This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #35.
Reference: Hosea 13:1-15
Maybe it’s just me, but the imagery in today’s chapter seems especially vivid and compelling.
The line in verse 2 is especially significant to me: “Silver idols according to their fancy, all of them the work of artisans. ‘To these,’ they say, ‘offer sacrifice.’ Men kiss calves!”
How often do we take something powerless—something of our own creation, of the creation of others, or mere (though beautiful) matter of the earth and hold it above ourselves as a god?
Back then, they offered sacrifices to statues they had created. By today’s standards, they were very small communities, so you can bet that everyone knew everyone—which means everyone knew who had forged the golden calf. It wasn’t something mystical or magical. It was goldsmithed by Joe Schmo, and now we’re all dancing in circles around it, asking it to satisfy our many needs. Did no one step back and realize that regardless of how NICE of a statue Joe Schmo had created, it’s still JUST A STATUE (in fact, it’s Joe Schmo’s statue)? In modern Catholicism (and I would venture to say Christianity as a whole), it is understood that the statues and icons we have in churches are merely representations and images of the actual beings we are referring—in Jesus’s case, the corpus on the crucifix represents our God whom we worship, and in the case of the saints, their statues represent people who once walked this earth whom we look to for intercession and support. As such, the reverence is for the SOUL or the BEING we can’t see, not for the statue physically there in front of us. Was there a similar distinction for Israel? Perhaps there was, and at this point in history, people had lost track of it? The problem God takes up with the Israelites’ idol worship is two-fold: 1) they’re worshipping a piece of gold and 2) even if the gold represents some other god, it’s still SOME OTHER GOD. They’re failing in their covenant to the one true God. He sums all of this ridiculousness up in a simple sentence through Hosea’s hand: “Men kiss calves!”
So we might not dance around shiny yellow statues or “kiss calves” today, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t kissing a different kind of calf. How often do we put our time into working on our biceps before our time working on our relationship with God? (That doesn’t mean going to the gym is bad by any stretch of the imagination. But it does say something when people are far more put out about the gym being closed than church being closed. People seem to put far more emphasis on the state of their body than the state of their soul. It’s so important to integrate them!)
How often do we put our energy into work and getting to the next paycheck at the expense of putting energy into our faith and getting to the next opportunity for serious prayer? The Benedictines have it right: Ora Et Labora…a balance of work and prayer.
We may not kiss calves, but we kiss other things, like currency, popularity, our biceps, even the number of likes on Facebook posts. (Yup, guilty.) How ridiculous these things are compared to what really matters in life: each other and God.
No wonder we are so lost—we are much like Israel, putting far too much stock in ultimately petty things—and find our society spiraling out of control. Maybe a bit of exile wouldn’t be a bad thing to help us get back to the basics.
Perhaps that will come literally, but in the meantime, that exile can certainly come in a less geographical way: it’s an exile we are called to throughout the Bible which Pope Francis has been emphasizing lately. What if we exiled ourselves from our money, from our popularity, from our electronics, workouts, and whatever else just for a LITTLE bit in order to travel into the unknown lands of those who are less fortunate than us, yet seem to have a much better grasp on what life is all about than the rest of us. I’m talking the homeless, the impoverished, the Third World countries—yes—but I’m also talking the spiritually and emotionally depraved, those robbed of love, security, family, and an identity. Poverty is everywhere—an exile wouldn’t have to take us far to realize the physical and emotional poverty raging around us every day. Lent is exactly that journey into the desert, that exile, that we need to have. The Church gives us one every year, pre-penciled into our calendars. Have you taken advantage of it? Or are you finding it admittedly difficult to pull yourself away from kissing metaphorical calves?
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Maximize these last 5 days!