40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Idol Worship

Saint Louis IX statue at Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, MO

Saint Louis IX statue at Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, MO

When I started this series I thought it would be much simpler than it’s turned out to be.  Each of these myths about our Church are more wide-spread and more serious than I expected them to be.  Finally, today’s topic is a bit of a relief.  It can be dispelled very simply even though some people will probably not be convinced.

To give you an idea of how much some people dispise our Church, here are a couple of tweets from the Holy Father’s twitter page.

@Pontifex maybe you should give up kidf***ing and idol worship for lent.

@Pontifex yes, they are worshipping idols and a petty perverted anti-Christ in a false church that hates the Lord.

Note:  @pontifex is Pope Benedict XVI.

OK, we get it.  You don’t like the Church.  But this is one myth that is easily shot down.  Yes, we do have a lot of statues in our churches, statues of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and other saints.  My particular church, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, MO, has more than forty of them.  We don’t worship the statues nor the people they represent (with the exception of Jesus).  We’ll deal with whether we worship saints or not in another post, but for now let’s just talk about the statues.

When this myth is thrown up the simplest way to deal with it is to ask the other person if they have any pictures in their wallet or on the walls at home.  Ask them to see what’s in their wallet.  They will surely have a picture of a loved one.  Next, ask them if they love the picture.  No, they don’t love the piece of paper and the ink that stains it.  They love what the picture represents.  Same thing with Catholics.  I don’t love that hunk of plaster and paint that sits above our altar.  But I do love Jesus who is represented by the statue.

Statues are a visual reminder.  That’s all.  We don’t worship them at all any more than I worship the picture of my wife that I carry with me.  (Actually, like many people today, I carry pictures of all my family on my phone.  I can promise you, I don’t worship or even love my phone.)  Until He comes again, we can’t actually see the face of Jesus (except in the faces of others).  A statue, or a medal, or any other holy article is just a reminder; no more-no less.

What's in your wallet?

What’s in your wallet?

Thursday of the 1st Week of Advent

Jolly old Saint Nicholas?  or How a 3rd century Greek saint became a commercial icon.

Saint Nicholas (the real guy) at Saint John Nepomuk Church, Saint Louis

Saint Nicholas (the real guy) at Saint John Nepomuk Church, Saint Louis

Today we remember Saint Nicholas, the real guy, not the fat man in the red suit.  Nicholas was the son of wealthy parents.  When they died, Nicholas used his entire inheritance to take care of the poor.  There are dozens of examples of his generosity including a story of him leaving bags of gold for three young women who couldn’t afford the necessary dowery to be married.  He tossed the money through a window in the dark of night being too humble to accept credit for his generosity.  Hence the custom of leaving shoes out on the night before Saint Nicholas’ feast day to be filled with candy and other small gifts.  [Note:  Your favorite blogger has left his shoes out for years and has yet to get even one piece of candy.]

Somehow this tradition has morphed into the Santa Claus/Christmas tradition.  While many of us still celebrate Saint Nicholas’ Day on December 6, Nicholas’ alter-ego, Santa Claus, does his thing on December 25.  Where Nicholas specializes in small gifts, Santa (who’s parents must have REALLY been rich) leans more towards  video games and anything that starts with a lower-case i.  (iPads, Iphones, iPods, iCadillacs, etc.)

The thing that seems to have begun the real metamorphosis was the book published in 1823 which we now know as “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Moore.  The book was originally titled “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.”  Moore describes Santa Claus but calls him Saint Nick.  The confusion lives on.

So, as we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child, let’s remember the spirit of giving that marked the life of Saint Nicholas.  His generosity earned him a place in the cannon of saints.  We’re not distracted yet by the piles of loot that will show up on Christmas morning.  Have an orange or a Hershey Bar, find a quiet place, and reflect on our call to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Happy Saint Nicholas’ Day

Monday of the First Week of Advent

francis xavierOn this first weekday of Advent we remember Saint Francis, Xavier.  How appropriate!  Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord.  Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuit order was a Spanish missionary who spread the Word of God throughout Asia.  He visited IndiaJapanBorneo, the Moluccas, and other areas that had not yet been visited by Christian missionaries.   Having been to Asia myself, I can’t imagine what a monumental task his work must have been, trying to convey such an important message without being able to speak the native languages.

But aren’t we all called to spread the good news?  Our vocation may not call us to foreign lands, but doesn’t it seem like sometimes, when we want to share Jesus’ message, we might as well be speaking in a foreign tongue?  When we speak concepts like charity, and love of neighbor, faith, hope, and joy, it seems like we can’t communicate the message because the listeners just don’t understand the words.

Here, at the beginning of this prayerful and joyful season, let’s pray to Saint Francis, asking him to help us in our efforts to evangelize others.

 

Saint Francis Xavier, pray for us!

Christ the King

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King.  I’m afraid we Americans really don’t get this feast because we’re not used to dealing with a king.  The United States is a democracy.  We threw King George out over 200 years ago.  Here in America, Elvis is the King of rock and roll.   We know about Martin Luther King, B. B. King, and Carole King.  As kids a lot of us watched “Sky King”.  There’s Burger King, and Smoothie King, Larry King, and in hockey, there are the Los Angeles Kings.  There was a big monkey called King Kong.  And, for those of us who live in Saint Louis, there’s no question that Budweiser is the “King of Beers”.

So what does this feast tell us about Jesus?  It tells us that He is Lord of all.  What He says goes.  Jesus’ kingdom is not a democracy.  He’s a benevolent king, but He’s still the boss.

As you walk into our church through the front doors, the first thing you see when you enter the sanctuary are two human kings.  These men were good enough to their people that the Church has declared them saints.  On the left is Louis IX, the king of France.  On the right is good king Wenceslas

Wenceslas lived in the 900s.  He became king because his father, then his mother, had been cruel rulers.  With the support of the people he acquired land and started his own kingdom.  He was a pious man to the point of growing the wheat and the grapes that were used for the Eucharist.  Unlike his parents, the people loved him.  He became a martyr in 938 when his brother attacked him as he was kneeling in prayer.

King Louis lived in the 1200s.  His father became king when little Louis was just nine years old.  He died just three years later and our Louis, Louis IX, became king of France at the age of 12.  He ruled over his kingdom during the height of its influence, sometimes called France’s “Golden Age.”  It was a time of great prosperity and freedom for the people.  Louis is often referred to as a model for other monarchs.  During his reign, he was the most powerful man in Europe.  He died in 1270 during his second crusade and he was canonized just 26 years later in 1296.

So, here we have two human kings who lived about 300 years apart.  Wenceslas died a martyr; Louis died from dysentery.  They both lived saintly lives and treated their people well.  They were good kings.  But make no mistake.  They were in charge of their kingdoms.  Louis had a lot of help from his mother, especially when he took his throne at the age of 12.  But Louis’ and Wenceslas’  words were law.

There were no political parties.  There was no such thing as liberal and conservative.  There were no elections.  The king made the rules, even good kings like Wenceslas and Louis.  And so it is with Jesus.

I think it’s interesting that in this church of statues there are NINE statues of our Lord. But of all the statues of our Lord, the only one where He’s wearing a crown is the one of Him as an infant.  Jesus was born a King.  The Magii came to visit the manger to worship the newborn king.  Herod ordered all the male children killed because he wanted to be sure there was no king more powerful than He was.  He was crucified under a sign that said “King of the Jews”.  Even His enemies recognize him as a King; a King that they should fear.

As much as Jesus loves us and as much as we love Him, He has laid down some rules and as his Subjects (“subjects”.  There’s a word that we Americans might choke on) as His subjects we’re supposed to do what He tells us.  Those words of Mary’s are just as true today as they were at the wedding feast at Cana.

In the first reading today the prophet Daniel prophesies that one is coming like a Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.  He will receive dominion, glory, and kingship.  All peoples, nations, and languages will serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed.

In the second reading from Revelations John calls Jesus “the ruler of the kings of the earth.”  He’s not A KING, He’s THE KING.  THE KING OF KINGS.  He rules all the other kings.  If Jesus has that kind of power, who are we to not follow His teachings?  That’s pretty presumptuous of us…….and VERY DANGEROUS.

Last Sunday we heard another reading from the prophet Daniel.  He wrote that “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.”  I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty serious to me.

We’ve been told over and over that when we die we’ll either go to heaven or hell.  We’ve also been told what we need to do to get to heaven.  And the person who’s going to make that call is the King we celebrate today.  What we don’t know is how strict a judge He’s going to be.  Is He going to be just?  Or is He going to be merciful?

If Jesus is all about mercy, then nobody will end up in the fiery furnace.  But He’s told us that some people will.  Remember Lazarus and the rich man?  That’s the work of a just God.  So, what’s the deal?  Is heaven crowded while just a few people are languishing in the fiery furnace?  Or is it the other way around.  Is hell standing-room-only while just a few of Jesus’ most loyal subjects are sitting at the heavenly table?  We don’t know and we won’t know until we end up in one place or the other.

I’m thinking that the best approach for us is to assume that Jesus will be just and to do all we can to be on His good side.  That means doing what Jesus and His Church tell us to do.  Not because He wants us to be on some kind of guilt trip, but because we love Him so much that we don’t want to disappoint Him.  Remember, He’s a GOOD KING, not an evil dictator.

Before He was murdered, Jesus called the Apostles together and said to them, “whoever hears you, hears me.”  That was Him commissioning His Church.  Peter became the first Pope and ten of the other eleven became the first bishops.  He wanted to leave behind a Church that could speak with authority on His behalf well into the future.  His teachings never change, but circumstances, especially ways for the Devil to tempt us, do change.  Jesus could see the future.  He knew that in a couple of thousand years there would be something called the Internet. There are a lot of good things and a lot of bad things on the web.  Jesus could have told the original Apostles how to handle the Internet but they would have had no idea what He was talking about.  Instead, He left us with Church leaders who speak for Him on contemporary subjects.

Jesus knew that there would be artificial birth control in the future but it didn’t exist when He was walking the earth.  Modern-day Church teachers can speak on the subject with His full authority…..And, if we want to stay on His good side and avoid that fiery place, we should listen.

So, as we go about our daily lives, it’s important to keep this feast in mind.  Jesus is the King of the Universe.  He always has been and always will be.  When it’s our turn to see him face-to-face, will we hear Him say, “well done, good and faithful servant?”  I sure hope so.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King.  I’m afraid we Americans really don’t get this feast because we’re not used to dealing with a king.  The United States is a democracy.  We threw King George out over 200 years ago.  Here in America, Elvis is the King of rock and roll.   We know about Martin Luther King, B. B. King, and Carole King.  As kids a lot of us watched “Sky King”.  There’s Burger King, and Smoothie King, Larry King, and in hockey, there are the Los Angeles Kings.  There was a big monkey called King Kong.  And, for those of us who live in Saint Louis, there’s no question that Budweiser is the “King of Beers”.

 

So what does this feast tell us about Jesus?  It tells us that He is Lord of all.  What He says goes.  Jesus’ kingdom is not a democracy.  He’s a benevolent king, but He’s still the boss.

 

As you walk into our church through the front doors, the first thing you see when you enter the sanctuary are two human kings.  These men were good enough to their people that the Church has declared them saints.  On the left is Louis IX, the king of France.  On the right is good king Wenceslas

Wenceslas lived in the 900s.  He became king because his father, then his mother, had been cruel rulers.  With the support of the people he acquired land and started his own kingdom.  He was a pious man to the point of growing the wheat and the grapes that were used for the Eucharist.  Unlike his parents, the people loved him.  He became a martyr in 938 when his brother attacked him as he was kneeling in prayer.

 

King Louis lived in the 1200s.  His father became king when little Louis was just nine years old.  He died just three years later and our Louis, Louis IX, became king of France at the age of 12.  He ruled over his kingdom during the height of its influence, sometimes called France’s “Golden Age.”  It was a time of great prosperity and freedom for the people.  Louis is often referred to as a model for other monarchs.  During his reign, he was the most powerful man in Europe.  He died in 1270 during his second crusade and he was canonized just 26 years later in 1296.

 

So, here we have two human kings who lived about 300 years apart.  Wenceslas died a martyr; Louis died from dysentery.  They both lived saintly lives and treated their people well.  They were good kings.  But make no mistake.  They were in charge of their kingdoms.  Louis had a lot of help from his mother, especially when he took his throne at the age of 12.  But Louis’ and Wenceslas’  words were law.

 

There were no political parties.  There was no such thing as liberal and conservative.  There were no elections.  The king made the rules, even good kings like Wenceslas and Louis.  And so it is with Jesus.

 

I think it’s interesting that in this church of statues there are NINE statues of our Lord. But of all the statues of our Lord, the only one where He’s wearing a crown is the one of Him as an infant.  Jesus was born a King.  The Magii came to visit the manger to worship the newborn king.  Herod ordered all the male children killed because he wanted to be sure there was no king more powerful than He was.  He was crucified under a sign that said “King of the Jews”.  Even His enemies recognize him as a King; a King that they should fear.

 

As much as Jesus loves us and as much as we love Him, He has laid down some rules and as his Subjects (“subjects”.  There’s a word that we Americans might choke on) as His subjects we’re supposed to do what He tells us.  Those words of Mary’s are just as true today as they were at the wedding feast at Cana.

 

In the first reading today the prophet Daniel prophesies that one is coming like a Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.  He will receive dominion, glory, and kingship.  All peoples, nations, and languages will serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed.

 

In the second reading from Revelations John calls Jesus “the ruler of the kings of the earth.”  He’s not A KING, He’s THE KING.  THE KING OF KINGS.  He rules all the other kings.  If Jesus has that kind of power, who are we to not follow His teachings?  That’s pretty presumptuous of us…….and VERY DANGEROUS.

 

Last Sunday we heard another reading from the prophet Daniel.  He wrote that “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.”  I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty serious to me.

 

We’ve been told over and over that when we die we’ll either go to heaven or hell.  We’ve also been told what we need to do to get to heaven.  And the person who’s going to make that call is the King we celebrate today.  What we don’t know is how strict a judge He’s going to be.  Is He going to be just?  Or is He going to be merciful?

 

If Jesus is all about mercy, then nobody will end up in the fiery furnace.  But He’s told us that some people will.  Remember Lazarus and the rich man?  That’s the work of a just God.  So, what’s the deal?  Is heaven crowded while just a few people are languishing in the fiery furnace?  Or is it the other way around.  Is hell standing-room-only while just a few of Jesus’ most loyal subjects are sitting at the heavenly table?  We don’t know and we won’t know until we end up in one place or the other.

 

I’m thinking that the best approach for us is to assume that Jesus will be just and to do all we can to be on His good side.  That means doing what Jesus and His Church tell us to do.  Not because He wants us to be on some kind of guilt trip, but because we love Him so much that we don’t want to disappoint Him.  Remember, He’s a GOOD KING, not an evil dictator.

 

Before He was murdered, Jesus called the Apostles together and said to them, “whoever hears you, hears me.”  That was Him commissioning His Church.  Peter became the first Pope and ten of the other eleven became the first bishops.  He wanted to leave behind a Church that could speak with authority on His behalf well into the future.  His teachings never change, but circumstances, especially ways for the Devil to tempt us, do change.  Jesus could see the future.  He knew that in a couple of thousand years there would be something called the Internet. There are a lot of good things and a lot of bad things on the web.  Jesus could have told the original Apostles how to handle the Internet but they would have had no idea what He was talking about.  Instead, He left us with Church leaders who speak for Him on contemporary subjects.

 

Jesus knew that there would be artificial birth control in the future but it didn’t exist when He was walking the earth.  Modern-day Church teachers can speak on the subject with His full authority…..And, if we want to stay on His good side and avoid that fiery place, we should listen.

 

So, as we go about our daily lives, it’s important to keep this feast in mind.  Jesus is the King of the Universe.  He always has been and always will be.  When it’s our turn to see him face-to-face, will we hear Him say, “well done, good and faithful servant?”  I sure hope so.

All Saints Day

This is the homily I preached today for All Saints Day.  Our church has more statues of saints than any church I’m aware of.  That’s the background for this message.  Have a blessed day!

All Saints’ Day.  Simple enough.  Today we remember all the saints.  If anybody should be able to honor the saints, it should be us.  Just look around.  There are more saints depicted in our church than you can shake a stick at.  There are at least five martyrs, including Ludmilla and Wenceslas, grandmother-grandson martyrs.  We have Cyril and Methodious, brothers who were Apostles to the Slav nations.

We have an American saint, Saint John Neumann who was the Bishop of Philadelphia and a champion of Catholic schools.  We have two kings, Wenceslas and Louis IX, the patron of our Archdiocese.  We also have religious like Agnes of Bohemia who was one of the early Poor Clares.  By the way, she was Elizabeth of Hungary’s cousin.

Saint Ludmilla was a rich lady who built the first Christian church in Bohemia.

One of my favorites, and one you don’t usually see unless you’re in the choir is Blessed John Sarkander.  Like our patron, John of Nepomuk, John Sarkander was martyred for refusing to break the seal of the confessional.  Plus, he shares his feast day with Saint Patrick, March 17.

The Poles were invading John’s village and he went out with his parisioners to meet them, carrying the Blessed Sacrament.  The Catholic Poles fell to their knees, asked for John’s blessing and went back where they came from.  John’s enemies accused him of being in cahoots with the Poles and demanded to know what they had confessed to him when he had been in Poland.  He refused and was tortured and killed.

Besides all the statues, we also have thirty-eight relics on our altar.  There are some “biggies” like Saint Monica, Saint Wenceslas, and Saint John Bosco.  We also have a relic from the Cur of Ars, Saint John Vianni, John Neuman, Angela Merici, Pope Pius X, and Saint Alphonsus Liguori.  We even have a relic  of a local saint, co-Patroness of the Archdiocese, Saint Rose Phillipine DuShen.

You may have noticed that I’ve put a picture of Emil Kapaun on the communion rail.  If you were here this past weekend you heard Father talk about Father Kapaun, a chaplain in the United States Army.  Father Kapaun died a heroes death in a North Korean prison camp.  His generosity to his fellow soldiers led to his death.

But, All Saints day is about all saints, not just the ones who have canonized by the Catholic Church.  Today is about men like my late father-in-law.  He was the best man and the best Catholic I’ve ever known.  He’ll never be recognized by the Church.  In fact, in a couple of generations he’ll be completely forgotten but make no mistake, he is a saint.  I’m guessing you have people like that in your lives.  They’re saints just as surely as John Nepomuk is a saint; just as surely as the people represented by these statues and relics are saints.

Where are new saints coming from?  Look around you.  The person in front of you or in back of you or sitting next to you may soon be a saint.  After all, that’s what God wants for all of us.  He wants each one of us to become a saint.  He wants us to be the best we can be.

In the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, the Church issued a universal call to holiness.  All Catholics are to live holy lives and holy lives lead to sainthood.  That’s our challenge during this Year of Faith and every day of our lives.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #3 The Blessed Mother

“Hail Full of Grace, the Lord is with you.”

When the Lord spoke these words to Mary, her life was changed forever.  She was to become the Mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  When she went to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who was also with child, even in her old age, her words were prophetic as well.  When Mary entered Elizabeth’s home the child in her womb leapt for joy and Elizabeth said,

“Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  

Of course, these two sentences from Luke’s Gospel are the beginning of the “Hail Mary”, the tribute to the Blessed Virgin that every Catholic learns early in life and continues to pray as long as they live.

We discussed earlier, in our post on saints, that we don’t worship Mary.  We venerate her.  How else should we treat Jesus’ mother?  Without her, there would have been no Messiah.  Obviously Mary could have said no.  In fact one reason we do venerate her is because she said yes.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”  Mary could have refused.  She could have told Gabriel to leave her alone.  She was young.  She was engaged to be married.  The last thing she needed was a surprise pregnancy.  Nazareth was a small town.  What were the neighbors going to think?  What was Joseph going to say?  But she had faith in God and she agreed to do His will.

Don’t forget, Mary was born without sin.  God had been preparing for this event for years.  If Mary had refused to go along, He couldn’t just go get another woman.  He would have had to start over.  But, of course, He knew that she would never refuse to do His will.

But why do we Catholics have such a strong devotion to Mary?  After all, other faith traditions believe the same Nativity story that we do.  They understand that Mary was Jesus’ mother, but they don’t seem to hold her in the high esteem that we do.  We pray for Mary to intercede for us with Jesus.   Every Catholic church has at least one statue of her.  Until recently, Mary was the most popular girl’s name in the United States.  There are thousands of Catholic Churches named after her, either as Saint Mary, or as one of her other appellations.  We Catholics love Mary.

Mary carried our Lord in her womb for nine months.  She raised Him from a baby and held Him in her arms after He was crucified.  She was assumed into heaven so her sinless body wouldn’t have to lie in the ground.  She was Jesus’ mother and I think we can all agree, if you love someone as much as we love Jesus, you have to love their mom.

Mary said “yes” to God and gave birth to His Son.  As He hung on the cross, Jesus gave her to his beloved Apostle John, and so gave her to us.  Mary was very cool.

Here’s a trivia question for you.  What is the only US city named after the blessed mother?