Friday, June 11, 2010

Meeting the Mother of God, Part II: Mary and Worship

The summer after my sophomore year, before I left for Scotland, my sister Tammy and Dad and I were eating Dim-Sum. I quietly said, “I’ve been thinking about Catholicism.”

Dad said, “Một điều về người Công giáo là họ thờ thần tượng.”

“No they don’t,” I objected right away. “They don’t worship idols.”

I supposed my Dad was keen on not getting into a debate or argument with me, so he brushed off my interest by saying I’m probably interested in Catholicism because of some girl.

Now that ticked me off a bit more, to say that my spiritual and intellectual pursuits were motivated by base passions. I didn’t reply to what he said.

But statues and idols. Dad did have a good point. If you ask me, I never thought Catholics worship idols. Never. Maybe because I never saw Catholics parading around with statues of Mary and throwing garlands around her, or that I never saw them bowing down and kissing the statues that I never thought them worshiping the statues.

When I was in Sunday School, somewhere in elementary school, the teacher explained that Catholics pray to Mary and she prays to Jesus. In the evangelical mind, prayer and daily devotions is probably the most spiritual thing you can do. Coming to know Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Saviour effects one’s salvation. So we thought, “If we can pray to Jesus, why do we need to go to Mary in the first place?” I guessed the matter was framed as a salvation question. Catholics pray to Mary so they could get saved. We pray to Jesus so that we could saved. We just streamlined the process.

That lesson in Sunday school is probably the few times in my childhood I learned about Catholicism. Notice there was something I didn’t learn. I didn’t learn that Catholics worship Mary. So when I came to mature later in my walk with God, I did not see Catholics as Mary-worshippers.

So when I was in Dr. Budziszewski’s office in my sophomore year, his explanation of the different attitudes of reverence and worship made sense to me. Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory. Only God is given worship. All others, saints, etc. are only given reverence and veneration. That was a very Oriental outlook to me. Filial piety. Respect for one’s own parents and ancestors. Very American too. We honor the fallen soldiers, the national leaders in great times of crisis. No one would claim we worship Lincoln or Washington because we built monuments and memorials for them.

Back to Dad. The Ten Commandments puts an injunction for the Israelites: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” Quite clear to me. And yet, what is an idol? Are photographs included? How bout videos? They’re images too. Not a couple chapters later do we see God commanding the Israelites to make an statues of Cherubim for the Ark of the Covenant. In my mind, I thought, if Catholics don’t think they are worshiping idols, then they probably aren’t. If one subjectively think he’s withholding the total devotion of his self, then there must be something else going on here. Maybe a cultural difference of honor and veneration.

Although, there is room for error. One could think he doesn’t worship Money, but in fact slaves away his life to the devotion of Money. Do Catholics do that? Do they put all their hope, all their trust, their life in the hands of Mary? Well, in the sense I used the first example of money, no. But for now on, as I explored Catholicism further on, I worked from the assumption of charity: give the Catholic the benefit of the doubt, maybe he doesn’t worship Mary. But let’s see how these strange forms of devotion make sense with this.

A couple years later, I was in RCIA. I had a chat with my Deacon and his wife about Mary and worship. The Deacon’s wife was a bit steamed about accusations of Catholics worshiping Mary, so she said, “There is a very well known Protestant who loved Mary very much. He prayed to her daily. His name is Martin Luther.” Well. That put a stopper to my thoughts. The Deacon was gentler, “No, we don’t worship Mary. In fact, we kick people out of the Church for doing that. They’re called pagans.”

I came to know the Deacon and his wife on a personal level by then. The kindness they showed me secured my trust and respect in what they had to say. It kept me to graciously accept their arguments, critically examine them, yet still in charity. That Catholics don’t worship Mary I began to assent to. I’ll tell you more next time about what sped the process up.

1 comment:

  1. honestly when I first read the beginning about your dad, although I didn't understand what he said, I was kind of thinking something like : you don't trust your own brothers and sisters and ancestors (talking about Vietnamese) which I thought was kind of wierd, as I see many people don't look to the church, even if its been here for like.. what.. only 2000 years haha.