There are many who accuse Catholics of idolatry. They look at our churches and statues and call them props that we not only don’t need but can’t need. One critic I read recently stated “If you love your wife, you won’t need her to be healthy and beautiful to help you love her.  Thus image worship is always idolatry.”

I beg to differ. And I’ll do so using the words of St. Francis:

“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”

The Sistine Chapel isn’t idolatry, it’s a prayer. The Pieta statue showing Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus is a prayer. The church we attend every Sunday is a prayer. They express our passion for the divine. And the critic who said men don’t need our wives to look beautiful to help us love them was looking at the wrong side of this relationship coin. The point is that husbands and wives do all they can with what they have to please their loved one because they’re expressing THEIR love. That, too, is a prayer.

Some people say that pop culture is idolatry. But I would argue that you can find prayer in even the shiniest Hollywood baubles. Take “Singing in the Rain,” for example. That scene where Gene Kelley is walking down the street feeling love for someone he met. He can’t hide his feelings so he breaks out in the song and dance expressed in the movie’s title. His character wasn’t doing this for anyone on the street. He wasn’t doing it for himself–unless he was crazy, and I don’t think he was written that way. So he was giving thanks in some spiritual way with all his passion.

Now who in real life breaks out in song out of passion for someone we love? Churchgoers—and not just Catholic churchgoers, either. Even those who accuse Catholics of idolatry express their joy in music during worship. Is that idolatry?

This Sunday’s readings put me on this little excursion into the art of prayer in its many forms. Some of the most beautiful prayers are non-verbal. Your life can be a prayer, as Isaiah implies in our first reading:

“Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”

St. Paul makes the point even clearer in this Sunday’s letter to the Corinthians:

“My message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,
but with a demonstration of Spirit and power,
so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.”

And then in the Gospel reading from Matthew, our King of Kings, Master of the most gorgeous verbal images as sculpted via parables, told his disciples to do the same by stimulating the senses so anyone who heard the word of God could taste and see it as well as hear it.

“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. Your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

We are all born as God’s children, and our strongest memories from childhood are from our senses, not words.  And as his children He has lavished many gifts upon us—sight, sound, smell, touch, etc. He wants us to pray with the gifts he gave us.