Fr. Charles Irvin
Today’s Mass challenges us with the question: “Who or what exercises power over our lives?” We all know, don’t we, that it should be Christ our Lord — He should be the One in whose dominion we should live. Here on earth even though we are citizens of the City of Man we should first be citizens of the City of God. Though we are loyal citizens of the United States of America we live in a passing world. We all know, don’t we, that we have divided loyalties when it comes to moral questions and public policy. The abortion issue and other issues relating to public policy are flashpoints that make us acutely aware that at times we must adhere to a higher law, a higher authority than that of our earthly government.
There are other things that can cause divided loyalties in our lives questions causing spiritual conflicts that are quite emotional within us. We can, and often do, fall down and worship strange gods. In our examination of our moral consciences we need to pay attention to the First Commandment, the one that states: “I am the Lord thy God – thou shalt not have strange gods before me.”
Take, for instance, the ancient god known as Mammon. Mammon is a term used in Biblical literature to describe greed, avarice, and unjust worldly gain. A Mammon worshipper is any person who gives first place in his or her life to the acquisition of more and more money and power – money beyond what which is necessary to care for his family and provide for his children. There are people whose main objective in life is to acquire more and more wealth. They are driven by it; they are controlled by it; they are held captive by it. They want more and more money, as much money as possible in order to use it to exercise power and control over others, sometimes even members of their own families. They threaten to cut their children out of their Wills; they control their children by telling them that they are paying the bills amd that unless their kids do exactly as they are told they can get out of the house. Mammon worshippers use money to control everyone except themselves.
Consumerism is another form of Mammon worship. Let’s be honest with ourselves – how often are we controlled and driven by those who manipulate our desire to purchase the newest and latest gadgets, fashionable clothes, and the baubles that are dangled in front of our hungry eyes? Advertisers are the priests in the temples of that false god. They want to control the money we spend and capture us as their customers.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with money itself. It is a useful tool we can use in our lives to provide for others and give our families decent lives. But there is something that is disordered when we are held under its dominion and control or when we use money to manipulate and control others. That’s something to think about on this Christ the King Sunday.
The goddess Venus is another of the false gods. A Venus worshipper is one who seeks, first and above all else, to use sensual gratification and bodily pleasure for one’s own selfish advantage. There is something wrong, and the First Commandment is broken when the worship of pleasure and sensual gratification becomes the main and dominant force in one’s life. Venus worshippers eventually become incapable of sacrificing their own pleasure for the sake of the happiness of others. Ultimately such people, having fallen down and worshipped the goddess Venus, become her slaves – just as weak and helpless as all of her other slaves. That, too, is something to think about on this Christ the King Sunday.
Moloch is the ancient name of the god who seeks human sacrifice. It was to him that ancient pagans sacrificed human lives, even the lives of their own children. It is to Moloch that some people even today seek to build themselves up and promote their interests by destroying those around them. There are those who put others down and even destroy the careers of others in order to advance up the ladder of corporate power structures. Lust isn’t a vice that is confined to sexual exploitation – lust for power is likewise a false god that can exert power and control over us as well. Modern day Moloch worshippers determine to do whatever is necessary at all costs, even at the cost of human sacrifice, in order to advance themselves. That, too, is something to think about on this Christ the King Sunday.
Perhaps there are other false gods to which we give sinful allegiances. If there are, they will eventually bring us pain, inner conflict, and a hellish life to those around us, and ultimately the eternal hell of our own loneliness. We have to realize that after we die our false gods won’t be there for us. Also we need to see that after we die we will be the persons we have shaped and formed for ourselves. When we face God’s judgment we will see ourselves in the eyes of God, the God of the living and of the dead, in the eyes of the God of the way we should have lived.
Christ came among us to show us that Mammon, Venus, Moloch and our other false gods only bring us pain, inner conflict, and a hellish life both for ourselves and for those who must live with us. Their power is the power of manipulation and control. They may bring us temporary pleasure and false sense of well-being but they are utterly incapable of giving us lasting happiness and genuine peace. Christ is among us to show us that if we live in His Kingdom, with Him as the Lord of our lives, then we can find the only form of happiness that is lasting and genuine, namely the unselfish mission of making other people happy. For happiness is not something that we can buy, win, or achieve, it is a gift that is given us. It comes only as a gift that is a by-product, a result, of living the way Jesus lives.
And what are the principles that should guide us in that way of life – the life of Jesus? My pleasure is in your pleasure; my happiness is in your happiness; my treasure is the money I spent to build you up; my rewards are your rewards; my life is for you. For what is mine is really ours together.
All of the powers of Christ were expended for others so that in His kingdom all might have freedom, dignity, and happiness both in this life and in the next. All that is Christ’s He gave to us to be shared.
Human pride keeps many away from God, holding them in bondage and causing them to bow down to false gods that replace the Living God. Human pride understands power as that which is to be acquired, kept, horded, and possessed in order to be used solely for one’s own advantage. It was a shocking scandal to human pride to witness Christ revealing that God thinks in just the opposite way. And so Jesus had to be one away with; He had to be rejected, shoved aside, crucified and buried. Many are still about that task, even in our day. A God who empties Himself? A God who sacrifices Himself – limits Himself and shares His very substance with others? No! Never! We want a different king and god, they shout. We have no king but Caesar, no god but Mammon, no god but Moloch, no goddess but Venus!
Just what kind of a God is God, and what does He expect of us? How we answer those questions will shape what we desire in life, what we want to control us, and what we know will give us genuine happiness, true love, and lasting peace. That’s the challenge of this Sunday on which we honor Christ our King.