Archbishop Bishop William E. Lori
What would your answer be if a reporter on the street were to ask, “Who matters most in your life?” I would imagine that many of us would answer the same way: “God matters most.” And we’d be right.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, when we say, “I believe,” we are saying, “I pledge myself to what I believe” (185). So, when we say we believe in God, we are pledging our very lives to God. The Catechism goes on to say, “Our profession of faith begins with God, for God is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end of everything” (198).
WHERE OUR TREASURE IS
We routinely say that God matters most, but do our lives reflect this statement? In a Wednesday audience in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI made the following observation: “A particularly dangerous phenomenon for faith has arisen in our times: indeed a form of atheism exists which we define, precisely, as ‘practical,’ in which the truths of faith or religious rites are not denied but are merely deemed irrelevant to daily life, detached from life, pointless. So it is that people often believe in God in a superficial manner, and live ‘as though God did not exist.’”
Sadly, Pope Benedict’s words are confirmed by declining Sunday Mass attendance and the growing number of people who claim no religious affiliation. Indeed, such attitudes are encouraged in our secular culture. A recent piece in USA Today, for example, asserted that belief in God has no connection with morality. The point of the article was that we can be good without God.
Even among practicing Catholics, it can be a challenge to make God the top priority. Our own Catholic athletic leagues sometimes schedule practices and games on Sunday mornings, and Catholic families, when faced with choosing between sports commitments and Mass, often choose the former. More than a few times, parents have complained that the sacrament of confirmation, which we receive only once in our lives, interfered with their child’s soccer game. And nearly every pastor and director of religious education bemoans the fact that many parents drop their children off at religious education classes but never bring them to church on Sunday. Does God matter most when we fail even to dedicate an hour or so on Sunday morning to him?
Such attitudes spill over into our daily lives. Despite modern conveniences and technological advances, people find themselves working harder than ever. With fewer people doing more jobs, workdays often extend well beyond eight hours. Thanks to smart phones and tablets, we not only bring our work home with us, but we also take it wherever we go.
Amid our busy lives, do we make room for God each day through daily prayer and by striving to live the faith we profess? This is what Jesus tells us: “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Lk 12:34). And “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23).
Sometimes, God takes second, third or fourth place in our lives because people fear that a life of faith is devoid of happiness and joy. They see the discipline of Christian morality as stoic, as a matter of “keeping a stiff upper lip.” Life is short, the reasoning goes, so why not eat, drink and be merry? Ironically, people who think this way seldom experience deep joy in life.
Pope Francis described this attitude in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel): “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience” (2).
Mincing no words, Pope Francis warned that even believers can fall into this trap. Our lives can come to resemble a Potemkin village — a façade of religiosity concealing our flimsy relationship with God and with others.
“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns,” Pope Francis wrote, “there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades” (2).
Among the reasons why Father Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus was to help Catholic men practice the faith and thus become better husbands and fathers. He made it a requirement that every Knight be “a practical Catholic,” yet wisely did not demand that a man be a perfect Catholic to enter the Order. Rather, membership in the Knights is meant to help men progress in making God the first priority in their lives.
Father McGivney knew that men would have a greater opportunity to put God first if they engaged in works of charity and experienced fraternity with other men who are striving to take their faith seriously. Making God a priority, in turn, would help them to find the inner strength to love the Church and their families more deeply.
The original vision of the Knights of Columbus is perhaps even more important today, amid a culture that is far more hostile to faith than it was in the late-19th century. Father McGivney was deeply in love with God, and he would want the same for Knights and their families. But more than that, he would want us to know that God has made us — each human being and the entire human race — his top priority. God loves each of us infinitely. He sent us his Son to save us from our sins. We love because God loved us first (1 Jn 4:19). He loves us best.