This week, Catholic Christians celebrate the Third Sunday of Lent.
On this day, we read in the Book of Genesis how God delivered Ten Commandments to the Hebrew people.
One of the first things one notices in the reading is how many words are given to the first commandment compared to the others. This commandment says, in part, “You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20: 2-5).
Today’s homily focuses on the concept of idol.
When we read the Old Testament of the Bible and think of an “idol,” probably the first thing we think of is the golden calf that the Hebrew people made while Moses was on Mount Sinai getting the Ten Commandments. Many gentile religions in those days worshiped human-made images as “gods.” When one puts objects such as a statue and makes it a god, we say the worshiper is engaging in idolatry.
Idolotry, however, can be giving a person, object, or activity priority in your life ahead of God. Idols can be your home, your job, a vehicle, a relationship, your family, a computer, or a pet. In fact, it can even be a political party or a church.
The theme of this first commandment is that there is one God, and that God wants to be first in our lives. When we put other things first in our lives, we are engaging in idolatry. Even people who should know better can fall into idolatry. That is what happened to a Catholic archbishop in France by the name of Marcel Lefebvre.
Marcel Lefebvre was born on November 29, 1905 in France, one of eight children. Marcel’s father, René, was an owner of a textile factory. René also ran a spy-ring for British Intelligence, and as a result, was put in a German concentration camp. His body was never found.
When Marcel was a young man, he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Lille in 1929 and served as a curate in a suburban parish. He also obtained a doctorate in theology in 1930.
However, in 1931, Fr. Lefebvre left the diocesan priesthood to become a member of what was then called the Holy Ghost Fathers – today known more commonly as the Spiritans – for he wanted to be a missionary.
His first assignment as a missionary was to be a professor at St. John Seminary in Libreville, capital city of Gabon, West Africa. By 1934, he became rector of the seminary, and in 1935, he made perpetual vows in this Order.
Although he returned to France to work in the Order’s seminary in 1945, he was chosen by Pope Pius XII to become a bishop and was sent to Dakar in Senegal, West Africa, as Vicar Apostolic.
As a bishop, Marcel Lefebvre obtained more and more responsibilities. Among his many roles was to be Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers. However, because he began to become more and more political, the priests in his Order undermined his authority. In frustration, he resigned as head of the Order.
As a member of the team chosen to prepare for the Second Vatican Council, Marcel worked many years on various Council documents. The Second Vatican Council, however, was not to Marcel’s liking.
The Church Fathers asked Catholic Christians to go back to the ancient Church and give up things that had crept into the Church. The Church Fathers, for example, asked that we return to the ancient form of celebrating Mass, that is, to celebrate it in the language of the people.
Marcel Lefebvre, who was not an archbishop, decided he would rather follow his own path than to be faithful to the Catholic Church. Thus, he left and founded a group call the Society of St. Pius X. The Catholic Church excommunicated Lefebvre, for he put his ideas before those of the Church. He even consecrated bishops when the Church forbid him to do so. His personal ideas had become an idol more precious to him than the Church for which he had been ordained. He died in 1991 at the age of 85 in the state of excommunication.
Here are three things we can glean from today’s Scripture and Marcel’s life.
First, idolatry refers to putting things before God. Art is not idolatry unless we put it before God. Personally, I don’t know anyone who puts photos or paintings or music before God.
Second, some people put money, status, prestige, occupation, titles, political parties, and even religions about God. These can become “idols” if we are not careful. Once I heard a beautiful saying that went something like this: “The Church is not God; it is a finger pointing to God.” Lefebvre appears to have made his personal opinions about religion above God and the Church.
Third, remember that we worship God, and Jesus taught us how to love God by showing love to God, neighbor, and self. Anything that violates this triple love command is indeed a form of idolatry and should immediately be rejected.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to ask ourselves if we have any idols in our lives.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Third Sunday of Lent, 2018.
Story source: Wikipedia Contributors. “Marcel Lefebvre.” Wikipedia: The Free
Encyclopedia, 17 January 2018.