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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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The Charge of Idolatry Against Catholicism

Six years ago, a person calling himself DKMENSA argued from a Catholic prelate’s candle-lighting at an interfaith conference that this was proof of what other priests do:  the lighting of candles, the burning of incense and the bowing before idols.  It started a brief discussion which is recorded here.  He liked to write in caps.

DKMENSA:

FATHER JOE, OBSERVE THE FOLLOWING IN RESPECTS TO THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.  AS A CATHOLIC, I REMEMBER THE PRIESTS BOWING BEFORE IMAGES OF “MARY” AND OTHERS IN WORSHIP (SERVITUDE).

FATHER JOE:

While certainly believers can kneel before a statue of a saint to offer prayer, such is not understood as strictly the posture of divine worship any more than a bow before royalty. It is a sign of respect and sometimes a posture for prayer. All prayer has as its proper object, Almighty God. However, Catholics might pray before a picture or image of a saint, asking intercession of a brother or sister or our Blessed Mother who is in heaven. We are asking them to pray FOR and WITH us. We are a family or community. Such is the basic understanding regarding the identity of the Church. We pray for one another and believe in the resurrection of the dead. We are NOT worshipping the statue or picture any more than a man worships the photo of his wife and children. However, they do bring to his mind and heart those whom he loves. It is the same in the Church regarding saints. Were you not taught this when you were a Catholic?

DKMENSA:

DURING CATHECHISM, WE WERE ALSO TAUGHT TO PRAY TO THESE SAME IMAGES. UNLESS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS CHANGED, THESE ACTS ARE ALSO IN DIRECT CONTRADICTION TO THE TEACHINGS OF THE COMMANDMENTS.

FATHER JOE:

I dare you to find any approved catechism that says we are to pray TO the images! We venerate sacramentals but we do not pray to them. Such is not Catholicism but superstition. I suspect that you did not really know your catechism but later bought a false caricature of Catholic faith from anti-Catholic fundamentalists. You allowed them to spoon-feed you lies or a straw man Catholicism that could be easily discredited. It is one thing to oppose Catholic practice and teachings; but you should at least get it right. Anything else is bearing FALSE WITNESS against your neighbor. The last time I looked there was also a commandment about that!

DKMENSA:

Exodus 20:3: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

FATHER JOE:

Yes, this is Catholic teaching. Ours is a jealous God. God is one or has one divine nature. This is in the catechism!

DKMENSA:

Exodus 20:4: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of anything] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth.

FATHER JOE:

Even the Jews knew that this commandment was not absolute. The Ark of the Covenant was adorned with angels and a seraph upon a pole was fashioned at Moses’ command so that those who looked upon it might be healed. In any case, the understanding is that no graven image was to be made that would be worshipped as divine, as the pagans practiced. I have already explained that Catholics do not worship images. We recall the ones represented. Further, the ECONOMY OF IMAGES is somewhat different for Christians than it is for Jews. Why? It has to do with the incarnation of Christ. God became a human being in Jesus Christ. He is God’s Son. The image of Christ in statuary or in pictures (as found in bibles and in religious art) is permissible because Jesus is the revelation of the Father. He shows us the face of God. That is why at Christmas everyone knows what child rests in the manger, no matter how depicted in art. It is the Christ-child. God reveals himself in our shared humanity. God assumed our human nature that we might be redeemed and saved. He dies on the Cross for our sake. This is in the catechism!

DKMENSA:

Exodus 20:5: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me.

FATHER JOE:

The reference to “bow down” has less to do with posture as it does with worship. Again, we as Catholics are not so stupid as to think statuary made from plaster can save us. Do you think us fools? We do not serve religious art, but the God who is honored by his saints who shed their blood in imitation of Christ. We take up our crosses and we follow Jesus. The God of Catholics is the same as that of the Jews. However, we believe that this God has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit: three divine persons in one God. Jesus is faithful to the Father unto the Cross. He offers his flesh and blood as a blameless oblation to the Father on Calvary. He died and then by the power of the Holy Spirit, (his own power), raised himself from the dead. He sent the Paraclete or Holy Spirit upon the infant Church. He ascended to the Father and sits at his right hand. He told his apostles (see the end of Matthew’s Gospel) to go out to the entire world and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is my faith. This is the Catholic faith. What part of it do you find objectionable? This is also in the catechism… and in our BIBLES!

If you have any concern about your own salvation and the danger of misrepresenting fellow Christians, then I would urge you to study Catholicism NOT from her enemies but from her own mouth. Then you personally can say YES or NO. But just because you WERE a Catholic, do not presume in pride that you already know it all. Christians should always approach one another and the mysteries of faith with TRUE HUMILITY.  I will pray for you.

DKMENSA:

I agree that according to the Commandment, any image made of things on earth or in heaven (e.g. the Cross, Jesus, Mary) must not be made with the intention to worship, bow down to, pay homage, etc.

FATHER JOE:  There is really very little that we agree upon.