Monday, August 28, 2017

Turning from Our Idols

In today's first reading, Paul congratulates the Thessalonians on their profound conversion from the worship of idols to the "living and true God." In the Gospel we find somewhat the reverse: Jesus castigates the religious experts and complains that when they do win a convert over, it is to the detriment of the community. In part, Jesus hints that this is because the scribes and Pharisees themselves are given over to idols. We get a glimpse of that in the examples Jesus cites: "If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated." The gold of the temple and the gift on the altar become the core value at stake, rather than "the living and true God" of the temple.

Unfortunately for us, the tendency to substitute idols for God did not end with the destruction of the temple.

A sad example of this was in last week's news. In fact, I can't quite get it out of my mind (or my prayers), it is so illustrative of the hold that our idols, any idol, can take on us. I'm referring to last week's news story about the New Jersey priest who got so involved in poker games and tournaments that his life began to revolve around them. Lost games began to seem like a nasty joke on God's part. (Shouldn't God have been helping a priest win--and win big?) Finally, the priest got fed up with all those losses. To get back at God, he came up with the foulest offense he could think of. He started a child porn collection on his computer. He wasn't even into porn--his idol was poker, and it became the center of his life, the value by which he measured every other good, even God. Now he's in jail, stripped of his ministry, and poker can do nothing to help him.

It can happen to anyone.

One of the benefits of a retreat is to distance us from our everyday idols so that with the light of the Holy Spirit we can begin to recognize the hold they have on us and cooperate with the liberating grace of God. The Lord helped me on my recent annual retreat to identify one of those miserable idols of mine; in these weeks since then I have been surprised at how many times (and in how many ways!) that idol has woven itself into my day.

Paul tells us, "You are the slaves of the one whom you obey" (Rom 6:16). We do not merely "worship" our idols, we serve them; we obey them. Little by little, our idols reset our center of gravity to the point that we enter into a worldview that, for all practical purposes, has been established by our idols.

Each time I become aware of my idol, I'm resolved to hand it over to Our Lady so that in this centennial year of her appearances at Fatima, I can begin to really "be transformed by the renewal of my mind" (Rom 12:2) and become more and more interiorly free.  "For freedom Christ has set us free!" (Gal 5:1).

Our idols can be material (like money, pleasure, or poker) or more subtle in nature (security, power, status--even spiritual status!). Has God freed you from an enslaving idol in your life? How has this changed the way you live?

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