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What does it mean to be an American Catholic in the 21st century? The American bishops have published the new, 637-page United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. No time to read it? Catechism for US is an appetizer and a companion to the new catechism. Each month, learn more about your faith—and how to live it.

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Loving God With Whole Mind and Heart

by Joan McKamey

What would your life look like if you really put God first? Where is God on your list of priorities? Most of us are bombarded by so many demands competing for our attention and time that we fail to prioritize at all. Too often, we just try to keep up with what others tell us is important. Selfishness is prevalent—even encouraged and applauded—in our society. “Looking out for #1” is the personal motto of many.

Who is your #1? Does God even make your Top 5?

Sorting out priorities

After more than a year of trying to conceive, my husband, Jon, and I were thrilled when I became pregnant in the spring of 1994. This time of joy was burdened with the decision about how best to care for our baby. We both wanted our child’s early years to be spent in our home with one of us, but no matter how many times we worked the single-salary figures, the numbers always came out red.

My boss’s inflexibility ultimately forced us to make the choice we both wanted anyway: I would stay home with our daughter. Jon and I both believed that if we were doing what was right in our situation, God would provide. It was a major leap of faith (my husband and I both like control) and a time of solidifying our relationship with each other and with God.

Jon and I grew through this decision-making and through living out our decision to trust God. We made our family, particularly the care of our daughter, our priority. This helped put all the required sacrifices in perspective. We experienced our true and lasting riches while living quite simply. And God did, in fact, take care of us.

We turn often to a framed verse that hangs in our bedroom: “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21). The truth of this statement has been brought home to me repeatedly. I’ve learned that when I put God first, good things follow. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t times of sacrifice and pain, but life gains greater meaning and joy even in the struggles.

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The first three commandments

The Ten Commandments call us to prioritize. They “help us know how to serve God and how we should live with each other” (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 341). Through them, God helps us to live moral lives.

The first three commandments concern our relationship with God—worship only God, honor God’s name, keep the sabbath. If we claim that God is important, it’s natural that we will want to follow those commandments that acknowledge God as worthy of our praise. We will want to obey out of love, not fear.

Starting with God

Putting God first means that I have to deal with my desires for things that may give me value in the eyes of the world or that have become overly important (like gods) to me. Having come from a financially insecure childhood, I overemphasized the value of saving money as an adult. While the prudent use of financial resources is good, my preoccupation neared obsession. That made leaving my job (and income) all the more difficult.

Jon and I had faith—we had experienced God in creation, human love, our inner lives and community. We clung to hope, the “confidence that God accompanies us” (USCCA, p. 343). We celebrated God’s love in our marriage and growing family. It was natural (though admittedly challenging) to respond to God’s love with our trust.

It’s not easy to put God first in a culture that might as soon deny God’s existence. There are many “distractions that shut out the majestic voice,” but God calls, shouts, tries to break through our deafness (USCCA, p. 346). We need to tune out the voices that clamor for our attention and that tell us how to be valued in the eyes of the world. We are already worthy in God’s eyes. Our priority should be to respond to God’s love.

God’s name is sacred

I learned names quickly as a classroom teacher. I needed to call students by name if I was to maintain control. And, naturally, I most quickly learned the names of the children who challenged me in class. We give people power over us when we give them our name. (Just think of identity theft.) We may take pride in our family names and feel slighted when called by the wrong name or when our name is misspelled. We think, “Aren’t I important enough for them to get it right?!”

In the Harry Potter series, people avoid calling the dark Lord Voldemort by name, referring to him as “he who must not be named.” It’s as if by saying his name they give him power over them. Harry and his friends fight against Voldemort’s power and begin to speak his name.

Faithful believers must show reverence for God’s name above all others. We must do what we can to keep God’s name holy. My husband’s co-worker says, “Call on him!” whenever she hears someone say, “Oh, God!”—that too-common exclamation.

We must not use God’s name in any disrespectful or manipulative way. As a witness in a court case some years ago, I was outraged to learn that other witnesses had lied—after swearing before God that they would tell the truth! It’s an even greater outrage when people use God to justify war and terrorism.

Using God’s name with respect is the beginning of treating others, those created in God’s image, with respect. As Christians, members of Christ’s body on earth, we acknowledge the name of Jesus as “above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:9-11).

Keeping the Sabbath

Life can be so full that it overflows. Fitting all of our busyness into six days and resting on the seventh can be a real challenge. In spite of the challenge, it’s in our best interest to reclaim Sunday, our Christian Sabbath, as a day to celebrate the Eucharist, enrich family life and rest.

Many of us hurry and worry about being productive so much of the time that it’s a real challenge to shift gears for keeping the Sabbath. I admit that sometimes things in my life need to be accomplished on a Sunday because they didn’t fit into my work week. And sometimes my mind just won’t let go of that list of things that still need to be done or are overdue. But with conscious effort, most of us could do a better job of keeping Sunday holy—and be better for it.

God’s invitation

My husband is quite protective of his Sunday evenings. He wants that breathing time before the start of another work week. This “home time” has become good family time. While we start the day together at Mass, we often drift apart in the afternoon—reading, watching a movie or sporting event, napping. It’s good to come back together for our evening meal and a family game night or television shows we all enjoy. We accomplish both personal and family down time. And yes, this is an accomplishment—one that serves us well.

Not everyone works a Monday-to-Friday schedule. Sometimes a shopping trip is necessary because it’s the only time to fit it in. And sometimes I do things like balance the checkbook before getting cozy with my latest novel. We don’t have to be rigid in our keeping of the Sabbath.

Sunday is our Christian Sabbath because Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week.” But God’s invitation to us is not just about honoring the Sabbath as best as we can. It’s also about claiming time to enjoy and give thanks for the lives he’s given us. It’s about priorities. What would your life look like if you really put God first?

The theme of this article is drawn from Ch. 25, 26 and 27 of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (pp. 339-371).

Joan McKamey worked professionally as a catechist and DRE before joining the staff at St. Anthony Messenger Press. She holds a master’s in Religious Studies/Pastoral Family Studies from the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati.

Next: Love and Respect in Family

    

Questions

• What would your life look like if you really put God first? Where is God on your list of priorities? Who or what is your #1? Does God make your Top 5?

• Of the first three commandments—put God first, honor God’s name and keep the Sabbath holy—which one presents the greatest challenge to you? What makes it so difficult for you?

• What changes will you make in your life in order to better honor God’s name, keep the Sabbath holy and make God a priority? How can your family and faith community do a better job of following these three commandments?

 

 

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