Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13
Humans have created and worshipped idols from the time of antiquity. Today, you do not walk into a Catholic Church and see golden images that people worship as gods. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we don’t still worship idols.
Everyone recognizes the U.S. tendency to create idols of celebrities. Endless ink has been spilled on the perils inherent in this fame-and-money worship, yet it seems we can’t help ourselves. (Think of "American Idol", which attracts competitors and viewers with the premise that the next object of our worship will be discovered there.) Regardless of its dubious wisdom, at least we are aware that we do it.
More insidious are other types of idols we create, especially those generating so little ink that we remain unaware of their existence and therefore oblivious to their damage. These kinds of idols can be misrepresentations of God, of ourselves, of Catholic teaching, or any combination.
One example is the idol of perfection. We believe that if were are perfect, then we are worthy of love. Since such perfection is unattainable in this life we endlessly strive after an impossible goal while being endlessly reminded of how unlovable we are. You may know the refrain: "If people really knew me, they wouldn’t love me anymore." This applies to God as well. We believe God can tolerate us when we sin, but God can only truly love us if we are the epitome of the perfect Catholic (by a narrow definition of "perfect Catholic").
So we create a molten idol of perfection, a god before which we worship every day. And every night, we chastise ourselves for falling so far short. We grow farther away from God, believing God would want to enter into a deep relationship with such an unworthy creature.
Jesus weeps for us because we are like sheep without a shepherd, chasing a molten image of God based on human ideas of perfection instead of listening to the Gospel truth. We keep looking up to heaven for the enthroned judge of all, wondering why God is so far away, instead of getting in touch with the real God, the immanent God who became incarnate in our world and who loves us beyond anything we can comprehend.
We need to dismantle such idols and turn the broken shards over to God to be recast into gifts of love, acceptance, challenge, and hope. If I were already perfect, I would have no need of God. In my flaws, in my sins, in my weakness, God can act even more strongly if I allow it. (As St. Paul says, "When I am weak, then I am strong.") In fact, admitting my own imperfections helps others admit theirs. Embodying the unconditional everlasting love of God in the midst of my weakness witnesses to those whose idols still stand but who long to melt them down. Jesus can work through me to help cast out demons from those held in the grip of unworthiness, fear, perfectionism, self-loathing, and grief.
Jesus tells us the harvest is abundant but laborers are few. Perhaps that is because of all the false idols we spend our time, energy, and money worshipping. Perhaps we need to create a new "idol" that we actively strive to please every day – an idol of vulnerability and love. If we worshipped that idol as actively as we worship celebrities, perhaps our Catholic Christian communities could be places where the imperfect are welcomed and affirmed, where sinners come to the table, where those cast out are brought in, and every single one of us is assured of the unconditional, unimaginable, overflowing love of God for us. Perhaps we could work toward becoming parishes not of perfect people but of perfect love, where we cast out demons, heal the suffering, and lay down our lives for each other. Think of the harvest we could reap in our church and our world if we did that.
An idol made of vulnerability and love is truly worthy of our worship. In fact, though, it is not an idol at all. It is Jesus. Believe in his Gospel. Believe in God’s ability to work through your imperfections and weakness. Dismantle false idols and turn them over to God. Then go out into the fields to plant, nurture, water, and harvest. We need more laborers.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com.