The First Commandment: Is God Number One in Your Life?
“I, the LORD, am your God…You shall not have other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:2-3). Perhaps this statement brings to mind images of a golden calf or a bronze serpent with hundreds of people bowing down to these idols made of precious metals. Or maybe it evokes thoughts of the ancient Greeks and Romans who worshiped numerous gods crediting each with various powers. Let me propose a few other scenarios. The Patriots’ playoff game runs into overtime requiring a choice between watching the end of the game or being on time to Sunday evening Mass. Consideration for a promotion necessitates continuous late evenings at work and therefore skipping out on the Lenten reconciliation service with the family. The entire house needs to be cleaned, four loads of laundry need to be folded, and a turkey dinner needs to be prepared before company arrives tonight, so there simply isn’t time to spend with God in prayer this morning.
The reality is that the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai thousands of years ago are in fact still very relevant in our lives today. While some may mistakenly view these commandments as out-of-date rules that are no longer applicable or unnecessary restrictions on living an enjoyable life, they are, in fact, given to us so that we might have life to the fullest! The commandments reveal to us truths about God and truths about ourselves. The first three commandments concern our relationship with God, while the last seven address our relationships with one another. These truths are the key to living a truly happy and fulfilled life.
God’s declaration to Moses on Mount Sinai in this First Commandment reveals to us something about Himself. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults declares, “It is an announcement of the presence of the most holy God, both in outward creation and within the human soul” (pg. 346). When we truly recognize the holiness of God and His desire to be present in our lives, we cannot put anything else above Him! The Catechism explains that our proper response to this revelation ought to be a threefold one of faith, hope, and love. Faith is a “personal response to the Lord’s Revelation of his holiness, love, beauty, and transcendence” (pg. 342). God, desiring to be present in our lives, invites us to relationship with Him; we respond. How? By engaging in a life of prayer. By frequent reception of the sacraments. By witnessing to others His presence in our lives. Hope “fills us with the confidence that God accompanies us on our journey through life and guides us to eternal life with Him” (pg. 343). It enables us to be at peace no matter what circumstances we face in life, because we know that our God is present with us through them. Finally, the presence of God and His personal love for us calls us to respond in kind. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). His all-consuming love for us necessitates an all-consuming love in return. Indifference, ingratitude, and lukewarmness are simply not options when we truly understand how deep and steadfast God’s love is.
So what does this actually mean for us? What does it look like in our daily lives to adhere to the First Commandment? As a practicing Catholic, it can be easy to think, “Of course I’m following the First Commandment. I love God. I go to Mass. I even pray at home.” But a true assessment is most clearly seen when we examine how we spend our time. The idolatry we are tempted with today is typically not one of golden calves and bronze serpents, but rather a temptation to spend our time investing in things that ultimately do not matter as much as our relationship with the living God does. Let’s go back to the opening scenarios. Nothing is intrinsically wrong with enjoying a good game, striving for excellence at work, or preparing a welcoming place for guests. However, they become idols when we place them above God in our lives, seen most concretely when we devote more time to them than we do to our relationship with Him. Let us then, this Lenten season, take some time to examine our time. Does our life truly reflect that we love the one, true God and serve no other gods besides Him?
Office of Lifelong Faith Formation