Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Communion of the Saints (or, Those Catholic Idol Worshippers!?)

Today is Thursday, December 6th.  Throughout the world, millions of people are celebrating this day as the Feast of St. Nicholas.  Not to be confused with the jolly ol' St. Nick of modern days, he was a real person. 

Bishop of Myra (modern-day Turkey), he stood strong for the faith in the midst of strong heresies.  He also stood for truth, justice, and caring for the poor.  Born into a wealthy family, he lost his parents when he was quite young.  He chose to use the inheritance he received to help the less fortunate.  When the Council of Nicaea was held,  he took a solid stand against the heresy of Arius.  (Some say he was so angry with the audacity of Arius, he slapped him.  That's a legend.  But it does show that even saints weren't perfect!) 

There was a time of great persecution occurring during his life as well.  The ruler Diocletian was a wicked man!  He had many Christians imprisoned, tortured, and killed during his rule. The end to the persecution came about when Constantine became the emperor.

There are many legends about his life.  What we do know for sure is that he was a good bishop, and served the Church and God with all his heart.  In my opinion, anyone who strives to live like that is a saint...and he is!

So you may be asking yourself this question:  What is the deal with Catholics and the saints?  Why all the statues?  Why the icons (paintings of saints)?  The Bible tells us not to worship idols!  They are clearly violating that commandment.

I used to think the same thing.  This is one of the first teachings I had to deal with as we made our journey into the Catholic faith.  If Scripture is so clear on this matter, how is it that there are statues and icons from hundreds of years ago?  And what about that whole Sistine Chapel stuff?

The truth is, we do NOT worship idols.  We believe in a doctrine called the communion of the saints.  Simply put, it means we believe that, after death, the soul lives on.  The saints (whether given that title officially by the Roman Catholic Church or having lived as a true child of God) are in the presence of God.  This "great cloud of witnesses" (see Hebrews 11 and 12:1-3) is cheering us on and praying for us to finish the race by God's grace!  What a great band of spiritual warriors we have! 

And what about those statues and paintings?  When we see those, we honor the memory and lives of those they represent.  Do we worship them?  Absolutely not!  But we do worship the God they served, and thank Him for giving them the grace to live the lives of faithful witnesses.  We do pray for the grace to live our lives faithfully as they did.  As we view their statues or icons, we are challenged to stay true to our faith.

Do we think they were perfect?  Absolutely not!  We know they were human and had struggles.  We know they didn't always respond in saintly ways.  But the fact remains:  they struggled and made it through victorious.

I am so thankful for the saints and the great treasure they are to all of us.  May the legacy they left behind not be in vain.  Our society is becoming more and more hostile to Christians.  It is our turn to take up the battle cry and remain firm to the end!

"May all who come behind us find us faithful."
 ~from "Find Us Faithful".  Composed by Jon Mohr and performed by Steve Green
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