Beware of Creating “Golden Calves”

As I go through Fr. Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” podcast, I come across some readings that help fuel my Rosary prayer. This is what I’ve been trying to communicate through RosaryMeds — so many of our life experiences can supercharge our Rosary experience. Conversely, great encounters with the Rosary then lead to a more meaningful lifestyle. When we surround our days with Scripture, Rosary, prayer, and the Sacraments we plant the seeds for a fulfilling life. Let’s take a look at the Book of Exodus and about what it tells us about our relationship with God.

Reshaping God

The Israelites in the Old Testament started their covenant with God on the wrong foot. Immediately after escaping Egypt, they started worshiping a golden calf when Moses didn’t return from Mount Sinai. They grew impatient waiting for Moses but felt the urgent need to honor something for bringing them out of Egypt. Fr. Mike Schmitz pointed out that they did not reject God for an idol. Rather, they re-attributed God to the golden calf. They proclaimed, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4) They reduced God to a statue that they crafted with a narrative they could control.

The Israelites did with the golden calf what we do all the time — reduce God to work on our terms. Often, we happily follow Catholic teaching when it’s convenient. But we are full of excuses and justifications when it becomes inconvenient or confusing. We tell ourselves, “God will understand if I miss Mass this once. After all, my kid’s baseball game is at the same time and is in another city.” Or, “I’ve been so good, why can’t I loosen up this once and go on a bender with my friends?” But where in scripture or Church tradition is it taught that God is okay with sin? Where does that perception of God come from? We aren’t that much different from the Israelites reshaping God to fit our actions rather than shaping our actions to serve God’s Will. We reduce God to being our buddy who’s cool and chill with how we want to live and won’t be too preachy or judgmental.

Looking in All the Wrong Places

Remember that the Israelites thought they were justified in turning to an idol. After all, think about how confused they must have felt. Moses led them out of Egypt, a civilization they called home for generations, into the wilderness only to leave them stranded at the base of a mountain. We may sympathize with them seeking answers about their situation. Since Moses had disappeared and God was silent, they were left to their own devices. Being impatient and scared, they found comfort by re-attributing God as a golden calf.

We also want answers but often aren’t patient enough to wait for God to answer us in our prayers. So we turn to simplified solutions from whoever has a justifiable answer. Our “golden calf” may be a friend, politician, TV personality, or just our justifications telling us we can support abortion, artificial contraception, and divorce. Or that holy days of obligation, fasting, abstinence, and prayer aren’t necessary. We proclaim, “I’m following God and his Church!” although it’s a fictional god of our own design.

Learning What God Wants

How do we prevent ourselves from reducing God to fit our desires? First, we have learn who God is and what he asks of us. We do this by reading Scripture, learning from the teachings and examples of the saints, and learning about our faith. Of course, we also need to receive the sacraments. Many people believe that the only way to learn about the faith is from a priest’s homily on Sunday. But the Mass is more than the homily. That is why you need to be reverently present in the Mass allowing God to speak to you.

Think about Simeon and Anna in the Fourth Joyful Mystery. They prayed constantly at the temple doing God’s Will. They didn’t look for a way out of the life God called them to. They didn’t justify a different life telling themselves, “Maybe this is what God was actually asking of me?” No, they chose the hard life because they knew that’s what God wanted from them. Remember, God rewarded their sacrifices by allowing them to be among the first to recognize Jesus as the Christ.

We can often become scared and confused like the Israelites and start redefining Church teachings to justify our behavior. But we become like the Israelites worshipping a false god. This is why it’s so important to embrace a life of prayer and continuously learn about the Catholic faith. It is in the silence of prayer that we see that God is always with us. And when we know He hasn’t abandoned us, we won’t go seeking comfort in a god of our own creation.