If we ask someone what is most important to them they will often times answer the question the way it should be answered rather than the actual and truthful answer. Ask a believer who is most important in their life and they will usually answer, “God.” But is that the truest answer? Others who are unbelievers will often say, “My spouse” or “My children” and so forth. That is the expected answer but is it really the truest answer?
One way of measuring what we value most is to honestly assess what we spend our money and time on. Where is most of our time spent? Where do we spend most of our money? For us who believe where does God REALLY rank when we use this measure?
Now clearly a disclaimer is needed right from the start. It is a true fact that most of us have to work at least 8 hours a day. We have little choice in this. It is not reasonable to expect that we could also spend 8 hours a day in soulful meditation. Further, we have mortgages and health care cost etc that we have to pay. We have little choice but to pay rather high amounts in these areas and we not be free to give as much to the Church or to religious pursuits. So our reflection should limit itself to what we might call disposable income and leisure or free time. But again, with this disclaimer in mind, where does God rank in how we spend our time and money? And also where does God really rank insofar as our manifest interest and passions lie?
In this post I am not going to try and give endless statistics and mathematically demonstrate where God is on our priority list. I just want to give a few brief reflections to start a conversation if you will. I hope you might add to the list of reflections I offer here and make what you think are necessary distinctions. So to begin the conversation here are some short reflection points of my own.
1. Most football games last about 4 hours if you count the usual pre-game and post game interviews etc. Many people gladly watch these games in their homes. Some will even go to a cold and rainy stadium sit in uncomfortable seats, endure crowded conditions, traffic coming going there and they will pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege. Some of these same people get angry if Holy Mass lasts for more than 45 minutes. Often they will come late and leave early. And, God forbid, if the Mass extends past one hour they are visibly angry. If the football game goes into overtime they are excited. If Mass runs long they are upset. Football is all about a bag full of air being carried up and down a field. The Mass is about the once-for-all perfect Sacrifice of Jesus Christ who gave his life for us. Now let’s see, what is more important? Well, clearly what goes on at Mass is more important. But what do many people really value more? Well let’s see….45 minutes (mostly just endured)….vs…..4 hours (gladly received). Hmm….What is most valuable?
2. Catholics give between 1% and 2% of their income as a Church offering. In 2002 the average Household income was just over $45,000 (Source Forbes.com) and that same year the average Catholic household contribution was $455. In other words, 1% of income was given to the Church. Add in other contributions and donations such as second collections building funds etc and the number is closer to 2% given to the Church. The average American household spends 5.46 % of income dining out, 4.7% on entertainment, 7.8% on cars, and 1.1% on alcohol alone (Source Forbes.com). Hmm….What do we value more? Going to Mass or a restaurant? What we get at the Church or what we get at the movies? Now let’s see, the average Catholic looks to be putting about $8 or 9$ in the collection basket. The average NFL ticket is $67, the average live theater ticket up in the tier is $30, the average baseball ticket is about $25, the average movie ticket is about $8. The cost of these things is usually much higher in large cities. Now let’s see what do we value most?
3. The average American spends about 4 hours watching TV per day and about 4 1/2 hours in cumulative leisure activities (source Bureau of Labor Statistics). Mass is about 1 hour per week. It is hard to track the length of time people spend in prayer, study of the faith or spiritual reading each day. Many do not pray at all, some pray for a few minutes, a few pray as much as hour each day which is commendable. But really what do you think most people value most? TV and other leisure or prayer and other spiritual pursuits. It is true that recreation is important as is relaxation. But so is prayer and knowledge of the faith. What do you think most people value more?
4. The American Dream is a great pursuit that consumes an enormous amount of time and money to achieve. Years in schooling including expensive colleges. Years of study to pass tests, meet standards and receive a diploma. This then yields a career which consumes most of our future time. All for the house with cathedral ceilings in the great room, a three car garage, wide screen TVs etc. But all of this is temporary and it is uncertain if we will attain it all or not even after all the work. Heaven or hell on the other hand is eternal and our death and judgment are certain. We spend all our time working for things that pass and little time working on what is eternal and what will last. Heaven is our hope but hell is possible if we fail to be serious about our final destiny. But really, what is most on our mind? What is most important? What do we spend more time, money, energy and focus on? Is it the American Dream or is it heaven?
5. Yesterday I saw a line for a phone store that went around the block. They were standing there for hours to get a new phone that has come out. It was 98 degrees here in DC yesterday. Would they stand in line even five minutes to get into a Church? What if the Air Conditioning was out at the Church? Would we be willing to stay for the Mass for any length of time in those conditions?
6. People get passionate about sports and politics. Have you noticed how worked up people can get at a football game or political rally? People are clearly alive and very animated and alert for such things. But go into the average Mass and look at people. Many look like they’ve just sucked a lemon; bored believers, distracted disciples, sleepy saints, the frozen chosen. You may say, well the Mass is boring. Well, I think a soccer game is boring. Baseball too. But fans (short for fanatic) tell me, “Oh you just don’t know what is going on. If you did you’d find it exciting.” It is a true fact that modern liturgy suffers from a flat-souled quality to some extent and we need to work at doing better with preaching and celebrating the Mass. But really, the deeper problem is that people “just don’t know what is going on.” But do we try to understand? And if not why not? People don’t wake up understanding the intricacies of of football, baseball etc. They aren’t infused with a knowledge of all the terminology, strategies of the game ad it’s subtleties. Like anything they work at learning all this. But when it comes to faith…..well that ‘s all too much work. So again, I ask, what is more important? What do we value most? What do we get most excited about? Is it the faith? Really? Or are we more passionate and dedicated, studious and interested when it comes to sport or politics? Truth is most people are more passionate about their politics than their faith. The teachings of the faith are tucked under politics and subservient to it. Sports too commands far greater passion for many than anything God is offering. What does this say? What do we value most?
Well, just some reflections. Please comment, add to the list. I know you will want to make distinctions and I’m also ready for some rebuttals. In the end the question is not what we say we value it is what we REALLY value. Help us Lord!
In this Video Fr. Robert Barron tells a story that also makes this point. He shows how we can be very sophisticated and demanding when it comes to learning the things of the world and yet when it comes to teaching the faith we ask almost nothing of our children. And again the question arises, what do we consider most important? And also, what do our children perceive our priorities to be based on this?