I vaguely recall a time in my early Catholic years when I was really, really relieved by what I learned in a religion class.
That was the day I realized that while I would have to memorize all 10 commandments, I had to worry only about keeping nine of them.
That first one – “I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange gods before me” – was just no sweat.
The Hebrews may have been eager to worship a golden calf, but that was something that had no power to tempt me. Whew!
Over the years, of course, I’ve come to understand much better the broad human temptation to push God to the periphery while giving primacy to ourselves, other people and things.
Even so, I was struck by the clarity with which Pope Francis addressed the issue of idolatry back in 2013. His remarks came in a homily right after Easter, but they’re especially appropriate now in Advent, as we prepare to open our hearts and welcome our Savior.
“We have to empty ourselves of the many small or great idols that we have and in which we take refuge, on which we often seek to base our security, he said.
“They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, careerism, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the center, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others,” he added.
“I would like a question to resound in the heart of each one of you, and I would like you to answer it honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that prevents me from worshipping the Lord?”
Pope Francis asks us to consider if there something in each of our lives that stands in the way of our fidelity to the First Commandment. Is there something that might tempt the Lord to say of any of us, “this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me”? (Isaiah 29:13)
Where are our hearts? What keeps them from being closer to our Lord and Savior?