An Online Apologetic Exchange

A Catholic [I'll call her Mary] wrote:

I do believe that too many Catholics step clearly over the line when it comes to the inappropriate use and reverence of statues (I would argue that those people probably should not be calling themselves Catholic or at a minimum have been taught poorly).

An interesting argument, given that many of these are likely doing nothing more than emulating what they see their priests and other religious leaders doing. I recall once watching EWTN as the priests and other folks took their little statue of Mary for a walk around the church grounds. I think it extremely unlikely that a little statue would benefit in any way from being taken for a walk.

Have you seen the picture of John Paul II kissing the toe of a statue of Mary? I would say that is certainly inappropriate.

I live in San Antonio, Texas. Every year, one of our local Catholic churches plays host to a little rustic statue of Catholicism's principle deity, the Virgin Mary. During those visits, folks travel to San Antonio seeking the miracles attributed to the little idol. Also, by visiting the idol during its brief Texas sojourn, folks who believe their wishes have been granted are able to pay whatever vows they made when they negotiated their miracle with the idol, thereby saving a long drive into Mexico where the statue lives. The University of Dayton, a Catholic Marianist institution, reports on one of these visitations.

More than 20,000 persons flocked to a small church on San Antonio's south side over a seven-day period to pay homage to a 32-inch statue of the Virgin Mary from Jalisco, Mexico, the San Antonio Express-News said on October 15. The sugar-cane fiber and clay image of Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos first came to St. Lawrence's church five years ago and the annual visits have transformed the church, Monsignor Adolfo Valdivia said. Attendance is up and 700 children are enrolled in catechism classes. The church has become the social center of the neighborhood.

It is my observation that Catholics love playing dress-up with their statues, whether larger than life figures such as in the Sagrado Corazon de Jesus church in my wife's hometown in Mexico or itty-bitty little figurines such as the Infant Jesus of Prague. This latter doll is known to have some 70 fabulous dresses in its collection; rather like the secular 'royalty' of San Antonio's Fiesta celebration. Those interested in seeing how the little doll's clothes are changed can do so by clicking here

My wife's family home in Mexico is right on the main street of town. On several occasions, I have stood at the fence watching as Catholic faithful from all the town's parishes paraded their collections of statues down the main drag. Let's face it, Mary, when the Catholic faithful play dress up with their idols and talk to them, they are doing precisely what they see their parish priests doing. I submit that this does not make them poor Catholics but, rather, observant Catholics.

Mary continued:

When I see a statue of a saint, it reminds me of that person's relationship with Christ and the story I know of their walk.

Interesting statement, Mary. How are you able to know what kind of relationship the person the statue represents had with Christ? For that matter, how can you even know that the person represented ever actually existed? When I was confirmed, I took Christopher as my patron saint. That seemed a natural thing to do, since I had been wearing a St. Christopher medal around my neck for as long as I could remember. Old Chris certainly was a well-loved Catholic saint. His images were everywhere: on medals such as mine, as little statues on car dashboards (really), as wall plaques, etc. Then, in 1969, his name was struck from the roster of Catholic saints because the Bollandists were unable to discover adequate information to confirm that he ever existed. Same thing happened to Bridget, patroness of Ireland, and others.

Where do the Catholic faithful learn about their saints? Why, from Catholic hagiologies, of course. And where do hagiologists get their information? From legends, folk tales, pious imaginings of people who apparently spend too much time alone, visionaries and the occasional fanciful contemporary report. To my way of thinking, none of these constitute what might be termed an objective source. As for the hundreds of ghosts elevated to the status of demigods by saint maker John Paul II, it certainly does appear that many of their promotions were founded more on diplomatic or political bases than personal piety. When it comes to lives of the saints and their supposed relationship with Christ, I should think that a modification of the old proverb applies: “Believe precious little of what you see and nothing that you hear.”

Mary continued:

As an example, if I were to see a statue of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph together, it reminds me of the sacrifice that Jesus made in becoming man and dying for me, of the faith that it took for Mary and Joseph to each in their own way say yes to God's plan, and of the example that they are for families today in pursuing a closer relationship to Jesus together. In one glance, I can receive inspiration for walking closer to Jesus in my everyday life.

If you are talking about role models, I can think of none better than Jesus Christ. If you are talking about thanksgiving for God's mercy through Jesus Christ, that seems completely appropriate. If you are talking about Mary and Joseph having had some sort of approval authority concerning their participation in God's salvific plan, then you are way off base. The Catholic Church does seem to delight in pointing to Mary's words recorded in Luke 1:38, which are presented as Mary's agreement to go along with what God had in mind for her. Interesting that the RCC rarely seems to mention Gabriel's words in Luke 1: 31-33:

31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
- Luke 1:31-33, KJV

A reading of those angelic words gives me no indication that God was looking for Mary's acceptance of the mission He had for her. In fact, it seems to me that Gabriel was simply informing Mary of what was about to happen in her life. I see no invitation to negotiations between God and Mary here.

Joseph similarly was not invited to go along with God's plan; he was commanded to do so by an angel of the Lord. Once again, it seems strange to me (not really) that just as Catholic fantasy-as-theology gave Mary freedom of choice in this matter, so also do they attribute that option to Joseph. As we know from reading the Scriptures, Joseph was not thrilled to learn that his as yet untouched (by him) betrothed was pregnant. He was thinking about quietly dumping her. Then something happened:

20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
- Matthew 1:20-25, KJV

Mary seeks clarification:

Now this is (at least in my humble opinion) an appropriate use of statues. But what happens if, when saying my evening prayers giving thanks and praise to Jesus beneath the crucifix above my bed, I happen to look behind me at a statue of the holy family and ask for strength to live my life as they did, to accept God's plan for my life as Mary did, to believe God's word as Joseph did? I don't seek Mary and the saints first, but they do inspire me to lead a better life by seeking Jesus first and directly in all of my earthy trials. Their life story also helps me learn how to pray. Does that "use" of statues cross the line?

First of all, I should make it plain that I am not the arbiter of what is right or wrong. In the final analysis, that is the exclusive domain of the Lord God, and Jesus Christ will sit in judgment at the Great White Throne. (Revelation 20:11-15). I see nothing wrong with having role models, as I wrote above, so long as they are the right role models. In my life, I have known a number of men and women whose lives have inspired me to make changes in my own life. Certainly, there are many worthy role models in the Scriptures, and the great of them is Jesus Christ. How wonderful it would be to live as Christ would have us live. I do not doubt that Joseph and Mary were model parents. Certainly, they were observant Jews, for we know this from the few mentions of them in the Scriptures. Personally, I see nothing wrong in asking the Lord to help one live his or her life as did the holy men and women of the Bible. The trouble begins, however, when one attempts to communicate that wish directly to or through the ghost of the long dead 'saint.'

Mary presses her case:

I have always been told that I have a family and friends on earth and that I also have a family in heaven. I ask my family and friends to pray for me, both those on earth and those in heaven.

What assurances do you have that what you “have always been told” is true? Of course, one can know of family and friends on earth and ask them for intercessory prayers; but how can you know about the spirits of those who have died to this life? In the first place, how can you know they are in Heaven? Despite Catholicism's fantasy doctrine that, when promoting dead spirits to demigodhood, the pope is acting infallibly, only God can know the eternal state of anyone. Even assuming that they have achieved Catholicism's Beatific Vision, how can you know that they can hear your prayer requests? How can you know that they are not so busy glorifying the Lord God that they have time—or the ability—to tender prayers in your behalf? How can you know that they even want to pray in your behalf? The answer to all these questions, and dozens like them is that you cannot know.

When Shirley MacLaine invokes her Indian guide to channel her communications with the spirits of the dead, we call it New Age foolishness, or witchcraft, or spiritism, and rightly so. When a Catholic tries to invoke the spirit of a dead person to intercede before the Throne of God, they call it seeking the saint's advocacy, or dulia, or something equally silly.

Mary wants to know:

I'm sure you've heard similar comments before, but I would truly like to understand how you can consider asking someone in heaven to pray for you to be wrong, if you still recognize that all graces, miracles, healings, salvation, forgiveness, and other answers to prayers come from Christ, not from the one who might have prayed for you?

Without going into the fantasy roles Catholicism has assigned to Mary, I believe it wrong, foolish and unnecessary to go through any intermediary or to seek any spiritual advocacy when praying to the Lord. For the truly saved, there is no need, for we are able to go boldly into the presence of our heavenly Father in order to personally present our petitions. For the unsaved, it seems to me that the only appropriate means for seeking God's mercy is to humble oneself and plead directly for His mercy. This, of course, raises the issue of whether those who are dead in spirit (unsaved) are able to pray in in the spirit to God who is SPirit. To my mind, attempting to introduce any real or imagined external influences into one's relationship with God would serve only to garble the communication.

Mary repeats herself:

I still pray directly to Christ every morning, noon, and night, and remember his once for all sacrifice for me (note the words once for all), but in-between I look to my crucifix (since it reminds me more clearly than an empty cross how big Christ's sacrifice really was) and ask others to pray for me as well.

I've already addressed these issues.

Mary closes:

I don't intend this as an apologetic or explanation of Catholic beliefs, so please don't delete my post. I truly would like to understand why you believe this is wrong, or if it's only those Catholics who cross the line in their use of statues that you take issue with.

I look forward to hearing more.

So far, I see no justification for deleting your post. I believe I have responded fully to your questions, so I see no need to continue this line of discussion.

Ron

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