Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Idolatry: does this still happen?

I can't imagine bowing down to worship a little wooden statue, or a big golden calf, or any sort of idol.  People used to do it, but it's really just not done anymore, except maybe by a small percentage out on the fringe.

But most of us see the stupidity of it.  We can foresee just how awkward and bizarre an experience it would be to actually give homage to something that is obviously just a man-made object.  We have all listened well to the words of St. Gregory Nazianzen (even if maybe we haven't actually heard them before):

How can that which is seen be higher and more godlike than that which sees?

Gregory lived in the 4th century, when a very large portion of the world still worshipped idols, and so he loves to point out how backwards it is.  We are human beings, far more godlike than idols, because we're made in the image of God.  Idols are mere images of us, or of animals, or of some other created thing.

So it's settled - idol worship is just some silly ancient idea that's as stupid as it is irrelevant to modern man.  The First Commandment is therefore the easiest commandment to follow because it's so obvious, at least in our enlightened world, wherein no one would ever be so dumb as to worship a piece of silver or stone.  It's a no-brainer.


...well, no.  Leaving aside questions of atheism (perhaps for a later day?), there is a very real danger to which we all fall prey: that of putting other things ahead of God.  Sure, no one is so strange as to bow down and pay homage to a cat sculpture, but

I think it's really a question of priorities.  Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.  None of us sacrifices animals to false gods (at least, I hope not), but how many of us sacrifice our time or talent or treasure to worthless or even sinful things?  What's our real goal in life, and how does that manifest itself in the small things?  It's very easy to say that God and family are the most important things, but when it comes down to it, there's a strong tendency to not actually live that out.

And as far as I see it, time is probably the biggest thing.  It's the one that we're most possessive of - just think about the phrase "me-time."  Sacrificing our time to the false god of our egos is a pretty common and very self-centered sin.  Clearly everyone needs recreation time - that's part of being human.  But if we have enough time to watch 2 hours of TV, but at the same time don't have enough time for 15 minutes of prayer everyday, there's an imbalance.  If we spend hours of time on the internet, while neglecting relationships with those closest to us, there's also an imbalance.

Don't keep your time to yourself - give it instead to those who deserve it.

Just something to think about...


Better a little with fear of the Lord
than a great fortune with anxiety.
Better a dish of herbs where love is
than a fatted ox and hatred with it.
Proverbs 15:16,17

I love this scripture passage! There is so much to be learned from it. It's yet a another great way of saying what God has said to us so many times: "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world but lose his soul?" (Mk 8:36) We've all heard it, but we also conveniently forget it when it suits us. It's amazing how many things can suddenly become more important in practice than the faith that we believe in theory. How quickly do we switch from professing love for God and for our neighbor to needing to fulfill this or that selfish need.

We all want that fatted ox, when all we need is the dish of herbs, that is, if we let love in.

If the only thing that I have is the love of God, then I have enough... which means, we all have enough already! God loves us already. And yet we feel the need to fill ourselves with so many things that cannot satisfy. That's the heart of St. Ignatius' Suscipiat:

Take, O Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will. You have given me all that I am and all that I possess. Now I return it. I surrender it all to be disposed of wholly according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace. That's enough for me.

Moving on...

The passage from Proverbs also makes a great point about fear. People have asked me in the past about fear of the Lord - how is it that a God who loves us and wants us to love Him in return also wants us to fear him? Well, Proverbs shows us that there's a big difference between fear of the Lord and anxious fear. When one has a lot, one fears losing it, but when one has very little, there's nothing to lose.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It's a holy fear that comes from the realization that God is God, and I am not. It's not an abject trembling before an overlord type god who can and will crush us at the first provocation. It is rather very much connected to humility. Even Mary, she who is without sin, has fear of the Lord. Even Adam and Eve before sinning had this holy fear. It is the kind of fear that does not preclude us from approaching Him, but rather encourages us to approach Him.

It is not the loss of our salvation that we should fear, but the intensity of God's love - a fearful and wonderful thing. It is knowing that God loves us even though we have done nothing to earn it. For such as us, who generally feel guilty when we have something we don't deserve, it is very disconcerting to be loved by God having done nothing to deserve it and everything to reject it. He sees our imperfections, yet looks past them and sees in us the Image of Himself. And so, we are rightfully fearful, not that he will change his mind, but perhaps that we will not change ours.

Cardinal Hume explained this humble fear very well:
How much better if I come before God when I die, not to say thank you that I was such a good monk, abbot, bishop, but rather God be merciful to me a sinner. For if I come empty handed, then I will be ready to receive God's gift.

And one more excellent quote for good measure:
The sign that a creature hopes in Me and not in himself, is that he does not fear with a servile fear. They who hope in themselves are the ones who fear... they spend so much... in acquiring and preserving temporal things, that they turn their back on the spiritual... I alone am He who provides all things... with the same measure that My creatures hope in Me, will My providence be measured to them. (God to St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue)