a lot of work and stress. Besides juggling the church’s expenses, administration, activities and worship programs, the church leader also give counsel, oversees funerals, weddings, christenings, baptisms, etc. etc. They are very busy people and churches are usually short-handed. If you don’t like the leader's mode of operation, volunteer to do some of the leg work he or she does routinely. We have ministry programs to give communion to hospital or shut-ins, bereavement committees help with funerals; there are countless things you can do to help an overworked religious leader. And they LOVE home-cooked meals AND the company - invite them to dinner; you may see another side of them.
4} Everyone complained about children and small babies at church. Especially the fidgety and wailing variety. I admit that I use to complain about this, too. Religious leaders always welcome children to church - some churches have separate glassed rooms for young ones to prevent disrupting the congregation. My feeling is that children who attend church with their parents from an early age quickly adjust and become part of the church family/community easily and lovingly. It is natural for them to be there with family and most likely will duplicate this faith with their own families someday in the same way.
5} Some of the group complained they did not like the people in their church community; they were too high class, too low-class, too gossipy, and the beat goes on. We don’t go to church for the people - we go to church for God.
They lament they will go to another church. There are people all around us we may not care for - maybe even in our own families, but we don’t go look for another family. Many times, the dislikes you feel are cosmetic; you may not really know the other people and let’s face it, you don’t have to socialize with them. You attend church with them, same as attending college or any social gathering. Focus on why you are in church; and don’t focus on the people. You can be friendly and sincere, but you don’t have to live with them. Even Jesus had altercations with his twelve disciples. Peter and James wanted the honor of being on His right and left side in heaven to the consternation of the other ten. Another time, ’An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest." Jesus didn’t replace them; and he didn’t go to another town looking for 12 different disciples. There will always be church members in ANY church you may not see eye to eye with, but you are there to worship and they are part of the community. Maybe they harbor similar feelings about you. Bloom where you are planted and try to grow in faith with everyone, especially those who are different from you. You are there to worship; not judge your brothers and sisters.
We live in an ultra-busy world. Technology gets us there faster, enables us to work faster, gives us computers, fax machines, cell phones, our Blackberry, iPods, notebooks - everything is speeded up so we can dance as fast as we can. Sometimes, economically, we have to work 2 jobs or both partners work; life is entangled. We’re all on roller skates. There’s barely enough time to do all we have to do - who has time to give a whole day and put it aside and keep it holy?
Question: Who has time for faith? How do I get faith? I’d like to have faith, but where and how do you get it?
Answer: You can start, get and keep faith by keeping the Sabbath holy. At the least, most faiths have services for an hour on Saturday or Sunday. This is time for regrouping of family; renewal of faith and refreshment. Keeping the Sabbath sets the pace for a ’day of rest’ be it spending a couple of hours ’together’ and/or awareness of God at least one day of the week. Some of us have to work on the weekends, but there are services during the week - as a day of rest- or at least a sharing of a Scripture over breakfast or dinner or watch a spiritual TV show to ‘keep a day holy’.
Faith begins and grows with God's Word, the Bible. Some find Scripture hard to read and understand. Joining a Bible class may aid you. For those who get frustrated easily, they can start with a New American Bible or a Good News Bible which is easier to understand. Sometimes reading the New Testament and/or Jesus' words, usually in red or bold, is an incentive to pursue the Bible as a whole entity.
Question: What is Sabbath?
Answer: Sabbath is a day of religious observance and abstinence from work, kept by Jews from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and by most Christians on Sunday.
It is one of the 10 Commandments given to Moses by God.
Question: Why should we remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?
Answer: Sabbath is a sign in respect for the day during which God rested after having completed Creation in six days (Genesis 2:2-3, Exodus 20:8).
The Bible tells us it is a weekly day of rest and time of worship. It is observed in Judaism and Christianity and informs a similar occasion in several other faiths.
It is true today that many families have broken the tradition of keeping the Sabbath holy. Many families are Easter/Christmas/Channukah families and do not attend services the rest of the year. Many churches are attended by mostly seniors and children making rites in their faith, but young people, young mothers and fathers are sorely absent. And once the children finish their rites, they disappear from church with their families.
When folks ask me, ‘how did you get your faith’, or ‘how can I get faith’ - I tell them to attend a church, temple or place of worship. There are many different denominational churches or temples like there are many people, and it’s important to go to one where there’s a good fit for your beliefs. Sermons, homilies and services should provide direction and instructions from the Bible. Worship communities help bridge the gap between the Bible and today’s world and how we apply it to our lives.
A person or family gets used to church very easily - it becomes a habit or ritual - going as a unit to worship or learn about God and His Word. Community of church are the people that attend church with you who can be tremendous helpmates in learning about God or sharing in life’s events with you.
He gives us each week of our lives; why not give Him one hour of it? Bring your mate and family. Parents: It is the best gift you can give your children.