I must've had extra ammo from the last round of sporting clays, as the gun's still loaded. My next article ran in this week's Telegraph:
“I am the LORD your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” When this first commandment was given to Moses, the Israelites clearly understood whom God meant by ‘other gods.’ They had just left the clutches of Egypt, with their pantheon of gods, including Pharaoh. They were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, who were also pantheists, primarily worshiping Ba’al, a fertility goddess. There were temples and shrines to these false gods surrounding God’s Chosen People as they journeyed through the wilderness.
That is not so today. Even though there is a rise in religious pluralism in this country, most Catholics are not tempted to offer worship as our ancestors did. However, there is a subversive form of ‘false gods’ that have crept into our daily lives; gods whose existence we may not even be aware but whose presence in our lives comes before our worship of the LORD God.
Take, for example, this family: a single mom is raising two children moving into their teen years. She desires for them to be the best they can be, which is certainly noble, but it is focused entirely in one sport, a sport which does not get huge national prominence at that. (There is little hope for a multi-million dollar, multi-year career.) When asked how much she spends on this sport annually for her two children, I thought five thousand dollars was a high estimate. Turns out, it is closer to thirty thousand dollars a year, nearly double what I paid for my car! As great as this sport is in teaching children cooperation and fair play, I do not think that it will help these two children in their pathway to heaven. In fact, I would argue she is hurting their pursuit of eternal life, which is the primary thing parents should be encouraging in their children.
How easy it is to fall into these traps! We stay at the superficial level of content: discussing the Olympics, cars or the minutia of the rule book; yet we never bring up the core matters of the faith. For example, can you explain the off sides rule in soccer better than the five precepts of the Church? (It took me until my seminary years before I could!)
Jesus reminds us that ‘where our treasure is, there also is our heart.’ So often in our modern world, we see treasure solely as our financial assets and our charitable giving. Yet, in our world today, we can easily break down ‘treasure’ into three general criteria: money, time and knowledge, and each of these could be pathways into the worship of false gods.
Money is an easy call, as ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ seems to be the American pastime. We run our children from this practice to that event. The family gets pulled in so many different directions, that we never stop to eat a meal together. The back of the van is filled with little stickers that tell the world what we are into, with the result that we are too tired to go to Mass on Sundays.
Today, more than ever, time is money. There is only so much that can be committed to, while other enjoyable pursuits are left behind. Still, we waste away three hours on a Sunday afternoon to watch the Bengals flounder through another season, and complain when Mass takes more than an hour. Which of these two helps us grow closer to the Kingdom of Heaven?
Finally, knowledge is perhaps the hardest to pin down, yet offers the most pitfalls. Polite society says that we are not to talk religion or politics in public, for fear of offending. I argue, what could be more important! This past week, three days were spent debating the merits of Chris Henry re-signing with the Bengals, yet the Holy Day of Obligation passed by unnoticed. We can dissect the merits of the ‘spread offense’ versus ‘the power I,’ yet cannot name three patron saints.
As we begin another school year, perhaps it is time to consider: “What gods do I worship in life, and how do they interfere with my worship of the One True God in Heaven?”