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Are Statues Idols?

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? On one occasion my brother, who is not Catholic, and now belongs to an Assembly of God church, came to my house and saw my pictures, candle, images, etc., then proceeded to tell me that this was not right, that I was worshiping idols. I was very hurt by his comment but now I am left questioning. I know that our Church does not worship idols. Yet I would like some more information on what we believe.


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 your brother 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.


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