If you go into just about any Catholic Church or home in the world, you’ll find the images of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints and angels, but if you go into a protestant home or church, a Jewish home or synagogue, or a Muslim home or mosque you probably won’t find images of God or the saints. They all believe that these images are idolatrous and basically equivalent to worshipping images as gods. Why is that, and how do Catholics use images?
Those who are against images point to Exodus 20:4-5 as their proof, which says, “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, nor a likeness of anything that is in heaven above or on earth below, nor of those things which are in the waters under the earth. You shall not adore them, nor shall you worship them.” This read this as saying that we shouldn’t make any images of God, angels, humans, or animals because of the possibility that we might be tempted to worship them. However, if we look just 5 chapters later in the book of Exodus, we find God telling Moses how to build the tabernacle, “Likewise, you shall make two Cherubim of formed gold, on both sides of the oracle. Let one Cherub be on the one side and the other be on the other. And let them cover both sides of the propitiatory, spreading their wings and covering the oracle, and let them look out toward one another, their faces being turned toward the propitiatory, with which the ark is to be covered” (Ex 25:18-20). If God didn’t want us to make any images of anything “in heaven above,” then why did he command Moses to make these images of angels?
The Catholic, and original Christian, interpretation of Exodus 20 is that God doesn’t want us to make any images that are meant to be worshiped, or to worship any images. The Second Council of Nicaea in 787 officially approved and regulated the use of images. Images of God or the saints are to receive veneration, they are to be respected and should not be treated with disdain or disrespect. They should not, however, be worshiped and adored, as worship and adoration are reserved for the person of God Himself. So, the Eucharist, which is the real presence of Jesus Christ, is to be worshipped and adored, and so we may kneel or even lay prostrate before Him present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, but a statue of the Sacred Heart should only be venerated.
The purpose of images is to call to mind the person, event, or idea that it represents. We can make an image of Jesus Christ because Jesus became man, and we can make an image of His human nature, and that image reminds us that God is always present with us and raises our minds and souls to worship God Himself. The images of our Blessed Mother, the saints, and the angels also make us think of those people, of their lives, of how they are alive in heaven and can pray for us, and can motivate us to imitate their holiness in our lives.
Just as the cherubim on the tabernacle weren’t thought to be real angels but only represented the cherubim who worship God constantly in heaven, so the images that we keep in our churches and homes and even in our cars (like those visor clips with the St. Christopher medal) can lead us to contemplate the realities that they represent and so draw us closer to God Himself.
Here in southern Louisiana we spend more time in nature than people do in many places. We enjoy and use nature when we hunt, fish, spend time in the wild, and live off the land. However, we also understand, better than many, the need to care for the land. Due to neglect and coastal erosion some of the bounty our fathers and grandfathers enjoyed is gone, and we’ve had to take steps to protect what remains. Since we just passed Earth Day on April 21 and Arbor Day on April 26, we should look at how the Church calls us to treat the world around us.
After God created the world, the animals and humanity, “God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good.” After God made man and woman, he said, “God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth.” The earth and nature are good and they are gifts from God. God has commanded us to both fill the earth and subdue it.
The Hebrew word for rule means literally “to tread under your feet,” as in treading grapes to make wine. We are given rule of the Earth so that we can make it serve our needs by cultivating it and using the produce of the land. However, the command to subdue the earth is connected to the command to “fill” it through having children. We are stewards of the earth, and we must protect it so that future generations will have all the good things of the land that we have.
In 2008, Pope emeritus Benedict said, “Respecting the environment does not mean considering material or animal nature more important than man. Rather, it means not selfishly considering nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests, for future generations also have the right to reap its benefits and to exhibit towards nature the same responsible freedom that we claim for ourselves.”
We have to stay away from the two extreme views. There are those who actually believe that animals and plants are more important than people. They don't just want to reduce the human population, they want to eliminate it, believing that our absence will allow the environment to flourish.
On the other hand, there are those who wantonly violate and destroy nature for their own personal gain by polluting, destroying, and misusing it. They don't care about their responsibility to be good stewards of the gifts of the earth or about their responsibility to future generations.
God has given us the freedom to use creation for our own benefit, for our families, and for our communities, but He requires us to use it responsibly. We must consider how our actions affect the people around us and future generations.
Those in positions of authority in government have a responsibility to put in place laws and programs that protect creation for ourselves and future generations while at the same time respecting the right of people to use nature responsibly.
Those in the business world have a responsibility to steer their companies towards uses of creation that consider the good of the entire community and not just one person or company.
Parents have a responsibility to teach their children respect for the natural world so they can enjoy it safely and responsibly.
All individuals have a responsibility to respect creation as well, even it is by simply cleaning up your camp site or not littering.
Remember, Christ taught us that power means the power to serve others, not to be served. Even in how we treat creation, we must try to be of service to others, and not expect them to serve us.
Link to Dies Domini
Fr. Bryan Recommends
The Apostolic Letter Dies Domini
In 1998 Pope St. John Paul II wrote an apostolic letterto the bishops, clergy, and faithful of the Catholic Church throughout the whole world called Dies Domini, which means The Lord’s Day, on keeping the Lord’s Day holy. Have you ever wondered why we have to go to Mass on Sundays? The Old Testament tells us to keep the Sabbath holy, but the Sabbath is on Saturday, not Sunday. Plus, we have Mass every day of the week. Even if we do have to go to Mass every week, why not Friday, the day on which Jesus was crucified, or some other day, or why not just let us pick a day ourselves? As St. Jerome said over 1,500 years ago, “Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, it is the day of Christians, it is our day.” In this letter the Pope explains why Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is the “lord of days.”
He explains that Sunday is a celebration of the work of Creation, as it’s the day God began the work of creation. The original Sabbath was a celebration of the first creation, since God rested on the seventh day, Saturday, but the new Sabbath is Sunday, the first day, because in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus God is doing something new in the world, a new creation. He explains that Sunday is not only the day of the Resurrection, not only the eight day, the day of the new creation, it is also the day of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples in tongues of fire, happened on a Sunday, exactly 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus. In the Pentecost the Church was born from the fires of the Holy Spirit, and so the Church comes together on Sundays to be renewed and re-born in the Holy Spirit.
The Pope explains what it means to keep the Lord’s Day holy. He reminds us that Sunday is a day of joy, a day of solidarity with family, friends, and community, and a day of rest from servile labor. The heart of keeping holy the Lord’s Day, however, is the Sunday Mass. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “For this presence (of the Risen Lord) to be properly proclaimed and lived, it is not enough that the disciples of Christ pray individually and commemorate the death and Resurrection of Christ inwardly, in the secrecy of their hearts. Those who have received the grace of baptism are not saved as individuals alone, but as members of the Mystical Body, having become part of the People of God. It is important therefore that they come together to express fully the very identity of the Church, the ekklesia, the assembly called together by the Risen Lord who offered his life ‘to reunite the scattered children of God’ (Jn 11:52).”
Why do we use water to bless ourselves when we enter Church and to sprinkle in our homes, cars, places of business, etc.? We know that we need to use water for baptisms, but how did the Church start using separate, blessed holy water for these other things? After all, in the earliest times of the Church baptisms took place in rivers, streams, and lakes, so they didn’t have baptismal fonts full of holy water in their churches. In fact, since Christianity was illegal, they didn’t even have churches in most places.
The Church probably used holy water from the earliest days since water was used in Jewish homes for purification, and the earliest Christians were mostly Jews. However, the earliest recorded use of holy water is from the fourth century. It’s a blessing of water to protect from disease, evil spirits, and all maladies. As soon as Christianity was legalized, churches began keeping the water from baptisms for people to use throughout the year. In the seventh century we begin to have records of churches keeping water at the entrance of the Church for people to bless themselves with or to take home with them.
Today, we use holy water for basically the same reasons. We bless ourselves, our homes, and our religious articles with holy water to ask God to purify them, to protect them from demonic influence, and to bestow His grace on them. When we bless ourselves with holy water whenever we enter Church, we’re doing at least two things. First, we’re reminding ourselves of our baptism, through which we first entered the Church and became children of God. Second, we’re asking God to purify us of sin and fill us with His grace. We recognize that we’re entering a holy place and ask God to make us worthy to enter his house.
Holy Water is a sacramental, not a sacrament. Sacraments, like baptism, work in and of themselves because of the power that God has given them. Sacramentals require the faith of the person using them to have an effect. If we just bless ourselves with holy water without really thinking about it, but just because that’s what we always do, then it’s not having much of an effect. So, every time you enter a Church and bless yourself with the holy water, ask God to stir up the graces of baptism in your soul, to forgive your sins, and to fill you with His lifegiving grace.
The burning of incense at Mass is a traditional Catholic practice that is used more or less by each priest. Here at Lourdes, we tend to use incense on Holy Days of Obligation and other important feasts, as well as at most funeral Masses, although I never us incense at the 9:00 AM Mass to leave it available for people who are allergic to incense.
Some people like the incense, and some people don’t like, but whether we like it or not is beside the point. We use incense because it is a truly ancient tradition going back even before the time of Christ into Old Testament times. We read in the book of Exodus that God told Moses to have an altar made for the burning of incense. It says, “And you shall put it before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony…and Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it every morning…and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before the Lord.” (Ex 30:6-8). The Israelite priests would burn incense before the Ark of the Covenant twice every day as an offering to the Lord.
The burning of incense, and the smoke rising up, represent our prayers rising up to God. The book of Revelation says, “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with the golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev 5:8). Psalm 141 says, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.”
The incense also represents the presence of God. In the Bible God’s presence is seen as a cloud. When the Lord descends upon Mt. Sinai to give Moses the Ten Commandments, a cloud envelopes the mountain. When Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up Mt. Tabor, God the Father speaks to them from a cloud. The First Book of Kings records what happened when King Solomon dedicated the first Temple, “And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Ki 8:10-11).
We use incense at Mass, in Eucharistic processions, and in Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament as a visible reminder that God is present among us. In the Mass we incense the altar, the Book of Gospels, the priest, the people, and the Eucharist, because God is present in His Church, in His Word and in His priest, and in His people, and God is sacramentally present in His Body and Blood. That incense represents the prayers, worship, and praise that we offer to God, that they may rise up to the Lord and be pleasing to Him.
On February 11, 1858, 13 year old Bernadette Soubirous was out collecting firewood with 2 other children. The others had run ahead and left Bernadette behind, and as she was preparing to cross the Gave River she heard a peculiar sound. Looking up, Bernadette noticed that one of the caves by the river bank was glowing with a golden light. She then saw a beautiful lady dressed in a pure white robe with a blue sash, a veil over her head, a rosary in her hands, and yellow roses at her feet. The Lady asked her to pray her rosary, and by the time she had finished praying the Lady had vanished.
She went back the next Sunday and saw the Lady again, and the next time she went back the Lady told Bernadette that she should return every day for 15 days. She asked Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners and to tell the priests to build a chapel on that site. She also told Bernadette to scrape away the soil in a particular spot, revealing the spring of water that is still there today. Bernadette was kept from going to the Grotto several times, but during the sixteenth apparition, on March 25, 1858, which is the Solemnity of the Annunciation, when the Archangel appeared to Mary to announce the conception of Jesus in her womb, the Lady finally revealed her identity to Bernadette. She told her, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” revealing herself to be the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. Bernadette didn’t understand what this meant, but others did, and people flocked to Lourdes in even greater numbers than before.
The finding of the spring of water and the miraculous healings that have resulted from it are proof that the apparition was true, and that the Lady really was the Mother of God. On one occasion in 1902 Dr. Alexis Carrell, an agnostic and a physician, accompanied the train bringing the sick to Lourdes as a favor to a friend, and out of professional curiosity about what was causing these stories of miraculous healings. On the train he met a girl, Marie Bailly, who was suffering from tuberculous peritonitis. He was standing right behind her when the Lourdes water was poured over her stomach and saw her physical symptoms, abdominal distension with large hard masses, gradually disappear. By the next day she was able to get up and dress herself, to eat without stomach pains, and to take the train ride back to Lyon. Subsequent testing showed her to be completely and inexplicably cured. It would take another 40 years for Dr. Carrell to fully accept the faith, but he would eventually return to the Catholic Church. In the meantime, he lost he job with the medical faculty of Lyons for defending the account of the event and being open to a miraculous explanation.
These miracles are an awesome proof of Our Lady of Lourdes, but we must remember that they point us back to Our Lady herself and the message that she gave to St. Bernadette. She told her to pray for the conversion of sinners and to urge people, “Penitence, penitence, penitence!” On the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the anniversary of her first appearance to St. Bernadette, let all remember to pray not only for cures of physical ailments, but also for conversion of heart for ourselves and for all sinners.
Are we willing to stand up for what is true and right and be counted, or do we go along to get along. Most of us don’t like arguing and fighting. We like to be liked, and we don’t like to be criticized. We can become very emotional about important issues. No one seriously argues about the best flavor of ice cream, but we do argue about politics and religion. Two weeks ago hundreds of thousands of people went to Washington, DC, to participate in the March for Life, and hundreds of thousands more participated in smaller marches for life in their own states, such as the Louisiana Life March in Baton Rouge. Some of those people paid a price for their willingness to stand up and be counted, such as the students from Covington Catholic High School who were targeted for who they were and what they believed in, but they kept their heads, exercised patience, and kept the situation from escalating to physical violence.
This is a good example of how to stand up for the faith. First, educate yourself. Make sure that you know why we believe what we do and are able to explain it to others. Second, live the faith. Don’t be embarrassed to visibly live the faith or be afraid of what people will think of you. Sure, some people may give you a funny look or call you a Jesus Freak, but that’s okay. That’s a small way of participating in the suffering of Christ and it brings you closer to Him. We should always care more about God’s opinion than those of other people. Third, don’t sink to the level of those who use physical or verbal violence against those who disagree with them. We don’t need to use violence if we stand in the truth.
Finally, always speak the truth with charity. In the phrasing of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, we must “Love in Truth.” Speaking the truth in an uncharitable way can be harmful, but to fail to speak the truth at all is not charitable either. It’s precisely because we love our neighbor that we stand up for the truth, so that they might see what is true and live it out in their lives. Ideas have consequences, and the things we believe affect our lives. We may suffer consequences for what we believe, but we place our trust in Jesus and remember His words, “Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12).
Catholic Community Radio
WGNO 690 AM
As you may or may not be aware, a few years ago Catholic Community Radio out of Baton Rouge expanded to New Orleans and opened a radio station here, 690 AM. They have local programming, like The Church in the Homeand Lagniappe Theology, and programming from EWTN radio, like Catholic Answers Liveand Kresta in the Afternoon. They also broadcast the Mass from St. Louis Cathedral at 11:00 AM on Sundays and noon Monday through Friday. The weekday Mass is followed by the Rosary.
I just recently learned that they also have an app for iPhone and Android. You can listen to the live radio broadcast through the app, but you can also watch videos that they’ve uploaded of their broadcasts. It also has a news section, a section for the readings for the daily Mass, the broadcasting schedule, and an alarm clock function so you can wake up to Catholic radio. It’s well designed, attractive, and easy to use.
Someone shared with me that they had recently started paying attention to the lyrics of their favorite songs and found that many of them were about terrible things or encouraging immoral behavior. I know another person who used to be a big Billy Joel fan until she realized what the lines about Catholic girls in Only the Good Die Youngis about. A least with Catholic Community Radio you can be pretty sure that what you’re listening to is helping to build you up as a person and as a follower of Christ.
You’ve all heard of the seven deadly sins, pride, sloth, lust, anger, gluttony, greed, and envy, but you may not have heard of the unofficial eighth deadly sin. In the tradition of the Benedictine monks, they add one sin to the list of seven deadly sins, the “sin of monks,” but which can afflict all of us, murmuring or complaining. If you follow social media, you may have noticed that the big thing right now is that people are resolving, in this new year, to be more positive. People noticed that last year was marked by negativity and complaining, and they’re tired of it; they want to turn over a new leaf in this new year. However, we can’t let this new resolution to stop complaining turn into complaining about other people being negative and complaining.
Murmuring, or grumbling and complaining, is so damaging to the monastic life because it’s contagious. It spreads from one person to the next sapping people’s energy and motivation. The purpose of the monastic life is to for the brothers, or sisters in a convent, to strive to help each other to grow in holiness, and it’s very hard to do that when you’re always complaining about one another. Complaining does the same thing in our lives and families and in the communities that we belong to. Instead of helping to build one another up we bring one another down.
The remedy to any sin is to find out what the opposite virtue is and to try to grow in that virtue, and the opposite of complaining is gratitude. When we grow in gratitude for the gifts in our lives, for the good in the people around us, and for the blessings that God gives us, then we naturally complain less. Let’s all challenge ourselves to be more grateful. Every time we find ourselves complaining about something, stop and think of one thing that you’re grateful for that day, and thank God for it. In that way we replace the deadly sin of murmuring with the life giving virtue of gratitude.
Since today is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I’ve been thinking a lot about baptism. John the Baptist said about Jesus, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Mt. 3:11). The only thing necessary for baptism is to use real water, to intend to do what the Church intends, and to use the formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” However, there are other rites and symbols in a Catholic baptism which the Church uses to show us what’s happening in baptism, such as the water, the white garment, and the candle.
Water is necessary for the baptism to be valid, but it isn’t used on accident. We use water because water does physically for the body what baptism does spiritually for the soul. Water is used to clean things because almost everything dissolves in water, and baptism “cleans,” or purifies, the soul since it removes all traces of sin, both personal sin and original sin. Water is also necessary for life. We need to drink water to live, our bodies are filled with water, and we are born from water. In baptism, we’re reborn through water into the family of God and given the new life of the Holy Spirit.
After the person is baptized they are clothed in a white garment. As this is done the celebrant prays, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity…bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” This visibly shows the cleansing of the soul that happens in baptism and reminds us not to stain ourselves by falling back into sin.
Then someone, usually one of the godparents, lights the baptismal candle from the Paschal Candle, which is lit for every baptism. The Paschal Candle, or Easter Candle, represents the resurrected Christ. At the Easter Vigil Mass the Paschal Candle is lit outside and then brought into the Church in procession, representing Jesus Christ returning to the Church after His death on the Cross on Good Friday. As St. Paul tells us, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rm. 6:3-4). The baptism candle therefore represents the Resurrection of Jesus Christ giving new life to the soul of the baptized and the hope for our own resurrection to eternal life in heaven.
There are other rites in the Rite of Baptism, like the two anointings and the ephphatha (and yes, that’s spelled correctly), but I chose to reflect on these three to show us that baptism is supposed to be about being cleansed of our sins and anything that is not of God and receiving the new life of the Holy Spirit. May we all live out the grace of baptism in our lives.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.