Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Keep in Touch with Your Faith

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Keep in Touch with Your Faith

Article excerpt

Every Sunday after mass, I pat Jesus' big toe. Let me hasten to explain that Jesus is made of wood. Like the little boy who preferred his mother over prayer to shield him against things that go bump in the night, I too, prefer "God with the skin on."

Incarnation is all-important to Catholics. We, like the apostle Thomas, long to put our fingers in Christ's side; we want to feel the nail holes in his hands and feet.

Focusing attention on an object as a symbol for the real thing is instinctive. Witness the throngs of British mourners who propped flowers and mementos against the railings of a London palace at the death of Princess Diana. Consider the Vietnam veterans who can finally grieve by touching a name chiseled in the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington. Driving the highways, I see flower wreaths and crosses marking the site of fatal car crashes. At one marker, the silk flowers are carefully changed to reflect the seasons, year in and year out.

Though long reviled as idolatry by non-Catholics, the practice of praying to God, Mary, and the angels and saints in the presence of their images fulfills a fundamental human need to communicate with the incorporeal divine.

Devotional images go back to the earliest church. Pragmatic stonemasons carved sarcophagi with both pagan and Christian motifs for their customers. And the Vatican has a third-century statue of the Good Shepherd in the guise of a beardless youth.

Significant images also abounded in the lives of the saints. Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, attributed miraculous healing from a childhood illness to a statue of Mary. Finding no help on earth, poor little Therese turned toward the Mother of Heaven and prayed with all her heart that "she take pity on me. All of a sudden the Blessed Virgin appeared beautiful to me, so beautiful that never had I seen anything so attractive; her face was suffused with an ineffable benevolence and tenderness, but what penetrated to the very depths of my soul was the ravishing smile of the Blessed Virgin. At that instant, all my pain disappeared."

Living in Texas with its large Hispanic population, I see the faithful relate to devotional images in the most personal fashion. …

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