SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rom 1:16-25
; Ps 19:2-5
; Lk 11:37-41
What is the greatest of all sins? Is it killing, cheating, drug smuggling, sexual abuse or slandering people and destroying their reputation? None of these! All these sins are manifestations of the one sin that gives birth to all these other sins, namely, the sin of idolatry or the sin of impiety, the worship of self, of the creature rather than the worship of God. This is the theme of today’s scripture readings. “That is why God left them to their filthy enjoyments and the practices with which they dishonour their own bodies, since they have given up divine truth for a lie and have worshipped and served creatures instead of the creator, who is blessed forever.” The most insidious form of idolatry is not the worship of statues but the worship of self.
How is idolatry expressed in our lives? We worship ourselves when we make ourselves the center of our lives. We are absorbed in ourselves and in our self-interests. We want the whole world to revolve around us, thinking that we are the center of people’s lives. We become egoistic and self-centered. We are always thinking of ourselves, our needs, our convenience, our security and our pleasures. We make use of others for our selfish interests. We see people in terms of utility and not in terms of relationships. Eventually, we will lose our compassion for others and the ability to feel with and for others. When that happens, we lose our humanity. We forget that we are just a tiny dot in this whole world. We are here today and tomorrow we are no more. Even great men will have their days and then they are no more.
We worship ourselves when we think we know everything. Some of us are so arrogant, thinking we have the answer to everything in life, and that we can solve all the problems in this world merely by using our intellect and knowledge. This is the world of relativism, when people make themselves the judge of all that is true and good. They do not believe in anything unless they can understand or be convinced. In truth, we accept most things in life without understanding and proof. Otherwise it would be impossible to live if we have to understand everything before we believe. That is why those who think so highly of themselves and lack the humility to know their limitations are the fools of this world because they can learn nothing from anyone. St Paul wrote, “The more they called themselves philosophers the more stupid they grew, until they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for a worthless imitation, for the image of mortal man, of birds, of quadrupeds and reptiles.”
The third way to worship ourselves is to worship our bodies. We only care about the pleasures of this world. We live a sensual life, a life of depravity and licentiousness. We seek to fulfill the desires of the body but we forget the all important aspect of our soul. We think that by satisfying our cravings, we will be happy in life. On the contrary, our souls are restless until they rest in God. Our bodies will be saturated after a while and then life is empty again. Those of us who do not take care of our bodies, eating excessively, drinking until we get drunk, or living a promiscuous life, will have to pay for our sins because our body would be destroyed by our unhealthy lifestyle and because of our immoral life, we will break up our families and the ones we love.
The irony of idolatry is that in worshipping ourselves, we lose our freedom. We become so obsessed with ourselves that we can no longer see beyond ourselves, our interests and our needs. In wanting absolute freedom, we abuse the freedom that is given to us. We are imprisoned in our egotism, in our fears, in our insecurity and in the things of this world. We are attached to the world and live like prisoners of this world and its pleasures.
What is the root of the sin of idolatry with all its offsprings? It is the sin of impiety, the rejection of God in our lives. St Paul wrote, “The anger of God is being revealed from heaven against all the impiety and depravity of men who keep the truth imprisoned in their wickedness.” When God is denied, man supplants the place of God. He makes himself god in this world. He thinks he is in control of his own life and in charge of this world. This is foolishness because we cannot even determine how long we will live in this world. We might be healthy and doing well in life, and tomorrow we might meet our death because of an accident or discover that we have an incurable deadly illness. As a result, we live in deep insecurity and fear over death. We seek to prolong our lives. Indeed, what the world fears most is death because we think that death is the end of everything since there is no God and no life beyond this earth. This explains why the modern man seeks to grab as much as he can, enjoy as much as he wants because he thinks he has only one life on this earth. But the truth is that life goes beyond this earth.
We can believe in life after death only when we believe in God. To say that we believe in God means that we believe in eternity, in truth and in goodness and in love. It means that we live beyond this life. It is to acknowledge that we did not come from ourselves but from a transcendent source whom we call God. St Paul made it clear, “For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them since God himself has made it plain. Ever since God created the world his everlasting power and deity – however invisible – have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made. That is why such people are without excuse: they knew God and yet refused to honour him as God or to thank him; instead, they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened.” Indeed, the whole of creation manifests the wonders of God. This is what the psalmist tells us. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands. Day unto day takes up the story and night unto night makes known the message. No speech, no word, no voice is heard yet their span extends through all the earth, their words to the utmost bounds of the world.”
The book of wisdom says that the fear of the Lord is true wisdom. It is the way to gladness, joy and a long life. (cf Sir 1:12) They “will have a happy end; on the day of their death they will be blessed.” (Sir 1:13) To fear the Lord is fullness of wisdom; she inebriates mortals with her fruits; she fills their whole house with desirable goods, and their storehouses with her produce. The fear of the Lord is the crown of wisdom, making peace and perfect health to flourish. She rained down knowledge and discerning comprehension, and she heightened the glory of those who held her fast. To fear the Lord is the root of wisdom, and her branches are long life.” (Sir 1:16-20) Only in God, is there truth and life. In God alone, is the foundation of love, joy and peace.
Indeed, only those who fear the Lord are able to have a proper appreciation of himself in the context of the universe. We are not the center of the universe but God alone. But we are important to God and God loves each one of us. He created the universe for us to share in His life and joy. What prevents us from living a life of joy and love is our focus on ourselves, instead of giving ourselves in service to others. This is what the Lord is asking of us in the gospel, not to be concerned with what others think about us but what is inside of us. He said to the Pharisees, “Oh, you Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too?”
Rather, what is more important for our happiness is what is inside of us! Happiness is not how much we have or what people think of us, but whether we are at peace within ourselves, whether we focus on serving others and making a difference in the lives of others. Only those who give themselves generously to the service God and their fellowmen can find true joy in life because that is the way in which we participate in the life of God. This is what the Lord advised us, “Instead, give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you.” This is eternal life, a life of love and giving, which is the life of God.