April 13, 2017
WEDNESDAY, Lent week five
Identifying False Gods
St. Ignatius of Loyola defines “three degrees of humility” — three levels of understanding about ourselves in relationship to God. The first is:
I so subject and humble myself as to obey the law of God in all things, so that not even were I made lord of all creation, or to save my life here on earth, would I consent to violate a commandment... that binds me under pain of mortal sin.
Daniel 3: 14-95 gives an example of three young men who fit that description perfectly. They were young Jews of the nobility, young men without any defect, handsome, intelligent and wise, quick to learn.... who were to be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans. After three years’ training they were to enter the king’s service (ch.1:3-5).
Smart politics: integrating the conquered into the culture. They were made administrators of the province of Babylon. But when the king wanted to impose religious uniformity on his kingdom, the three refused to worship his false god. When threatened with death by fire, they replied: “If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace... may he save us! But know, O King, that even if he will not, we will not serve your god.”
God did save them, but the point is, being unfaithful to God was for them simply a non-negotiable. Not even to think about. That is the first level of authentic relationship to God.
The three young men learned Chaldean culture but did not abandon their own. They remained uncompromising Jews, faithful to the Covenant. In John 8: 31-42 Jesus argues with others who claim the same thing. He had said, “If you live according to my teaching, you will truly be my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answer, “We are descendants of Abraham. Never have we been slaves to anyone.” But Jesus tells them they are: “Everyone who lives in sin is the slave of sin.” Might that include us?
Many young Catholics, “intelligent and wise, quick to learn....” are selected by our system for four years of higher education, “after which they are to enter the service” of the American dream. With great rewards. They are not asked to kneel before a golden statue. But they may be required to subordinate their values to the god of gold. Or the god of sex. Or the god of relativistic philosophy. Or the god of No-god-at-all. In order to “fit in.” For the sake of religious uniformity in rejecting all religions as divisive. If they refuse, they will be “burned.” If they accept, they may not even know they have.
Jesus gives four “if’s’” to help us know if we are free: “If you live according to my teaching...” “If the Son frees you” (through personal interaction with him). “If you are Abraham’s children”: faithful to your heritage, e.g. still going to Mass... “If God is your Father,” not just your Creator and Judge. Four benchmarks.
Initiative: Make fidelity non-negotiable. Refuse slavery. Identify false gods.