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Do Catholics “Worship” Sacred Images?

via Aleteia

by Fr. Henry Vargas Holguín

Noemí F.Q. posed this question on Facebook:  Why do we Catholics have images of what we worship, that is, of God? Where did the idea come from?

The use of images and religious pictures, principally in churches and homes, has been widespread from time immemorial. The topic of sacred images, however, can be fairly polemical. In the Church’s relationship with non-Catholic Christians, it can complicate things, because among other misunderstandings of the Catholic faith, many believe that Catholics worship or adore images. This, of course, is absolutely false.

It may help clarify this issue by taking a look at sacred history. In the Old Testament the worship of any kind of image or visual representation of the divinity was strongly prohibited.

The first commandment of the Decalogue states unequivocally:
“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:3-5).
Any kind of image that is presented as a divinity is therefore prohibited. The commandment begins by saying, “You shall have no other gods catholic iconbefore me,” or in other words, “You shall not make any idols.” But despite this clear prohibition, immediately after having promised to fulfill the Law, the people made a golden calf and worshipped it as God: “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:8).

This is exactly what God was warning them about. This sin of idolatry is the reason that God decided to destroy the people. Only Moses’ intercession was able to convince God to have mercy and forgive them (Exodus 32:1-14).

God also warned the Israelites about the images that they would find among the pagan nations: “The images of their gods you shall burn with fire. Do not covet the silver or the gold that is on them” (Deuteronomy 7:25).

Naturally, this prohibition still stands in the New Testament with the same intention and objective. The Bible shows that Christians, too, avoided the use of images that could be the object of adoration. Saint Paul says, for example, in his discourse in Athens: “Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals” (Acts 17: 29).

And Saint John the Apostle warns: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). The early Church also clearly understood that adoration is given only to God. In fact, this is why, in the Roman Empire, many Christians were martyred for refusing to adore idols.

Let us also keep in mind that idols aren’t necessarily sculptures or images. Especially today, the idols to which many of us are devoted—and in which we seek refuge and place our trust—are immaterial. These are idols that we try to keep hidden, for example, ambition, the taste of success, the tendency to place ourselves above others, the misuse of sexuality, the desire to be the only masters of our lives, any sin to which we are attached, and many others. These idols also distance us from God, and distract us from the true purpose of our lives: salvation.

What is the reason behind the prohibition in the Old Testament?

The true reason is that God is the only God. He doesn’t resign himself to be, for example, the first among the gods. Rather, He is the only God. Consequently, other gods and idols are nothing. Isaiah mocks the creation of idols and those who worship them (Isaiah 44: 9-20).

Representing God through images was forbidden so that people would not begin to think that God had the form of a creature or that He was an object. The commandment was for the people’s own good, so that they not condemn themselves by mistakenly adoring a thing instead of God. In other words, what is unacceptable is to turn to material objects and put in them the full confidence that we owe to the one, living and true God. He is not a material being, but a spiritual reality. This is why the people must not adore material representations of the true God either: because there is the risk of confusing the true God with the image that represents Him and come to believe that He is a material God.

And why is it that Catholic images have existed in the past and will continue to exist in the future?

What many people don’t realize is that, in addition to the prohibition against making images (and now we know why), there is also an Old Testament permission to make images.

We should keep in mind that the prohibition refers directly to adoring images, not to the simple fact of making them, as long as they function only as a sign of God’s presence. In this sense, God commands things, objects and images to be made. Such is the case of the Ark of the Covenant, with its golden cherubim and with a mercy seat also of pure gold (Exodus 25:10-22). These elements are not worthy of divine honors, and they cannot be worshipped as if they were God.

But the people needed and still need these outward signs that reach us through our senses. God commanded this to be built as a sign of his presence among his people. People went to the Ark of the Covenant to pray because it was the symbol of God’s presence (Joshua 7:6). Further proof of all of this is that the very meeting tent was built by divine command and was full of images, just as the Temple of Jerusalem was. It is clear that they were not violating the prohibition issued by God.

Another example? God ordered Moses to make a bronze serpent: “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole [Jesus himself considers this bronze serpent as a symbol of himself]; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live” (Numbers 21:6-9). Naturally, it’s not the case that this bronze serpent had any special power that could raise it to the rank of divinity. Turning to it was an act of faith and confidence in the Word that God had spoken to them. Later on, when the people strayed from this intention and started to worship it, Hezekiah ordered it destroyed (2 Kings 18:4).

The Bible texts that prohibit making images are for the people of the Old Testament, due to the risk they ran of falling into idolatry like the neighboring nations who adored idols as if they were gods. The texts of the New Testament that speak of idols refer to authentic idols adored by pagans, not to simple images. This is why the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 787 “justified … the veneration of icons” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2131).

The God of the Old Testament had no body, and was invisible. He could not be represented by images. But from the moment that God revealed himself in human form, Christ became “the image of the invisible God,” as Saint Paul said (Colossians 1:15); and yes, they saw him and touched him. This means that, in the New Testament, the permission for images representing the Godhead took on a new character because of the Incarnation of the Son of God.

God continues to be purely spiritual, but he has become intimately united to a human nature, which is material. Therefore, it is logical that we represent him visually to worship him (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1159 and following, 2129 and following). The representation of Christ in images is completely licit, since they are the representation of someone who really is God. Hence, when we worship Jesus, looking at an image of him, we do not adore the materiality of the image, but rather the Divine Person who is represented therein. And by looking, for example, at an image of Christ Crucified, we remember how much he suffered for us and we feel moved to love him more and trust in him more.

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Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue slams Islamists

via Crisis Magazine

by William Kilpatrick

William KilpatrickIn reaction to the depredations of the Islamic State in Iraq, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a statement last week strongly condemning the militants. The statement also called on religious leaders, “especially Muslims,” to condemn the crimes and denounce “the use of religion to justify them.” “If not,” it asks, “what credibility will religions, their followers, and their leaders have? What credibility can the interreligious dialogue that we have patiently pursued over recent years have?”

On the one hand, the statement is a positive sign. The veil of illusion about Islam, it appears, may at last be lifting. Since the Council for Interreligious Dialogue has probably done more than any other Catholic organization to keep alive the illusion that the Islamic faith is just like ours, it’s significant that they are calling on their Muslim counterparts to take a stand against Islamist aggression. Up until now, the Pontifical Council has been excessively concerned with the sensibilities of Islamic religious leaders. The new tone suggests a recognition that they also have a responsibility for the lives of Christians who are threatened by Islamists. With its detailed list of unacceptable Islamist practices, the statement indicates a willingness to take a more realistic view of Islam.

On the other hand, there are a few indications that illusions die hard. The statement is hedged with language which suggests that the bishops still don’t get it—“it” being a clear understanding of Islamic faith, tradition, and history. The main thing to grasp is that Islam is a political religion. It’s as much about power as about piety. Indeed, exercising your power over others is considered to be a valid expression of piety—as in the music videos on Al-Aqsa TV, which proclaim that “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.”

In several places, the statement calls on Islamic leaders to “condemn the use of religion as a false justification for terrorism.” “No cause, and certainly no religion, can justify such barbarity,” says the document. That’s true if you equate “religion” with Christianity, but the religion of Islam can and does justify barbarity—although, from the Islamic point of view, what Allah commands is not barbarity, but simple justice.

The statement calls on “followers of all religions” to condemn a list of outrages committed by the Islamic State. It’s not clear, however, if the authors of the statement fully realize what they are asking. A devoted follower of the prophet can’t very well condemn these practices because most of them belong to the warp and woof of Islam. A Muslim who rejects them tears at the very fabric of the faith.

Take the first item on the list: “the massacre of people on the sole basis of their religious affiliation.” It seems that all reasonable people could unite in condemning that one, but, as it turns out, the Koran contains numerous passages justifying the slaying of unbelievers simply because they are non-Muslims (e.g. 9:5, 9:29, 8:39, 9:123). Next on the list is “the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying, and hanging bodies in public places.” Yet verse 47:4 of the Koran says, “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads,” and Muhammad himself ordered the beheading of between 700 and 900 members of a Jewish tribe of Medina that had surrendered to his forces. Crucifixion? According to verse 5:33, “Those that make war against God and His apostle and spread disorder in the land shall be slain or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or be banished from the land.”

The third item of condemnation is “the choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, payment of isis groupa tax (jizya), or forced exile.” In July, the Islamic State offered an ultimatum to Northern Iraq’s dwindling Christian population: “We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract—involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.” Once again, this is no idiosyncratic interpretation invented by ISIS, but a well-established Islamic practice. Verse 9:29 of the Koran exhorts Muslims to fight Christians until they pay the jizya and feel themselves subdued, and the triple choice is spelled out in detail in one of the Hadith (the words and sayings of Muhammad):

When you meet your enemies who are polytheists [which includes Christians], invite them to three courses of action … [accept] Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them.… If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them. (Sahih Muslim 19:4294)

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Today on “Kresta in the Afternoon” – Mar. 11

Talking about the “things that matter most” on Mar. 11

4:00 – It Didn’t Have to Be This Way: Why Boom and Bust Is Unnecessary-and How the Austrian School of Economics Breaks the Cycle
Why is the boom-and-bust cycle so persistent? Why did economists fail to predict the economic meltdown that began in 2007—or to pull us out of the crisis more quickly? And how can we prevent future calamities? Economist Harry Veryser tells the fascinating (but frightening) story of how our modern economic condition developed. The most recent recession, far from being an isolated incident, was part of a larger cycle that has been the scourge of the West for a century—a cycle rooted in government manipulation of markets and currency. The lesson is clear: the devastation of the recent economic crisis—and of stagflation in the 1970s, and of the Great Depression in the 1930s—could have been avoided. It didn’t have to be this way. He makes his case.

5:00 – The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society
Beloved for his Narnian tales and books of Christian apologetics, bestselling British writer C. S. Lewis also was a perceptive critic of the growing power of scientism, the misguided effort to apply science to areas outside its proper bounds. In a wide-ranging book of essays, contemporary writers probe Lewis’s prophetic warnings about the dehumanizing impact of scientism on ethics, politics, faith, reason, and science itself. Issues explored include Lewis’s views on bioethics, eugenics, evolution, intelligent design, and what he called “scientocracy.” Contributor Jay Richards joins us.

The Blog Has Moved!!!

Today on “Kresta in the Afternoon” – Feb. 13

Talking About the “Things That Matter Most” on February 13

4:00 – How to Wolf-Proof Your Kids: A Practical Guide for Keeping Your Kids Catholic
Gary Michuta has long worked in the field of apologetics and evangelism. A few years ago, he gathered his experiences and ideas into a series of talks titled “How to Wolf-Proof Your Kids.” Catholic parents around the country were extremely enthusiastic about the talks. Parents frequently approached him after his talks and encouraged him to put the information into book form because their own experiences so closely mirrored what he said. Some of these parents would proceed to share their own heart-breaking stories when their child had been pulled out of the Church. These discussions with parents spurred him to act and the result is the book How to Wolf-Proof Your Kids: A Practical Guide for Keeping Your Kids Catholic. Gary joins us to discuss it and answer your questions.

5:00 – Is There A “Catholic” Way to Overcome Depression
Countless Christians — including scores of saints — have suffered profound, pervasive sorrow that modern psychiatrists call “depression.” Then, as now, great faith and even fervent spiritual practices have generally failed to ease this wearying desolation of soul. Catholic psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Kheriaty is here to review the effective ways that have recently been devised to deal with this grave and sometimes deadly affliction — ways that are not only consistent with the teachings of the Church, but even rooted in many of those teachings. We’ll come to know how to identify the various types of depression and come to understand the interplay of their often manifold causes, biological, psychological, behavioral, cultural, and, yes, moral.

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" – Feb. 12

Talking About the “Things That Matter Most” on February 12
From the Legatus Summit in Orlando, FL
4:00 – Kresta Comments: The Co-Responsibility of the Laity
4:20 – Preparing Catholics For the New America
In the article, “Catholics and the Next America,” Archbishop Charles J.Chaput O.F.M. Cap. delivers a prescient warning to American Catholics regarding a growing trend toward secularization in American culture, with Catholics facing dwindling relevance, threatening their ability to be heard. In response, the Napa Institute was formed to help Catholic leaders face the challenges posed in the “next America” — to continue the work of the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops, heeding Christ’s call for ongoing evangelization. Tim Busch, the man behind the Institute joins us.
4:40 – It Is Well – Life in the Storm
Chris and Angela Faddis were devout Catholics with two young children, who trusted in the Lord and His plan for their family. But the married couple’s faith would receive an immense test on Easter Sunday 2011, when Angela was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Angela died 17 months later, on Sept. 21, 2012, holding the hand of her heartbroken husband. One year later, Chris Faddis chronicles the inspirational journey he shared with his wife. “As you read this book you’ll encounter the often harsh reality of the Christian journey,” writes Catholic speaker and author Mark Hart in the foreword. “You’ll experience both the splintered, bloody crucifix of Good Friday and the shiny, radiant cross of Easter Sunday. Chris will invite you behind the closed doors into the intimate exchanges and heaven-sent moments that should call us all to stop and survey our own lives. Do we wake up counting our blessings or our problems? That difference makes all the difference, as Angela demonstrated through her constant fidelity to God.”Chris is here to tell the story.
5:00 – The Future of Catholicism
Michael Coren is a British-Canadian columnist, author, public speaker, radio host and television talk show host. Michael addressed Legatus on Saturday and joins us now to explore the themes of his books – Why Catholics are Right, The Future of Catholicism, Heresy: 10 Lies They Spread about Christianity, and more. 

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" – Feb. 10

Talking About the “Things That Matter Most” on February 10
Live from the Legatus Summit in Orlando, FL
4:00 – The Cause of Canonization for Archbishop Fulton Sheen Continues to Progress
Msgr. Stanley Deptula – Executive Director of the Fulton Sheen Foundation
4:20 – Pro-Life Movement Continues to Show Momentum
Marjorie Dannenfelser – President and Chairman of the Board of the Susan B. Anthony List
4:40 – The Francis Effect
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf – FrZblog.com
5:00 – One Lawyer – 2000+ Hours Fighting HHS Mandate
Erin Mersino – Attorney with the Thomas More Law Center
5:20 – The Slippery Slope the Euthanasia Battle

Rita Marker – President of the Patient’s Rights Council

Planned Parenthood to Pay $2 Million for Death in Botched Second-Trimester Abortion

By Kathy Schiffer

A $2 million settlement has been reached in the death of a young woman who obtained a second-trimester abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Chicago.  Besides Planned Parenthood, also included in the settlement agreement are Northwest Memorial Hospital and the Northwest Medical Faculty Foundation.
Tonya Reaves was in the second trimester of pregnancy when she sought an abortion at Planned Parenthood’s Loop Health Center, in downtown Chicago in 2012.  Late-term abortionist Mandy Gittler botched the D&E abortion, causing three major medical problems which resulted in the 24-year-old woman’s death:
  • Pieces of placenta were still attached to the inside of her womb even after a second abortion done by Northwestern Memorial Hospital to remove fetal remains left by Planned Parenthood.
  • She suffered a 3/16 inch uterine perforation near forcep impression marks.  D&E abortions involve dismembering the baby in the womb and removing the pieces with forceps.
  • She suffered an “extensive” perforation of her broad uterine ligament with a possible severing of her left uterine artery as a result of her abortion.  This accounted for the internal bleeding that was discovered only too late by the hospital trauma team.
Tonya Reaves
The injuries sustained by Reaves during the botched abortion were, according to Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, survivable had she received immediate emergency care.  Instead, the Planned Parenthood clinic waited five hours to transport her to the hospital.  Additionally, they failed to report the incomplete abortion and uterine perforation–leaving the trauma team to solve the puzzle of her injuries while her life ebbed away.
Reaves left behind a one-year-old son, Alvin Jones III.  Payouts of the $2 million will not begin until 2029, when the son turns 18.
Walter Hoye, a pro-life leader who has closely followed the case, said, “In my opinion, Planned Parenthood is guilty of criminal negligence, depraved indifference, and gross medical incompetence.  Now that the case is settled, we will never know how a jury would have reacted.”
LifeNews has more details on the case.

Planned Parenthood to Pay $2 Million for Death in Botched Second-Trimester Abortion

By Kathy Schiffer

A $2 million settlement has been reached in the death of a young woman who obtained a second-trimester abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Chicago.  Besides Planned Parenthood, also included in the settlement agreement are Northwest Memorial Hospital and the Northwest Medical Faculty Foundation.
Tonya Reaves was in the second trimester of pregnancy when she sought an abortion at Planned Parenthood’s Loop Health Center, in downtown Chicago in 2012.  Late-term abortionist Mandy Gittler botched the D&E abortion, causing three major medical problems which resulted in the 24-year-old woman’s death:
  • Pieces of placenta were still attached to the inside of her womb even after a second abortion done by Northwestern Memorial Hospital to remove fetal remains left by Planned Parenthood.
  • She suffered a 3/16 inch uterine perforation near forcep impression marks.  D&E abortions involve dismembering the baby in the womb and removing the pieces with forceps.
  • She suffered an “extensive” perforation of her broad uterine ligament with a possible severing of her left uterine artery as a result of her abortion.  This accounted for the internal bleeding that was discovered only too late by the hospital trauma team.
Tonya Reaves
The injuries sustained by Reaves during the botched abortion were, according to Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, survivable had she received immediate emergency care.  Instead, the Planned Parenthood clinic waited five hours to transport her to the hospital.  Additionally, they failed to report the incomplete abortion and uterine perforation–leaving the trauma team to solve the puzzle of her injuries while her life ebbed away.
Reaves left behind a one-year-old son, Alvin Jones III.  Payouts of the $2 million will not begin until 2029, when the son turns 18.
Walter Hoye, a pro-life leader who has closely followed the case, said, “In my opinion, Planned Parenthood is guilty of criminal negligence, depraved indifference, and gross medical incompetence.  Now that the case is settled, we will never know how a jury would have reacted.”
LifeNews has more details on the case.

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" – Feb. 7, 2014

Talking About the “Things That Matter Most” on February 7
Live from the Legatus Summit in Orlando, FL
4:00 – Kresta Comments: Creation / Evolution / Young Earth. What is Compatible With Catholicism
4:20 – Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor: How I Discovered the Hidden Treasures of the Catholic Church
Tens of thousands of American adults join the Catholic Church every year. Why? What is it that attracts them to Catholicism? In Confessions of a Mega-Church Pastor, Allen Hunt unveils the treasures of Catholicism that many life-long Catholics are simply unaware of. At the same time he demonstrates the genius of Catholicism and encourages us to move beyond taking our faith for granted. With a personal touch that is profound and disarming, Hunt takes his readers on a journey that is sure to change the way we experience our faith. At a time when so many are disillusioned about where the Catholic Church is and where it is going, Allen Hunt brilliantly reminds us that personal holiness is the key to the bigger future God wants to leads us to both as individuals and together as a Church. Allen joins us.
5:00 – Kresta Comments: The ACLU and Its Public Consequences
5:20 – The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic

As human beings we are constantly engaging and disengaging in everything we do. We engage and disengage at work, in marriage, as parents, in our quest for health and well-being, in personal finances, environmentally, politically, and, of course, we engage or disengage spiritually. If you walk into any Catholic church next Sunday and look around, you will discover that some people are highly engaged, others are massively disengaged, and the majority are somewhere in between. Why? What is the difference between highly engaged Catholics and disengaged Catholics? Answering this question is essential to the future of the Catholic Church. If we truly want to engage Catholics and reinvigorate parish life, we must first discover what drives engagement among Catholics. Matthew Kelly explores this question with us today.
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