Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time | August 17, 2019

The readings for today’s liturgy highlight the difference between false gods and the God of Jesus Christ.

When we use the term false gods today, we don’t simply refer to other deities who were worshiped by the ancient civilizations like the Amorites, or the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans. And we certainly aren’t referring to God as worshipped by our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters – as they worship the same God that we as Christians do.

The false gods of today are much more insidious than those ancient mythological beings. They are the things we turn to in place of God and allow to take over our lives. Here are a few:

  • Consumption: This false god places in our hearts the idea that we can never have, horde, eat, or drink enough; or the belief that we should have anything we want whenever we want regardless of the harm it causes to workers to quickly produce it for a poor wage, the non-biodegradable packaging it comes in or other factors we conveniently ignore so as long as we get our stuff
  • Wealth and power: This false god deceives by placing before us a good thing – earnings from work or opportunities to have an impact in the world – and twisting them into something we must do all we can to maximize and horde. Our society sometimes places it at the pinnacle of accomplishment; we even have ‘cathedrals’ to wealth in places like Wall Street where bank buildings and stock markets seek to remind us that the false god wealth is in control; and we praise those who have money as also having “power.”
  • Fear: This is perhaps the most insidious false god. It says that we can never be secure by trusting and having faith in the God who knows us better than we know ourselves and has said to us that we are beloved children. Instead, we need to suspect one another; we need to hate and despise those who are different; we need to separate ourselves from people of a different race, or religion or certain economic status. The false god fear produces mobs that burn crosses, chant hateful slogans or – even worse – cause us to remain silent in the face of the suffering of others at the hands of hateful persons, leaders, or groups.

Like Joshua speaking to the Israelites, we are called to reject these false gods. Indeed, Catholics are familiar with exorcism – that rare set of prayers and rituals that accompany efforts to expunge perverse evil from persons – but also from groups and even nations. Joshua is leading the Israelite community – which was surrounded on all sides by bigger countries with their false gods – in an exorcism of sorts, naming all those false gods and asking them instead to follow his lead and serve the one true God – the Lord.

And the short Gospel reminds us of the priorities of the true God! Jesus looks to powerless, innocent children – those who like many widows and unmarried women would have had no power in the earthly sense in that time – and Jesus says, you have to be like this powerless child to even enter God’s Reign! They have no material goods. They have no wealth. And – as any parent will tell you – children have no fear! They also are not born hating; that is something they learn, sadly from many of us adults.

The true God looks to the poor and powerless and raises them up. The God of Jesus Christ does not care about material possessions or how much wealth or power you accumulate. In fact, Jesus reminds such people how hard it is for them to get into the Kingdom of God – harder than for a camel to pass through the Needle’s Eye! God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity – do not know fear or hatred or prejudice – yet each member of the Trinity, though they are different, are united in an eternal, overflowing love.

Jesus reminds us of the wisdom and true power of the one true God! Serving the false gods of consumption, wealth, power and fear is a very heavy burden. Jesus reminds us why serving such a bountiful and good God, while not always easy, is, as he says elsewhere, always a “light yoke.” Let us pray that we ourselves will not be swayed by those false gods and that our society will exorcised of their influence and that God’s healing love will wash over us anew.

God give you peace!

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As Director of Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I have the opportunity to record video reflections on the readings of the Scriptures proclaimed at daily Mass. I do so as part of larger group of colleagues at the Conference, along with lay and ordained leaders from around the country. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the readings for the life of faith today and to share them here, along with the written text of the reflections. To view these video reflections for past and upcoming celebrations of the Eucharist, visit the USCCB website.