A non-Catholic once asked me if it was true that Catholics worship idols. The Bible tells us not to worship graven images yet Catholics have statues all over the place. He reminded me about the reference in the book of Exodus where the command was given to worship no graven images. My response was that he was essentially right with what he said, but that it was incomplete.
The other half of that command is “you shall not bow down before them or serve them”. Catholics do not worship statues, if you go into a church and you see someone kneeling in front of any statue, that is not worship of whomever the statue represents, Rather it is perhaps a veneration of the person depicted and a reminder to us all of what it is they went through, their trials, sufferings, burdens, etc.
The main reason people will pray before a statue, not at it, is to ask for them to intercede for us with the Father for a particular solution to a personal issue, or whatever it may be. Intercessory prayer is used by a tremendous number of people. He came back with “I have never prayed that way.” Have you ever gone to church and had the pastor say something like, “I have been told, that this week, as our brother Fred Jones was carrying some groceries into the house, he twisted and fractured his ankle. Let us pray for a speedy recovery for brother Fred?” Well, that is intercessory prayer. In this case, the entire congregation is praying to the Father that Fred be granted a speedy and full recovery. In the case of a statue, the person praying in front of the statue may be simply asking to have that saint, intercede to the Father for a particular need, or concern.
God Has a Brain Cramp
We each agree that we have been told by the Supreme Authority not to make a “graven image” or idol and pray to it, or serve it. But, is it possible that God had a brain cramp and forgot what he told us to do in chapter 20 in Exodus when a mere five chapters later he told Moses to make a pair of angels out of gold to adorn the Ark of the Covenant?
Later, in the book of Numbers, He told Moses to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole, so that anyone who looked at it would recover from a snake bite in the camp. In both of these cases, the Father told Moses to fashion what could be misdefined as a “grave image” for a specific purpose, but He told him to make them.
By the time they got to the Promised Land and had built a temple for the Ark and all it held, they got very busy covering it with all sorts of images. Check the sixth and seventh chapters of 1 King, the temple had bronze oxen. engraved cherubim, and all sorts of other stuff, such as flowers and trees, lions, and even pomegranates all over the walls. Were these “graven images?”
Statues as photographs
Many people carry 4 or 7 or 12,539 pictures of their parents, spouse, children, and siblings in their purses or wallets. Are these idols? If a person takes out a photograph of a child and stares at it to the point of appearing to be transfixed on the image, is that image an idol?
What may well be happening is that the parent is staring at a picture while in prayer to the Father, asking Him to protect Bev or Brad as they prepare for, undergo, or recover from an operation that will be performed in a couple of hours. They are not praying to the picture, it is nothing more than a reminder of the person for whom they are making an intercessory prayer to the Father.
Intercessory prayer cannot be biblical
We can start with the fellow who did the most to evangelize in the earliest of times, Paul. Along about the 15th chapter of Romans, he asks the people to join him by their prayer to the Father on his behalf. In 2Th 3:1, the author writes, finally brothers, pray for us. Which is also the repayment, if you will, from 2 Th 1:11 where the author writes, we always pray for you.
Intercessory prayer may be simply one person asking another to pray for him/her as he/she prepares to leave on a long drive to a new job, new house, etc. Intercessory prayer can be a gathering of some 824 people at a prayer vigil for an eight-year-old child who has gone missing in the woods. The people are praying to the Father that the child is found, protected and returned to his/her parents safely.
Let us consider a simple example which has produced a monumental impact. At one point in the career of a struggling comedian, he asked St. Jude ( often called the Patron of Impossible Causes ) to intercede for him with the Father, and if it was the Father’s will, help make his career more successful, and the kindness would be repaid. Sometime later ( years, or decades ) after some success on stage, in comedy clubs, on TV as a stand-up, and after a couple of his own TV programs, Danny Thomas helped start the St Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, TN.
So, Catholics Pray to Saints?
Not at all, when Danny Thomas asked St Jude to intercede for him with the Father, that request for an intercession resulted in an Internationally recognized health care facility.
When the person who was leaving on a long road trip returns and sees the person that was asked to intercede on their behalf to the Father, the traveler may thank the person who prayed, if he remembers. “Thanks for the prayers, I know they helped. We were a very few miles outside of a major city when the “rush hour” traffic started to build up. It turned to heavy traffic and the speed dropped from 70 to 55 or so when one of the tires on the car failed. We made it to the side of the road without incident, and the tire was changed as hundreds and hundreds of cars passed by. If you had not joined me in my prayer to the Father asking for His protection during the trip, I do not know how many people may have been killed or injured in the major accident which was averted by prayer.”