(This Article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2021 Issue #103)

By Francine Gikow, OFS

Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deut: 6:4-5)

So begins the “Shema,” commonly known as the most important prayer in the Jewish faith. It identifies that God alone is the only God, and we should love Him with all that we are and do―but so many of our prayers seem to be meditating about God rather than praying to Him.

For the Lord is a great God,

and a great King above all gods,

In His hand are the depths of the earth;

the heights of the mountains are his…

O come, let us worship and bow down,

let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

For He is our God…. (Psalm 95:)

The emphasis of our God being worthy of the highest praise, adoration, and love reiterates the first and greatest Commandment: “I am the Lord your God…and you shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex: 20: 2-3)

This commandment warns us that we should guard ourselves against making anything else a “god” in our life, such as money, power, status, wealth, material goods, self image, job, reputation, “toys” or even our time. Any “thing” can take the place of God if we allow it to do so, by limiting our attention, time, and love for God. We can make any ”thing” an idol―a false god.

It’s easy to deny that we worship idols, yet on closer examination, we may find an idol taking root in our lives. Review what topics/things/ issues occupy your mind during the day. What do you worry about? What are your preoccupations? What are you constantly thinking about? If these are inordinate desires―something that preoccupies us, then they have become an idol. They take up that special “space” in our lives that correctly belongs to God. By those thoughts/ idols, we push God out of our lives.

It is so easy to shift our focus away from God when the evil one entices us, little by little, to where we may not want to be. Nonetheless, constantly refocusing on God alone takes persistence and discipline―with a constant review of our priorities and efforts in putting God first.

Unfortunately, even in our spiritual life, we must be on guard. Sometimes we can mistake God’s works and gifts for God Himself. We may initially be attracted to the spiritual life with God’s gifts of beauty, creation, and even His consolations, but eventually, God doesn’t just want us to love Him only for his gifts or the works he performs. He wants us  to  love Him, desire Him, and  spend time with Him alone. He hungers for our love in relationship. He wants pure love, not conditional love.

St. Francis emphasizes the priority to love God purely and unconditionally when he writes in his early Rule: “let us desire nothing else, let us want nothing else, let nothing else please us and cause us delight except our Creator, Redeemer and Savior, the only true God…Let nothing else hinder us, nothing else separate us, nothing come between us. (ER:9-10)

To love God alone is our goal: to praise Him and to love Him.

All powerful, most holy, most high and supreme God, all good, supreme good, total good, you who alone are good: we give you all praise, all glory, all thanks, all honor, all blessing and every good. So be it! So be it! Amen. (OfP: Praises to Be Said at All Hours:11)