Why I Asked Mom to Burn the Statues of the Saints and the Three Things I Realized

“Aren’t you scared of what you are saying? Have you already lost your respect to God and your grandparents?”

My mom was in tremendous shock when I came home one day and told her to burn all our religious statues. For a moment, she thought that I was already out of my mind. Our family had always been Catholic, and my grandparents gave us several religious icons that I grew up with – a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, pictures of the Last Supper and the Agony in the Garden, statues of the saints like St. Martin de Porres, rosaries, prayer books, etc.

During that time, I was so passionate about my newly-found born again Christian faith, and I told mom, “Those statues are forbidden by God. We should serve Him not with statues but ‘in spirit and in truth’ (John 4.24). This is the idolatry that the Lord spoke about.”

“But we never worshiped statues,” my mom desperately reasoned to no avail. Then I did what all born again Christians would normally do – quote scriptures.

“Mom,” I started, trying to keep my calm knowing how mistaken she was. “The Bible is telling us in Exodus 20:4-5, ‘You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow down to them or worship them.’ It was also written that people sinned against the Lord by making for themselves “gods of gold” (Exodus 32:31).

Then my mom did what many Catholics would do when confronted by a bible-quoting Christian – be silent. And for many years she was silent. To avoid further arguments with me, she silently kept the statues, hid the rosaries, and removed any signs of Catholicism in the house.

Many years after that incident,  the Lord humbled me and showed me how I failed to truly understand the faith of my childhood. Many years after, I realized how I misunderstood Catholics when I concluded that they commit idolatry by worshipping statues. Many years after, I couldn’t agree more with what Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “There are not one hundred people … who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

In my own journey of faith, I have realized three things about the statues of the saints.

God actually commanded the creation of statues.

It was a great shock for me when I learned that just five chapters ahead of the very book I was quoting (Exodus 20), the Lord had commanded the making of statues of angels when he told Moses to create the Ark of the Covenant! It reads:

“And you shall make two cherubim of gold [i.e., two gold statues of angels]; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece of the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be” (Ex. 25:18–20).

That made me doubt my  Protestant beliefs and made me want to “search the Scriptures” (John 5:39) even more. As I dug deeper, I also saw that in another instance, King Solomon made a temple for God with carved figures of cherubims, palm trees, and open flowers overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:23, 27, 29, 31, 32).

As Catholic apologist Tim Staples observed, “King Solomon ordered the construction of multiple images of things both “in heaven above” (angels) and “in the earth beneath” (palm trees and open flowers). And then, after the completion of the temple, God declared he was pleased with its construction (1 Kings. 9:3). Didn’t God know what King Solomon had done?”

That question stayed with me for many years. Why did God prohibit the making of graven images and then at another instance demand it? There must be an explanation that would make sense. I tried asking my Protestant friends, but many of them were not even aware that God allowed statues to be made in the first place! That’s when I realized that perhaps my mom was right – perhaps at least on this aspect Catholics could be right.

As I read more about the topic, I realized another surprising truth.

God even used statues and other material things to transmit graces.

Prior to becoming Catholic again, I also abhorred the use of religious icons (statues and images) in the context of healing. For me, that was not just idolatry but superstition. And yet, I was unaware that Scriptures spoke of how God used material things to transmit grace.

I read in a Catholic Answers tract that during the exodus of the Jews, there was a plague of serpents sent to punish them. Moses could have simply told his people to pray for deliverance, but God had another plan. He told the prophet: “”make [a statue of] a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it shall live. So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Numbers 21:8–9).

In the New Testament, God also worked through St. Paul “so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:12).

Mind you, when I read those passages, I was completely blown away. I finally understood how I misunderstood Catholics all along. Clearly, God in His wisdom and power can work through material things. Clearly, God did not abhor nor prohibit the creation of statues (and other religious icons) and their use in right religious contexts.

Reading Exodus 20:5 once more, I also realized a simple but fundamental detail in understanding this entire issue – “you shall not bow down to them [the graven images – statues] or serve them.” When I tried researching about this verse, I found an interesting insight as I looked at the original Hebrew with which the Old Testament was written.

“Bow down” or shachah (שָׁחָה) and “serve” or abad (עָבַד) both mean the same thing – to worship. I saw in the dictionary that worship means “adoration of a deity.” Therefore, it became clear to me that what God prohibited was not the creation of statues and religious icons per se – but the act of adoring them and considering them as gods!

I also realized that we have to take the whole context of Exodus 20 into consideration. I think what God really spoke against was the worship of false gods that the people did when they were adoring nature, the animals, and the skies. Hence, God didn’t want them to make statues of their likeness and worship them.

Bowing doesn’t always imply worship or adoration.

While bowing is definitely one of the signs and gestures of worship, I have realized that not all bowing are acts of adoration. When two Japanese politely greet each other by bowing reverently, I think I’d be absurd to conclude that they are worshiping each other. The same goes for people giving honor to the king and other members of a royal family or even just the elderly!

When I read more apologetics books, I was also surprised to discover that the Bible is full of stories where people would bow without necessarily committing idolatry:

  • Jacob bowed to the ground on his knees seven times before his elder brother Esau (Genesis 33:3);
  • Bathsheba bowed to her husband David (1 Kings 1:16); and,
  • Solomon bowed to his mother Bathsheba (1 Kings 2:19).

Another thing that blew me away is that in Revelation 3:9, St. John records the words of Jesus saying that those who are of Satan “will come and bow down” before our feet.

What Now? My Conclusion and Invitation

When I came back to the Church, my mom knew that God heard her fervent prayers. I finally understood the purpose of our religious icons at home and in the Church- to direct our attention and contemplation to God and his saints who were faithful to Him.

Going back to the Catholic Church was something I didn’t see coming because I already told myself that I will never be back. However, God’s ways are higher than my ways and being Catholic again is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have many stories in the course of my conversion, but I don’t have enough space to share them all here.

Here’s one request that I’d like to make, especially for non-Catholics – whenever you see a Catholic bowing reverently or praying prostrate on the ground before a statue of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, instead of thinking that he’s an idolater help him pray to God for his intentions. And when you get the chance to ask him about his gesture, don’t be surprised when he tells you he is not worshipping that statue. He may not give you all the bible verses you’d like to hear, but trust me when I say that he knows very well in his heart that those statues are not his gods.

Can those saints hear him? Aren’t we supposed to pray only to Jesus alone? Why do Catholics worship Mary? I know you would ask those, and I will discuss those in my next blog post. For now, let us constantly ask from God the humility to avoid judging the internal dispositions of people based solely on external manifestations.

My friend, there’s so much goodness and beauty yet to be seen in the Catholic Faith. I hope you could keep an open mind and study it further with an open heart. I am just here to guide you. I invite you in this journey to rediscover this “pearl of great price” that millions of people offered their lives for. If you want to connect with me, just click the Messenger button you’d see at the bottom of the page.

Photos from Wikimedia Creative Commons and Unsplash

Relevant Resources


Related Articles

 
Previous Article
Next Article

19 Replies to “Why I Asked Mom to Burn the Statues of the Saints and the Three Things I Realized”

  1. DOODS FERNAN

    You are out of context, you are doing it precisely as rationalism explanation to justify perverted antagonistic worshiping that leads absolutely to idolatry

      • Wadie

        It is better to put confidence in the LORD, than to put confidence in man. It is better to place trust in the LORD, than to place confidence in princes. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man. Let God be true and every man a liar. Every word of God is pure, he is a shield to those who tryst in Him. Do not to his words otherwise He will reprove you and be found a liar.

  2. Carla

    I think what the Lord wants is for us to examine our intention always, why we need to have images around us. What is the true intent of your heart? Also, apart from all the scriptures you cited, I think the main idea we should always keep is that God Himself is enough. He does not need any “aid” for us to enhance our devotion to Him. Further, I would just like to respectfully point out that the verses you cited were from the Old Testament — note that in the New Testament, when Jesus died on the cross and gave us salvation from sins, He already made the way for us to approach God directly, without any need for animal sacrifice or image whatsoever.

    Having said that though, I don’t judge you for whatever belief you wish to uphold. I’m a Protestant but I studied in a Catholic school, so I’d like to think I have a good background of both faiths. At the end of the day, as long as you have a relationship with God, and you acknowledge Jesus died for you and your salvation depends on Him, then that for me is sufficient.=)

    • John Bernard Ordoñez Caasi

      Hello, Carla! Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this matter. I really appreciate the time and the effort you gave. I agree with you that we really need to examine our hearts and purify our intentions always.

      We have a need for images because human beings, by nature, are visual creatures. We learn better when we see, touch, and smell things. Our human senses are great gifts from God that we ought to use to glorify him. It is true that God alone suffices as the Scriptures tell us. God does not need anything for He is completely whole, but WE human beings “need” anything at our disposal to aid us in our journey towards heaven. In the Bible, we would see how God uses physical things – matter – to help us “see”, “touch”, and “smell” his presence. In the Old Testament, God allowed people to be “with him” through the Ark of the Covenant. He asked temples to be built in His honor for people to visually see heaven’s grandeur while they worship.

      In the New Testament, the apostles used water to cleanse people from their sins through baptism. “”Repent and be BAPTIZED, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, NIV). Can the Lord send the Holy Spirit to people without the use of matter (water)? Of course, but He did so in a physical manner because as His creation, He knows that we are physical and sentient beings with senses.

      In the book of revelations, you would see incense (invoking the sense of smell) being used by the prayers of the saints in Heaven (Revelations 8:4). Can one pray without incense? Yes, but does it help if one uses physical things to help him in prayer (like having a Bible), yes. Does it offend God? No, as long as one’s heart is pure and his intentions are clear – as long as he still knows that he is worshiping God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

      Here’s the most important thing that, I think, we should really consider: can our powerful God, who is pure spirit, save us as a spirit? THE OBVIOUS ANSWER IS YES. But in revealing Himself, God chose to be a MATTER, A PHYSICAL FORM by becoming MAN through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Jesus Christ Himself is a physical image – “the Son is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) – so that people can see, touch, hear, and smell Him.

      Did God need to be in human or physical form to save us? No, but we need to see him because that is our nature. In a similar way, God did not need any images to help us go to Heaven, but we need to be visually reminded. Is it wrong to keep a picture of your loved one who is far away from you – and from time to time talk to that picture as if you are talking to that person? No, because you know in your heart that while that image is not the one you love, it “connects” your mind to your beloved in a deep profound way? Is that idolatry? I don’t think so.

      And yes, I agree with you again. Catholics also believe what Protestants believe in. Christ’s death on the cross saved us once and for all. 🙂

      Thanks again for your insights. Please do keep in touch, and please include me in your prayers.

  3. Marian Sison

    I was like you! I was raised Catholic then became born again, After some time, while attending bible study classes, there were things that I couldn’t accept like the idolatry being thrown to Catholics. In my heart, I knew I NEVER WORSHIPPED the statues. I couldn’t truly accept the other things they were teaching. That’s when I realized the need to understand more and learn more about the Catholic faith.

  4. wrethched & depraved

    Cherubims are definitely not God.
    Solomon was a sinner.
    David was bathsheba’s king.
    Catholic does not mean Roman Catholic.
    Don’t you dare use the term born again here because you are gravely mislead. You were never born again, and you reverted back to your God-hating ways by controverting the clear words of the Bible.
    How can you even justify people making graven images of Christ?? Do you know what Christ looks like? Do you dare imagine your God’s face and make it with your own hands???
    You even said that God’s ways are higher than yours by leading you to what? A tradition? A religion?
    Did God promote any religion?
    Is not Christ enough?
    Have you not resd that all have fallen short of God’s glory? (Romans 3:23)
    Then why make statute of so called ‘saints’?
    What is a definition of a saint then?
    Do you venerate mere men’s works as if one could gain salvation out of works? (Ephesians 2:8-9)
    You are a degenerate you never was regenerate.
    And Satan is using you to mialead many.
    But what can I do, may God rightfully judge you.

    • John Bernard Ordoñez Caasi

      Hi, thank you for taking the time in giving you thoughts about the blog post. Here are my answers to each of your points.

      I agree with you, cherubims are not God. Who was saying that?

      Yes, Solomon is a sinner just like you and me. Who said he wasn’t?

      Catholic does not mean Roman Catholic? I wish you could enlighten me on the difference. Since the beginning of Church history, the Catholic Church has always been “roman” because the pope has always been the bishop of Rome. Take note, the Church was different from Roman pagan traditions.

      I wonder how I reverted to God-hating ways as you have indicated. What is your understanding of the phrase being “born again”? Perhaps we can have a reasonable discussion without resorting to ad hominem?

      With regard to your point on the making of images, I don’t remember saying that we make those images BECAUSE we know how He looks like. I am curious where the contention is coming from.

      So can we also say that Christians dared imagining God’s words and write those in the bible with their hands?

      Did God promote any religion? I will let Matthew 16:18, Church history and common sense answer the question for us.

      Who said Christ is not enough? The whole of Christianity is founded upon Him. Catholicism does not make sense if Christ weren’t enough.

      Yes, we all sin that’s why we go to confession for the forgiveness of sins (John 20:21-24).

      What is your understanding of the word “saint”? Don’t you know that if you are a faithful Christian, you are a saint as well?

      A saint is someone who faithfully followed the will of God until death – someone who exemplified heroic virtue and sanctity – it could be your parents, your grand parents – even you! Everyone is called to be a saint.

      I think you have to read my post again – with calmness and openness of mind – I didn’t say that we venerate statues to earn salvation, a gift freely given by Christ.

      What can you do? Please continue praying for me, and I hope you also continue sharing your insights in this thread. I am sure I could learn a lot from you. I am praying for you as well.

      Thanks and best regards.

      Bernz

  5. Louis

    Welcome home Bernz!

    Thank you for the detailed references from the Bible. Sometimes it saddens me to hear our Protestant brothers and sisters to be angry at us Catholics in regards to what we believed. I hope by your work and your writings may help them understand what we believe in and also hope that they too one day come home to the Church our Lord Jesus Christ established through the Apostles. I also hope that your blog post reach some of our priests and bishops that they me teach these truths in their homilies so that our Catholic brothers and sisters can properly address questions from our Protestant brethrens.

    May God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit guide you always.

  6. yer

    It’s not really the religion that matters, what matters really is your faith in GOD, whether you’re a Catholic, Born-again, INC, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc, it is your faith that can mold you as a human created by GOD.

  7. Nedo L. Sasing

    Hi Bernz,

    I was also born Catholic and became born again at the age of 23. Just like you did, I have examined my Catholic faith in depth and in detail in the light of Scripture. This is not to dissuade you from your Catholic beliefs nor to attack the Catholic religion. But this is to correct a misconception and misapplication of Scripture in your blog. I do not expect to convince you in any way but I see the need to present a perspective which is not in your blog, at the very least in the interest of fair play, to give an intelligent choice to those who like you may be “blown away” by your “discovery”, and to give justice to Scripture.

    1. The Ark of the Covenant had a specific purpose – a dwelling for God. “And let them make Me a sanctuary, THAT I MAY DWELL AMONG THEM…You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you.” (Ex. 25) That purpose of course was fulfilled and became irrelevant with the coming of Jesus Christ (“God with us”). On the other hand, the Ten Commandments has a universal application. To take the verses instructing and describing the making of the Ark as proof text that God allows image making and give it a universal application is to use a specific instruction to dilute if not invalidate a universal mandate in Exodus 20:4-5. In other words, making an exception invalidate the universal rule. It is unbiblical and is an attempt to disharmonize Scripture to serve a religious goal. The principle is similar to sacrificing your son because God actually asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Or to set out a fleece as Gideon did (Judges 6) as a sign if it is God’s will. These are specific instances for specific purposes, for a specific time for a specific people, just like the making of the Ark and the cherubim on it. Additionally, there are two aspects to Exodus 20:4-5: Do not MAKE and do not BOW. The mere making of the image is already prohibited. Of course we can make brilliant justifications in making images. I simply want to point out that those justifications are not in the Commandments.

    2. The bronze serpent had a specific purpose at a specific time. As a judgment against the people for their sin, God sent poisonous serpents into the camp, and people began to die. This showed the people that they were the ones in sin, and they came to Moses to confess that sin and ask for God’s mercy. When Moses prayed for the people, God instructed him to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so the people could be healed (Numbers 21:5-7). This serpent was symbolic of the serpents God used to chastise the people for their unbelief. Again, specific instruction, for a specific purpose.

    What happened to the bronze serpent? This you omitted in your blog. 2 Kings 18:1-4, “In the third year of King Hoshea …3 He DID WHAT WAS RIGHT IN THE SIGHT OF THE LORD just as his ancestor David had done. 4 He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole. HE BROKE IN PIECES THE BRONZE SERPENT THAT MOSES HAD MADE, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan. In other words, an image specifically instructed by God to be made eventually became an idol detestable to God.

    I agree with you that bowing per se is not sinful. But when this is done in the context of 1 and 2 above, that I do not agree. Let me add that I believe the Catholic religion also has the truth. It’s how we take it that we differ. By the way, not all Protestants are born again.

    Shalom
    Nedo

    • John Bernard Ordoñez Caasi

      Dear Nedo, I do appreciate your inputs and your thoughts about this matter. Before I proceed with my answer, may I request that you also remember me in your prayers.

      I understand that you are not attacking me personally or my faith. I appreciate your desire to talk about the matter intellectualy and give justice to where it is due, in this case, the Scriptures.

      I do agree that the Ark of the Covenant and the Serpent had particular purposes at specific times and periods of our salvation history. However, as far as we can see in the Scriptures, we cannot see God being offended or hating the act of making statues as long as these are used with the right intention in mind. The Serpent was destroyed, not because the people made it and used it in the first place but because people started MISUSING it when they considered it as an idol.

      The fact that King Hezekiah had to destroy the bronze serpent does not change the fact that God had commanded its construction in the first place, used it as an instrument to transmit his healing power, and Jesus said it was a “type” of himself (John 3:14-15).

      That is the reason why from the very beginning of time, the Church has always been clear about its warnings on idolatry. In the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, the Church officially declared: “The one who redeemed us from the darkness of idolatrous insanity, Christ our God, when he took for his bride his holy Catholic Church . . . promised he would guard her and assured his holy disciples saying, ‘I am with you every day until the consummation of this age.’ . . . To this gracious offer some people paid no attention; being hoodwinked by the treacherous foe they abandoned the true line of reasoning . . . and they failed to distinguish the holy from the profane, asserting that the icons of our Lord and of his saints were no different from the wooden images of satanic idols.”

      In the Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), the Church taught that idolatry is committed “by worshipping idols and images as God, or believing that they possess any divinity or virtue entitling them to our worship, by praying to, or reposing confidence in them” (374).

      Therefore, it is clear that the official Catholic teachings have always condemned the act of idolatry. But again, as I pointed out earlier in my answer – the Scriptures speak of God hating the worship of statues but not their creation. The essence of the prohibition of the making of statues for worship is in Exodus 20:3 – “You shall not have any other Gods before me.”

      The whole text of Exodus 20:4 – 5 also states: (4) You shall not make for yourself an IMAGE IN THE FORM OF ANYTHING IN HEAVEN ABOVE OR ON THE EARTH BENEATH OR IN THE WATERS BELOW. (5) You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…

      If we follow the line of reasoning (i.e. the mere making of the image is already prohibited…), then we should all be guilty of making images of ANYTHING IN HEAVEN ABOVE OR ON THE EARTH BENEATH OR IN THE WATERS BELOW when we have images and pictures of our loved ones, the animals, etc. Moses should have been guilty of idolatry by making a statue of the serpent (image of something above the earth) and God could have contradicted himself.

      I think as a summary, this is how the Catholic Church sees it: the Lord clearly prohibits the making AND the worship of statues; the Scripture doesn’t condemn the correct use of images; and the primary purpose of the Church in using sacred art (paintings, images, statues) is to aid human beings to visually contemplate and be reminded of the greatness and presence of God.

      From where we are coming from, we know that God forbade idolatry and not the mere making of statues. Are we to say that the monuments of our heroes, the Statue of Liberty, and the Statue of Martin Luther in Dresden, Germany are supposed to be destroyed because they were created in the first place? Perhaps when people start treating those statues as gods, we (Christians and Catholics) should be the first ones to break them.

      I hope you could clarify to me how my understanding and the teachings of the Church are making an exemption to “disharmonize” the Scriptures. As far as we understand it, what the scripture said and didn’t say are clear.

      Again, I do appreciate your message and I hope we could continue this discussion as I know I would also learn from you. Please pray for me. God bless you, my friend! 🙂

      -Bernz

  8. My Story of a Soul

    Let’s put it in these way. When I come to encounter some religious images like holy cross or images of saints, I make sign of the cross not because I worship them but I give respect to those saints by their example won the glorious life in heaven and it remind me their faith in God. Like saints set an example for us to follow Jesus and when trouble time come in our way we too like saints could remain faithful to God no mattet what

  9. ????

    1 Timothy 2:5-6 New International Version (NIV)
    5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

    As per comment above..do you really know what is a saint and who are the saints???

    It was clearly not stated in the bible that the created cherubins should be worshiped.

    Ang also it was in the bible that we do not pray in a repetitive manner. This already is clearly done by praying the rosary.

    “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7).

  10. Stefan Kohler

    It really pains me to see that all of what you wrote are taken out of context and used as a petty excuse to violate God’s commands. Outward behaviour is a reflection of what is inside the heart. In the case of statues and image worship, no one needs to know your intention when you bowed down to those images, as God has strictly instructed against it and making those. Unless God himself instructed you to make something that is material and physical in nature, everything else are considered idols. The specifications must come from God himself, like how God instructed his people, the priests, Moses & Aaron to create these items. Nothing good ever came out when people create these images and idols themselves without the instruction coming from God

  11. or prayer

    My response is simple. I saw someone praying in front of a picture of an elephant. I have an altar with crucifix, statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the mother of Jesus whom we, Catholics “honor” and whom we ask for prayer and intercession not worship which we only do for God) and these statues are all blessed by priests. That is where I want to pray. After the holy sacrifice of the mass, I bow to the priest to thank him for celebrating the mass.

What do you think? Share with us your thoughts.