Idolatry, in its basic sense, is the sin of worshiping something other than God. It is the confusion of the most severe priority, the replacement of the Creator with his creation. Most of us can easily think of some examples of this: like pagans worshiping trees or biblical examples of worshiping a golden calf or the false god, Baal. Yet, idolatry today is still very close to home. As the Catechism states, “Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship… Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God” (CCC 2113). In short, idolatry occurs whenever we value things over and above God.
The most common examples I see today of idolatry occur with the prioritization of Mass on Sunday. How many times does sleeping in and a sports game prevent someone from going to Mass? Sleeping in can be a good thing, as can a Packer game and a sports game; but when such things are valued to the expense of worshiping God, it is thereby being given honor that is due to God alone. We become what we worship. The worshipers of sleep become soft like their beds; and the worshipers of sports become happy and chipper when their team wins and depressed when they lose. Workaholics become their work, which is never play and never good enough. When we value our preferences and desires over God’s preferences and desires, we worship ourselves, and then we become little idols, pagan rivals to the One Majestic King of the Universe. Worship has everything to do with identity; what we live for has everything to do with how we view ourselves.
When we worship God as we are meant to, we become like Him, loving and creative, and possessing sacrificial heroism. Hence we eat Him in the Mass; we eat Jesus to become Jesus, and Jesus lives his sacramental life in us. Each small choice slowly reveals who we really are. Either we are a creature whose life exists for itself and its own autonomy or we exist for God and his will. Either we are our own god, or God is our Lord.
At this point, I must be clear: there are certain things that can legitimately dismiss one from the obligation of Mass, like health-care workers who need to work over all Mass times (which is why this city has Saturday night Masses and a Sunday night Mass). Likewise, those who are too ill or unable to come to Mass because of some condition are also not required. I am not writing about these so much as I am about the dangerous mindset that we can get ourselves into. The dangerous mindset we get ourselves into is pride when it comes to religion; to play out our thoughts and desires at the expense of God’s desires and preferences. It is the primordial sin from the first temptation from the Garden of Eden, “you shall be like God” (Gen 3:5). Such sin is the same today whenever we belittle that which God commands, for we, it is true, act in defiance of the majesty of God whenever we act against his precepts in the Catholic Church. Whenever we sin, we act like we are our own god, with our own laws and opinions about the universe instead of God’s. May the Lord give us obedience and conformity to His will.