One of the various accusations that the hard-line Protestants often make against Catholics regards our practice of hanging crucifixes in our homes and places of worship. The accusation is that this is idolatry. However, this is really a misunderstanding of what is going on. Catholics do not worship the crucifix itself, the physical thing that is hanging on the wall, but the crucifix reminds them of the one whom they do worship, namely Jesus Christ, who was slain upon a cross for our sins.

Perhaps one way of trying to understand this is to consider someone longingly looking at a photograph of a deceased or distant loved one. No one would seriously accuse that person of idolatry should they carry a picture of that person in their wallet or a locket around their neck. The photograph is merely an aid in our efforts to remember what that person means to us whether they are present with us or far away.

When Moses fashions a fiery serpent and places it on a rod and holds it up before the people of Israel and all who look upon it are healed, this does not mean that they have fallen into idolatry. This is not the golden calf episode revisited. The fiery serpent serves as a symbol to which the people look for healing. Christ on the cross is so much more than a mere symbol! The crucifix is a sacramental reminder of the passion of Christ. It calls that event to mind and asks us to respond to this offer of Jesus’ love. The image of the crucified Christ reveals God’s love to us in a clear and concrete manner. No it is not an absolutely essential aspect of the Church’s sacramental life as the seven Sacraments are. However, like many of the devotions of the Church, if they are used well, they aid us on our pilgrim journey to eternal life.

Let us remember the place of these so-called small ‘s’ sacramentals. They are aids – they can help us to remember – who it is that we truly worship and adore, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Do I ever get worried about the accusations of idolatry etc that can be made regarding many of the practices of the devotional Catholic?

Lord Jesus, help me to understand my faith better in order to be amore able to defend it when it comes under attack. Help me to keep the right perspective on the things that are essential and non-essential for my faith.