Sure it LOOKS like we’re worshiping statues, but…

One more item from Monday’s newspapers, this time the Wall Street Journal (May 14, 2007)…

In the “Letters to the Editor” on page A15 I couldn’t help but notice the small letter under the heading “We Don’t Worship Statues.”  The author of the letter believed that the WSJ had made a mistake in its May 9th article about the Pope’s visit to Brazil when it said that “Evangelical Protestants don’t believe in praying to statues of saints or the Virgin Mary” — a mistake by implication, that is: the implication that Catholics do so believe.

The letter went on to say, “Neither do Catholics [believe in praying to statues].  The statues only serve as reminders of the Virgin Mary, or the saint, whose intercession is being sought.”

(For a time, the original article and the letter to the editor can be read here and here, respectively, though an online WSJ subscription may be required.)

The author of this letter apparently does not consider the activity described by the article as worship.  Let’s look at some of that activity, described in the paragraph immediately preceding the comment referenced above…

“Pope watchers say the new pontiff’s decision to hold a major bishops meeting at Our Lady of Aparecida, a shrine to the Virgin Mary that’s a hotbed of popular Catholicism and saintly worship, shows the church’s reliance on the popular appeal of saints. In the shrine’s basement sits the ‘Room of Promises,’ where thousands of Brazilians have left items, including letters they have written and wax body parts, to thank the Virgin Mary for miracles. Among the highlights: A cellphone that stopped a bullet and the jersey of a Brazilian soccer star, who left it there after a knee injury had cleared up.”

What makes this shrine so special?  The presence of a statue.  You can read all about the shrine and the statue at the “Our Lady of Aparecida” Wikipedia entry.

I appreciate the letter writer’s belief, which I have no reason to believe isn’t sincerely held, and as expressed in the letter the writer’s belief certainly matches what I have read for myself of the Catholic Church’s statements about its universal use of statues.  However, it is off the mark.  For one, it doesn’t fit the actual behavior and sentiment of many worshipers all over the world.  Simple “reminders” do not generally result in the construction of vast shrines to house the “reminders” or pull in 6 to 7 million pilgrims.  I have yet to see a massive temple constructed to “Our Beneficent and Merciful WWJD Bracelet” (not that I approve of those either, but that’s another story…).

Really, read the Wikipedia entry I referenced earlier on “Our Lady of Conception Aparecida,” read how that statue is treated, and tell me that the statue is not worshiped.  To say that these things are merely “reminders” is to ignore the behavior in favor of the “spin” placed on the behavior.

“Even a child is known by his deeds” (Proverbs 20:11).

And even as “reminders,” God’s opinion of such “worship tools” is rather clearly given in the Ten Commandments — Exodus 20:4-6 covers it pretty well, and the second commandment doesn’t seem to have a “reminders” clause.  And for those who say that tradition trumps commandment, Jesus had something to say about that in Mark 7:6-13.

As for beseeching the “Virgin Mary” and the “saints” for intercession, I will save that for a time when I have more energy.  Let me just wrap up here and say that while I respect the letter’s author for her concise defense of those who share her faith and her accurate articulation of her faith’s position on the matter, the comment just doesn’t match the facts on the ground.

One thought on “Sure it LOOKS like we’re worshiping statues, but…

  1. Doug Young

    I visited a spectacular Catholic Cathedral in Buenos Aires in 1997 (on a Wednesday). It was creepy seeing people on their knees before life-size statues of Mary or Jesus. I commented to my nominally-Catholic friend how I was bothered that they were worshiping idols. He said they weren’t worshiping idols. but that they were worshiping what the idols represented. Of course that is very wrong. Just look at Exodus 32:4, where the golden calf clearly represented the God that brought them out of the land of Egypt. God was furious.

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