Sunday, August 4, 2013

Heart Trouble

Before Mass this morning the reader came up asking about the correct pronunciation of Qoheleth.  She then continued, "And it's 'idolatry' in the second reading, right?  Not 'adultery'?"  To which I could only respond, "The Church doesn't approve of either one, but--yes--today we're going with 'idolatry'..."

   Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time    

A very elderly man went in for a physical.
A few days later, his doctor saw him out walking—all smiles—
with a very beautiful young woman on his arm.
At his follow up visit, the doctor said,
“You’re really feeling great, aren’t you?”
“Just doing what you said, Doc,” the man replied.
“‘Get a hot mamma and be cheerful.’”
“Maybe I should have 
checked your ears better,” the doctor responded.
“What I said was, 
‘You’ve got a heart murmur.  Be careful!’”

Some of you know that my Dad
has had some heart trouble of late.
And although he’s feeling much, much better,
it does still cause me concern—
for his future, and for my own.
Heart problems run in the family.

Heart disease.
That seems to be the diagnosis made for all us
in the Scriptures put before us by the Church this Sunday.
And this disease is about getting our hearts set
on all the wrong things.

One is worldly possessions.
Take care, Jesus warns, to guard against all greed
for one’s life does not consist of possessions.
The other is worldly pleasures.
Put to death, St. Paul writes, the parts of you that are earthly:
sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil lust.

Notice that we’re not told that money and sex are bad.
Possessions and pleasure both have a legitimate place in life.
The trouble is when either one—or anything else—
is given the place that belongs uniquely to God.
It’s then that they threaten our spiritual health:
blocking, hardening, and weakening our hearts.

When St. Paul lists vices which we must leave aside,
he concludes with the granddaddy of them all: idolatry.
We can think its inclusion here
as a quaint relic from another time.
When—after all—was the last time
you saw somebody actually worshiping a statue carved from stone?
Now, such a charge 
has frequently been lodged against us Catholics
for the respect we show to images of Jesus, Mary, or the Saints.
But we don’t confuse the mere image with the reality,
and the veneration we show to God’s holy ones
is on an entirely different level
than the adoration which we owe to God alone.
Idolatry, you see, isn’t really about setting up statues;
we’re guilty of idolatry any time
we allow something or someone else
to occupy God’s exclusive place at the heart of our lives.

So our idols might be money, or sex,
or sports, or superstitions,
or power, or prestige.
Just as the ancient mythologies
were populated by many, many gods,
so the list of our modern idolatries goes on and on.
Whatever the idol, the fatal flaw is the same:
we reverse roles between the Creator and the creature.
As man, I make myself a god,
and try to reshape myself and my world
according to my own liking.
I convince myself that I can determine
the proper place of God in my life…
…instead of the other way around.  (cf. R. Cantalamessa)
Notice how the man in the gospel calls out to Jesus,
Tell my brother to share the inheritance!
The Lord wants us to get personal with him…
…but we’re in no position to tell him what to do. (cf. J. Sullivan)
This inheritance—
whether it was money, or land, or a business—
has taken pole position in these men’s lives
and—no surprise—everything else
(including the loving bonds of family)
gets all out of whack.

The First Commandant says,
I am the Lord your God;
you shall have no other gods before me.
It’s first for a reason:
because it’s of first importance,
and because the other nine—and all the rest of life—
only make good sense in its light.

Even though we have died with Christ in Baptism,
and even though we’ve put on a new self
in the image of our Creator,
we are in constant need of renewal.
Our old self with its practices still haunts us.
Spiritual heart disease runs in our family.
We aren’t exactly making golden calves anymore…
…but we’re still prone to falling for idols and false gods.

What are the worldly possessions or pleasures
which still seem to hold sway in your heart?
Have you noticed their uncanny ability
to throw the rest of your life off track?
What changes do you need to make
to restore God and God alone to his rightful place?
And why are you putting them off?
The longer you wait, 
the weaker your heart gets.

God warns us—time and again—about earthly preoccupations
because he knows that we are not made for this world.
Let us set our hearts on what is above.
Let us see our greatest riches
in those things that matter to God.

No comments: