One of the greatest gifts the Lord has given to me is the privilege of being a father. Within that gift is the joy that comes when one of my four girls turns their attention to my fatherhood.
Sometimes, it seems, that I am an annoyance to them – the old guy who tells them to turn off the computer or to help with washing the dishes. But every once in awhile – quite often really – one of them will turn to me and say "thanks Dad" for according them some privilege or for driving them to a soccer game.
Sometimes, I am stirred to the depth of my soul with pride at their accomplishments. I am sure that I am prouder of those accomplishments than they are themselves.
Being a dad provides a little glimpse into what it is like to be God the Father. We give God great joy when we turn to him as Father. He rejoices in the good things that we do more than we rejoice in them ourselves. He is overjoyed when we say a simple "thank you."
In my July 21 article on St. Paul, I wrote about how Paul understood idolatry as the greatest sin. This calls for a little more reflection.
Idolatry is not simply bowing down before statues made of silver or gold. Idolatry can still be found today. Our idols are things like TV, sex, personal power and self-glorification, personal comfort, economic growth and sports. When we have an immoderate attachment to something that is not God, we are engaged in idolatry.
"When we cry 'Abba! Father!' it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:15-16).
Health, prosperity and wealth are all good things. But when we believe that we deserve those things, that they are not God's gifts to us, we are engaged in idolatry.
At the root of all idolatry is slavery to self-indulgence. One does not accept God as God but rather subtly and usually imperceptibly to oneself idolatry raises the self above God. "Man becomes the potter and God the clay," writes Father Raniero Cantamalessa, the preacher to the pope.
In my July 21 article we looked at St. Paul's remarks on idolatry at the beginning of his letter to the Romans. There, Paul wrote that although wicked people "knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him" (1:21). In other words, one can accept the teachings of the Church as true, but if that is not accompanied by thanks to and praise of God, idolatry remains.
The antidote to idolatry is thanksgiving. It is recognizing God as the Author of All Being. It is also recognizing him - not me - as the source of all that is good and worthy in life. Thanksgiving is bowing in awe before God's goodness. It is being a child of the Father.
The only thing, the only thing that is good in our lives is "faith working though love" (Galatians 5:6). Without that, "I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Yet we are so self-centred, we cannot have faith on our own. More accurately, we do not have faith, but we are faith. Faith is not the possession of an idea, but a way of being. It is a lifestyle of continually turning toward God in awe and thanksgiving. This, incidentally, is the full meaning of repentance.
We become full of faith, not through our own actions or merits, but through the action of the Holy Spirit. Because we are children of God, "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Galatians 4:6).
Here is the kingdom of God. The kingdom lies not in trying to control God and life, but in allowing ourselves to be controlled by the Spirit. "When we cry 'Abba! Father!' it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:15-16).
It is in this communion with the Holy Spirit that Paul can say, "It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Just as Jesus is the Son of God, we are sons and daughters of God because of the transformation the Holy Spirit works in us. Like true children, we say "thank you."
In conclusion, I must note that this is not individualistic piety. It is rather the way beyond individualism and it is the path to social transformation.
Secularism proclaims to be neutral toward God, to allow religion a private space as long as it keeps its nose out of "the state." But this supposed neutrality is radically impious. It is idolatrous because it says that in decisions about the life of the community God is to be ignored and human desires are to reign.
Nothing could be more destructive to the life of the community. Nothing could do more to make ours an idolatrous society. Nothing should provoke us more to call for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all humanity.