What Strange Gods Do We Honor?


A Look at the First Commandment

The call and command to place God above all else in our lives could not be much clearer.

It is first of the Ten Commandments and Jesus reinforces it throughout the gospels, for example, in the Gospel of Matthew.

“He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”. MT 22:37-39

It is inevitable that something rises to the top of how we spend our time and our resources. Said another way, human beings are made to worship something.

“When the Catechism of the Catholic Church was first published I attended a workshop on it. I remember reading the paragraph CCC 27 under the title of ‘The Desire for God’, said Sally Engler, the director of religious education at St. James Parish, Chamberlain.

“(It) states the following: ‘The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; And God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for…’ This has always been one of my favorite statements,” Engler said.

Aberdeen Roncalli High school religion teacher Cherie Shishnia puts it this way.

“We are religious beings with a need to express ourselves…in appreciation for the transcendent…Goodness, Truth, Beauty (which is God). We are created this way and our fulfilment is found in knowing the One who created us. We often turn our eyes to the created things and forget who has created it all in love for us,” she said.

For life-long teacher Shelly Wiemann from St. Thomas More Parish, Brookings, it is about love.

“I believe that not only are we made to worship, but to love because we were made by Love itself for the purpose of loving Him who made us – God. This then is our nature – to love. If to love is our nature than we will love something because it is who we are as humans,” she said.

Fr. Scott Traynor, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Yankton, said worship is part of God’s plan of love and joy for each of us.

“My love of God grows as I come to know Him more (growing in faith) and say yes to living his plan of love (following the commandments) and enter more deeply into relationship with Him (prayer). As my love of God grows and is nourished by regular worship of Him above all at Mass, my worship will become more meaningful, and less routine or just ‘going thru the motions’ which the Catechism reminds us is not really worship but superstition (CCC 2111)”, he said.

“God has ‘hardwired’ us to worship,” said Jeff Heron, who leads the RCIA program at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, Sioux Falls.

“Anthropologists tell us that every culture has three things in common: A game that involves some kind of a ball, a traditional dance (of some sort), and worship of a supreme being,” he said.

But what do we worship?

If the question isn’t whether human beings worship, it probably is what do we worship? What rises to the top of our own daily living? If you take just a few minutes to reflect, do you come up with a substantial list of things that occasionally, maybe regularly, maybe all the time, come before God?

“We begin to worship the created rather than the Creator,” Wiemann said.

“Over the last 30 years of working in education, various parish ministries, and my own family experiences, it seems that as a culture, we have an unquenchable thirst for more- more pleasure, comfort, success and more stuff. We are so often looking for the next greatest vacation, the perfect career, the house with everything, or the latest technology and hoping this will make us happy.

“It’s a heartbreaking struggle for more. Our wants become the focus of our daily life and the center of our worship. In some ways, our worship is of self – me and my wants,” she said.

Curt Clemen, a member of Holy Spirit Parish, Sioux Falls and an active member of the men’s group there, offers a list of what gets to the top of the list for many of us.(see list below)

Patricia Irvine, who leads the theology department at O’Gorman High School in Sioux Falls, encourages a look at some more subtle examples.

“Apart from the typical worship of money, fame, education, and pleasure, a more subtle example of worship is found in the family,” she said.

“I’ve started to notice that many people are replacing God with their families in terms of what they worship. The question seems to be less about what God would want for them and more, ‘What would Grandma want?’

“Certainly, family is a great good, but it is easy to make the family the absolute good, a role that will crush instead of bolster family life. Parents, grandparents, and siblings can be beautiful revelations of God’s love for us, but they will always fall short of God Himself. I have seen this worship of family played out in real life and in popular TV shows alike, yet both reveal the finite reach of the family to save us,” Irvine said.

Engler said, “My very first thought was electronic devices – cell phones, tablets, iPad, etc. – and the social media they offer you. As a DRE, I have watched almost all junior high and high school students walk into the Religious Ed building looking at their phones.

“They go to their classrooms and use their phones until the bell rings for the start of class. It’s good that they know to turn the phones off. It’s sad that they don’t communicate with one another which was common up until about five years ago,” she said.

American or other idol?

While the word idolatry is not often heard anymore, making idols of things other than God is common. We even hold it up as a good as we follow religiously the selection of the latest celebrity singer or actor. While most of us know there is a balance in all this, how do we know if we have gone too far?

“Here is a simple test,” said Fr. Traynor.

“What in my life does not move or give place to anything else? If that unmovable thing is something other than God and his commandments, then the unmovable thing is my idol.

“People who excuse themselves from Mass on Sundays or Holy Days for soccer practice or because they are on vacation, or because it is inconvenient or because they would rather sleep in are surely making an idol of soccer, leisure, convenience or sleep. The Catechism reminds us that power, pleasure, politics, money and other created realities can (and do!) become idols in our lives (CCC 2113),” he said.

Fr. Traynor said there is a reason why this first commandment is first.

“We can easily perceive the real chaos and hellishness that would (and does) come into a person’s life, family, community and the world when the commandments to not kill, to not commit adultery, to not lie, to not steal were routinely ignored,” he said.

“When routinely ignored on a large scale- by many people, you have a true hell on earth. Why would that be any different with the first of the 10 Commandments? It is not. The first commandment is intimately connected to the Great Commandment given by Jesus- Love God with everything, love your neighbor as yourself. When our hearts turn to strange gods, the very foundation of living a life ordered by God’s plan of love and joy for us is undermined,” said Fr. Traynor.

Irvine said God’s nature as an Infinite Being is key to helping understand our own desires.

“Our hearts were crafted with an infinite desire that can be filled only by an Infinite Being. When we try to fill it with finite things, such as family, education, or comfort, we will necessarily fall short of being fulfilled,” she said.

“A spouse, as great as the marriage may be, cannot fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts. If I pursue the good of education as the greatest good, I will never be satisfied. Yes, there will always be more to learn, but we weren’t created to simply know things–we were created to be in relationship with the One who made us. Once you recognize the human longing for God, you will see how the entire world is aching for something or someone to fill their deep desires. All of the strange gods we worship will only enslave us while worshiping God will set us free,” said Irvine.

How do we put God first?

Like so many other goods in our life, even though we know the benefit of worshipping God above all else, we might still struggle to actually make the right choices to help us live that way. But that is where Christians can help each other.

“I think we need to lead by example, to be people of prayer who strive to follow the Lord’s bidding,” said Shishnia.

“We can then share the peace in the midst of chaos or joy in the midst of strife. I remember, years ago when I had interviewed to travel with the National Evangelization Teams. I would give up my job, if they deemed me someone they needed. I put it in God’s hands.

“A friend of mine was confused by my willingness to do so. He asked me if I was going to throw my life up into the air like pieces of paper to the wind and see where it lands and I said ‘yes’. He saw me as a little crazy – but I do believe he was also inspired by this action. I trusted the Lord would lead and that year on NET was one of the most beneficial years of my life and led me back to Roncalli to minister and teach in the high school,” she said.

Clemen said modeling behavior can be a help to others.

“Do they see us putting God first? Do they see us forgiving others? I think we live in a world that is way short on forgiveness,” he said.

“Do they see us serving others – serving without expectation of being repaid? Do they see in us strong relationships, peace, joy? Enough to cause them to desire to change themselves?” he asked.

Heron said making choices to be Catholic Christians is a place to start.

“We must be content with and be in harmony with Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and Sacred Authority. This may sound too simplistic. However, these sacred pillars have helped followers of Jesus and members of His Church for millennia! This is who we must be,” he said.

“Second, we must do. Do practice the teachings of scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church; observe the sacraments; read your Bible; go to confession; go to Mass; follow Jesus; love your wife and your family; love your enemies and pray for those who minimize/belittle/persecute you,” he said

Engler cites a simple saying that can help keep things in the right order

“Years ago, I went to a meeting at another parish and I noticed a poster that they had on their bulletin board. It looked like this:
J ~ Jesus O ~ Others Y ~ You

“I have used this many times over the years in explaining the way to find joy in your life is living it this way, by loving this way: Jesus first; others second; you third. Jesus needs to be first. If you get them out of order, it won’t make sense,” she said.

Wiemann encourages a good examination of conscience as a place to get things sorted out.

“The solution begins with daily self-awareness and prayer. How did I spend my time and energy today? When did I turn toward God? When did I turn away from Him? Give God thanks and praise for the times you turned to Him and ask for forgiveness for the times you turned away from Him,” she said.

“Daily Mass with the Eucharist and regular participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation provides transformational grace to strengthen and order our lives to God. Daily prayer and reading of Scripture opens our hearts and minds to know God through Jesus. Simplify your life – less stuff, less distraction. Serve others. Look up and around you. You will begin to see the needs of others and the face of Jesus in those you serve,” she said.

St. Augustine noted that our hearts are restless until they rest in God, his way of saying that our need to worship and honor God is already built into us.

“Putting God at the top is something our heart longs to do. He created us and we belong to Him,” Irvine said.

“It is natural that we should want to know our Creator. So putting God first isn’t about working against our natural desires, but instead involves working with them. Every day we are called to make decisions that range from the most important to the least.

“Many of these are natural-parents will stop preparing supper when they hear their child screaming in pain. Of course, the child’s suffering outranks the need to have supper immediately. When it comes to putting God first, too often we don’t get our priorities in the right order.

“Scripture describes relationship with God as being food and water, things we cannot go without for very long. So many of us are starving and we have come to accept that as commonplace. If my soul needs God in order to be alive, I must prioritize the very things that give my soul life. A relationship with God is not optional or “if I have time” it would be a nice thing to do. Rather, it is vital. What keeps my soul alive? Daily prayer, the Sacraments, Scripture, adoration, and the list goes on and on,” she said.

And where does Irvine think that may lead us?

“Are you free to sit in silence with the God of the Universe? If silence makes you uncomfortable, consider why,” she said.

“If God only knew what you told Him in prayer, would He know much about your life? We schedule things that are important to us. Is time with God included in your schedule or do you fit Him in when it works? G.K. Chesterton said, ‘Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.’ Which one does your relationship with God seem to be more like: a theory or a love affair?” Irvine asked.

Easter season: the feast of feasts

We are living in the Easter season; the 50 days the Church asks us to celebrate the “mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death…” (CCC 1169) If there was ever a time to get what we worship in the right order, now is the time.

Fr. Traynor suggests some rather basic ways to help us get there.

“Making an unmovable commitment to attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, to frequent confession, to daily prayer and a daily diet of the Word of God in Scripture is a good start,” he said.

“Seek out opportunities for service of others, and cultivate friendships that help reinforce my daily choice to love God with everything that I am are concrete ways to say a greater ‘yes’ to God’s plan of love and joy for me in the first commandment,” Fr. Traynor said.

Irvine said putting God first means saying no to lesser things, not unlike many other choices we regularly make in life.

“St. Teresa of Calcutta lived a life of poverty so as to closely align herself with the poor, but also so that nothing would distract her from service to the poor. Knowing her own humanity, she eliminated the excess which thereby allowed her to be attentive to God and His will for her,” she said.

“Our lives don’t need to mirror St. Teresa of Calcutta’s, but we should be honest with ourselves about what distracts us from placing God as first in our lives. Are we willing to get rid of it for the sake of a relationship with God? Would we be willing to sacrifice our phone, Netflix subscription, weekend plans, or anything else if we knew it would keep us eternally from God?” Irvine asked.