must love God above all things.
“[W]hich is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.” St. Matthew’s Gospel, 22:36-27.
He is a jealous God
Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. ... I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous .... Exodus 20:3, 5.
and our love for Him must be exclusive. Nothing else must compete with God for our love. We must love everything else—including ourselves—for God’s sake and out of love of God.
Through charity we can eliminate our self-centeredness. Here is how St. John of the Cross, Mystical Doctor of the Church, explains this truth:
Charity voids and annihilates the affections and desires of the will for whatever is not God, and sets them upon Him alone ....
Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross, Bk 2, ch.21, §11 (emphasis added).
With such love of God, we then love all other things for God’s sake. Here is how St. Thomas teaches this truth by quoting what St. Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. i, 23):
“There are four things to be loved; one which is above us,” namely God, “another, which is ourselves, a third which is nigh to us,” namely our neighbor, “and a fourth which is beneath us,” namely our own body.
Summa, IIa IIae, Q.25, a.12, sed contra.
We live in the world but must not be of the world.
Our happiness on earth, our holiness, and our beatitude in heaven (God-willing, we get to heaven) depend on the intensity
of our Charity. This Charity, is inherently Friendship with God.
Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas, greatest Doctor of the Church, explains this truth:
It is written (John 15:15): “I will not now call you servants . . . but My friends.” Now this was said to them by reason of nothing else than charity. Therefore, charity is friendship. ...
According to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 2,3) not every love has the character of friendship, but that love which is together with benevolence, when, to wit, we love someone so as to wish good to him. If, however, we do not wish good to what we love, but wish its good for ourselves, (thus we are said to love wine, or a horse, or the like), it is love not of friendship, but of a kind of concupiscence. For it would be absurd to speak of having friendship for wine or for a horse.
Yet neither does well-wishing suffice for friendship, for a certain mutual love is requisite, since friendship is between friend and friend: and this well-wishing is founded on some kind of communication.
Accordingly, since there is a communication between man and God, inasmuch as He communicates His happiness to us, some kind of friendship must needs be based on this same communication, of which it is written (1 Corinthians 1:9): “God is faithful: by Whom you are called unto the fellowship of His Son." The love which is based on this communication, is charity: wherefore it is evident that charity is the friendship of man for God.
Summa, IIa IIae, Q.23, a.1, sed contra and respondeo.
Love makes sacrifice easy and great love makes it a joy.
The traditional Catholic marriage exhortation (which the priest reads before the marriage vows) includes these beautiful words:
Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete.
A man who loves much does not “count the cost” and he sacrifices gladly for his friend.
“If a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he shall despise it as nothing.” Canticle of Canticles, 8:7.
The weaker a man’s love is for his friend, the more reluctant he is to sacrifice for him. Thus, in seeking ever-greater Divine Friendship (which is life’s goal), we must root out all “false gods” which compete with this Divine Friendship. These false gods are anything we are reluctant to sacrifice for our Divine Friend.
Sinful companions, sinful amusements, sinful pleasures, and other sinful attachments, are obviously false gods.
But those “false gods” might be anything else we love to excess. For example, a person might focus too much on sports, physical fitness, a very particular dietary regimen
Our Lord admonishes us to not be solicitous about our food: “Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat?”. St. Matthew’s Gospel, 6:31.
, health food, natural remedies, political or social causes, money, food, entertainment, a cherished “classic” car, our bodily health, or anything else.
Here is how St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Doctor of the Church, explains this truth:
[W]hen the sinner, because of some pleasure, offends God, that pleasure becomes his god, because he makes it his ultimate aim. St. Jerome observes: “That which any one desires, if he venerates it, becomes his god; a vice in the heart is an idol upon the altar.”
And St. Thomas says, “If you love pleasures, they are called thy god.” And St. Cyprian, “Whatever man places before God, he makes a god to himself.”
When Jeroboam rebelled against God, he tried to draw the people with him into idolatry, and therefore he presented his gods unto them, and cried, “Behold thy gods, O Israel.” (l Kings xii, 28.)
Even so, does the devil present some gratification to the sinner, and say,
“What hast thou to do with God? This pleasure is thy god. This passion. Take it, and leave God.” And when the sinner consents, he in his heart adores that pleasure as a god. When the sinner dishonors God, he not only dishonors Him in His presence, but he dishonors Him to His face, because God is everywhere present. “I fill heaven and earth." (Jer. xxiii. 24.) And the sinner knows this, and for all that ceases not to provoke God, even in His presence. “A people that provoketh Me to anger continually to My face.” (Isa. Ixv. 3.)
Preparation for Death, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Consideration 15, point 2.
If we truly love our Divine Friend and if we worship no false “gods”, then our life would prove this, by having Him always “come first” with us in everything. We would detach ourselves from all things that are not God, and use them only to the extent they help us to increase in the love for our Divine Friend.
Here is how St. Ignatius of Loyola explains this truth in the Spiritual Exercises that he received from Our Lady, in the cave of Manresa, Spain, in 1522:
Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it. For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things
in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.
Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, beginning of the First Week, Principle and Foundation (emphasis added).
We must attach ourselves completely and exclusively to our Divine Friend. We must have no false gods. We must be detached from all creatures.
But most people fool themselves as to how much they value creatures compared to God. To help you find the false gods in your life, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Do I think about God more often than anything else, and keep in mind that everything I do should be serving Him?
If you think about something else more often than your Divine Friend, maybe this creature is your false god.
Do I talk more about God (and the things of God), or do I talk more about something else?
We tend to talk about what we love. If you talk more about something else than about your Divine Friend, maybe that creature is your false god.
What do I prefer to talk about, when I chose the topic of conversation?
Our Lord teaches: “the things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart”. St. Matthew’s Gospel, 15:18.
If you prefer to talk about your Divine Friend and often bring Him into your conversations—regardless of the original topic of conversation—that is a sign He comes first in your life.
By contrast, if your conversations often work toward whatever else is your “favorite subject”, it strongly indicates that this creature is your false god.
What do I read when I can pick whatever topic I wish?
When we have a choice, we tend to read about what is important to us. If you usually read about topics other than the things of God, maybe those topics are your false gods.
When I can spend a little additional time on something, what do I choose to do?
When we have a choice, we tend to spend more time with what is important to us. If you choose to spend that time on keeping your Divine Friend company (prayer), that indicates you put Him first. When you spend that time on some creature instead of God, maybe that creature is your false god.
What people do I spend time with, when I can choose?
We tend to spend time with people who share our interests. If you identify the false gods of those you spend time with, this is probably your false god too.
When I have a little free time to spend with any friend I choose, do I prefer to spend it with my Divine Friend (prayer)?
If our Divine Friend comes first with us, we would want to spend more time with Him instead of with our other friends.
At my Judgment, from which creatures would I wish I had been more detached?
Do I listen to the popular, decadent music of the world? Or do I listen to beautiful, ordered music, especially Traditional Catholic music?
Do I indulge in television and other popular, decadent entertainments of the world? Or do I read good books of lasting value, especially daily spiritual reading?
- If I were advising a friend in my situation, to which creatures would I advise him to be less attached?
- Do I hide from my friends, my spouse, or my children, the amount of time or attention I give to (or money I spend on) a particular creature?
- Would I be displeased if someone noticed that I am “always” spending time with (or spending money on) a particular creature?
The entire reason God made us is to become His friends, and to grow in His friendship. We must be single-mindedly devoted to God, without any competing attachments to creatures. God must be our whole life!
We must first identify every false “god” we worship and then expel it from the temple of our heart. Let us do this now, completely and permanently!