In Exodus, the Israelites infamously asked Aaron to make them an idol. Aaron acquiesced to their demand, and the people engaged in revelry over the golden calf that was created.
The scene is one of many where the Israelites turned away from God. On Wednesday, let's do the opposite of the Israelites and instead turn towards God by eliminating the golden calves that hold us back. Let's also follow Moses' lead instead of Aaron's and destroy our own golden calves this Lent.
Our Own Golden Calves
On Feb. 9, Catholics were reminded in Psalm 81 that ""There shall be no strange god among you, nor shall you worship any alien god. I, the LORD, am your God who led you forth from the land of Egypt."
While most Catholics hopefully haven't spent any time in bondage to other human beings, we're all held in bondage to sin. All of us are held back from true freedom by self-centeredness, pride, lust, anger, etc. And in doing so, we're at risk of worshiping an "alien god" or a golden calf.
Of course, the seven deadly sins are easy to identify as golden calves. This is especially true if we are held accountable by those around us. But not all bondage is so obvious. For me, Facebook debates, YouTube videos of comic books and TV shows and Star Wars novels are the substitutes for real life. They take me away from getting just a little more sleep, from reading more impactful and educational books (or watching educational documentaries!) and from more deeply reflecting upon my daily life. Last week, for example, catching up on a dozen X-Men comics online left me going to bed later than was prudent and waking up with almost exclusively violent images running through my mind because of the violence in the comics.
For this year's Lent sacrifices, I've given up Star Wars and YouTube, and be on my guard to ensure I don't accidentally use Facebook to compensate. The goal is to go for all 46 days of Lent – no breaks on Sundays! I'm also going to read four substantive books. So far, I have "Three to Get Married" by Venerable Fulton Sheen, "The Gestapo" on the brutality of the Nazi police and a book on military strategy by a former National Defense University professor on my list.
This may not sound all that difficult – prior to 2010, I rarely used YouTube for anything, for example – but I'm also looking at these goals as a tough but gradual "recovery" from the golden calves of distractions. In my daily life, my job requires me to be on task and my wife is due with our first child in August. Additionally, my fitness and prayer disciplines have been less-than-ideal for some time.
It is the prayer discipline that I hope will most benefit from Lent this year. By being less focused on distractions – to be considered distinct from necessary breaks from work! I hope to clear my head of the poison of my personal golden calves.
The Final Calf: Managing My Life Instead of Radically Abandoning it to God
In "Searching for and Maintaining Peace," Father Jacques Phillipe writes that "One abandons oneself completely or not at all." In this short but powerful "treatise on peace of heart," Father Phillipe declares that "in order that abandonment might be authentic and engender peace, it must be total. We must put everything, without exception, into the hands of God." Later, readers are told:
The one who clings to something, who wishes to protect some domain in his life in order to manage it at his convenience without radically abandoning it into the hands of God, is making a very bad mistake: he devotes himself to unnecessary precautions and exposes himself to the gnawing sense of loss.
In the days since I wrote about some difficult but significant spiritual growth, I have reflected on this important statement. Specifically, attempting "to protect some domain" in my life "in order to manage it" instead of "radically abandoning it into the hands of God" will leave me exposed to both a "sense of loss" and unnecessary preoccupation.
Praying and hitting the gym more, and giving more of myself to my spousal, work and fatherly duties, won't be enough. I also have remove the golden calf of my definitions of "financial security" and "financial success" so God can provide. I have to abandon the pretentious golden calf of "moving up the ladder" in my career so I can be where God wants me. And while I do need to work out more, fitness can never again be what my former chiropractor called my "mini-God" – another golden calf idol.
This is not to say I can be irresponsible regarding finances or anything else. But as Father Phillipe points out, "God may allow me to occasionally lack money, health, abilities and virtues, but He will never leave me in want of Himself, of His assistance, and His mercy or of anything that would allow me to grow unceasingly ever closer to Him, to love Him more intensely, to better love my neighbor and to achieve holiness."
Fortunately, I'm not the first person to do this sort of self-examination. The examples and experiences of others can provide wisdom. David and Jason Beham were all but bankrupt in their mid-twenties. In an interview in 2015, David told me that he had to treat his then-job as a janitor in the same manner with which he had treated his professional baseball career. According to David, God kindly granted the Benham Brothers professional and financial success in their entrepreneurial real estate business, but only after they abandoned all of their personal pretenses.
Likewise, St. Paul was able to be at peace in all of his difficult circumstances, because he had radically abandoned himself to God. And Saint Maximillian Kolbe died because he abandoned the golden calf of a long life, dying because he took the place of a stranger in a concentration camp.
To radically abandon oneself to God is success unto itself – and the last golden calf to push aside as Lent begins.