First, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: We don’t worship saints and we don’t worship statues. That would be crazy. We venerate saints. According to Webster the word venerate means ” to regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference.” That is definitely not the same as worship.
So, who are these people we venerate? What makes someone a saint? Saints are people who exercise heroic virtue. They are people we can emulate as we try to live holy lives. A canonized saint is someone the Church has recognized officially as having met the qualifications for sainthood. The Church doesn’t make anyone a saint. The fact is that you and I know a lot of saints who will never be recognized by the Church, but who definitely meet all the qualifications for sainthood. In fact, our goal as Christians is to live a saintly life.
Canonized saints are designated as patron saints based on their lives on earth. For example, Saint Joseph is the patron of fathers and of workers. Saint Francis is the patron of animals. If you’re bothered by snakes, Saint Patrick is your man.
Your non-Catholic friends may tell you that you don’t need to pray to saints, that Jesus should be the focus of our prayers. Guess what? They’re right. Jesus is the one we should be talking to. Your patron saint can’t answer your prayers.
Let’s use this analogy. When you have a particular need how often have friends and family promised to pray for you? It happens all the time. If it’s ok for my living friend to pray for me, why isn’t it ok for my friends in heaven to pray for me? Saints can’t answer your prayers but they can sure pass them along to Jesus. As they say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And our friends, the saints, have Jesus’ ear. Think about the Litany of the Saints. After we name each saint we ask them to “pray for us”.
So, what about all those statues? Aren’t we worshiping graven images which is against the Ten Commandments? My church, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis has forty five statues. Once again, we don’t worship statues. We use statues of the saints in the same way that we use pictures of our loved ones in our wallets, in our offices, or as wallpaper for our computers. We don’t worship the piece of paper (or the computer screen), we use those images to remind us of the ones we love. When we’re separated from them we may even take out their picture and talk to it. “I love you. I’ll be home soon.”
That’s what we do with statues. They exist as reminders of the ones we love, the saints.