Earlier today, I linked to remarks from Pope Francis (which you should go read, because they’re great) and I mentioned that they reminded me of what are purported to be the last words of G.K. Chesterton: “It is between light and darkness, and everyone must choose his side.”
This afternoon, Francis’ words came to me again, and once again, they brought me to Chesterton, but a different line.
Pope Francis said: “Everyone must make his choice.”
Chesterton said: “When you chose one thing, you reject everything else.”
That’s quite a challenge these two men are bringing us, isn’t it? Everyone must choose; everyone must, having chosen, understand that their choice means a rejection of everything else.
We know the one thing Francis has chosen: the life in Christ. And for that, he has rejected everything else, going so far as to leave behind mother, father, sister, brother, wife, children, excessive creature comforts.
Jesus, in one of those phrases that makes us squirm, said:
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)
We none of us are “worthy”, of course, and it all sounds harsh, and certainly absolute, but I think what he is saying is that our lives are our own — that we alone make our own choice for him, or for something else. That if we are not choosing him, then we are neglecting him for something that we are willing to erect as a barrier between him and us. In which case, yeah, we’re not behaving in a worthy manner; we’re making him harder to see — making ourselves vulnerable to something other than him, and increasing our chances of getting lost.
It goes back to that first commandment again, doesn’t it? I am the Lord, thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Even if the stranger god is your beloved husband or child. In right worship, priorities matter; it’s first things, first. Choose Christ, choose the first commandment, and everything else follows. Everything else flows from the momentum of that choice — your family life, you work, your community labors, your amusements, your friends, your love life, even your alone-ness — they all descend from the height of your first choice.
God is most high. To choose God, his light, his way his truth (all Christ), means everything flows from the highest point. To choose something lesser is to compel your life to flow from a lesser rise — a hill, rather than a mountain.
So much less room to be, before one hits rock bottom.
“Everyone must make his choice”; “When you choose anything, you reject everything else.” In the matter of our souls, we are on our own. We cannot make our mother’s choice for her, or our son’s choice for him, and they cannot make their way to heaven on our contrails.
What is your choice? What is your first thing, your one thing, for which you reject everything else, and from which the rest of your life thus flows? Is it your job, your sexuality, your ideology, your intellect, your liturgical preferences, your opinions, your friends? None of those things are absolute. All of them contain an element of illusion and self-affirmation.
But Francis has spoken in an absolute, here — an absolute that might have gotten his predecessor in some hot water: Everyone must make his choice.
I want to believe that Christ is mine, but if I’m being honest, I know that “I” am usually my first choice. I am my idol. I like how Calah Alexander put it, today, in an open letter to her husband, that I could easily have written to mine: “You’re always thinking of me, which makes two of us.”
The mellow, gloriously-voiced Pat Gohn and I touched on this very subject, during a broad conversation for her podcast program, Among Women. As I was listening to it, I could tell I was raveling a thread, still trying to pinpoint that scripture verse from Matthew and how it impacted my understanding of idolatry, and choices, and why it all matters so much.
Now, I know.
So, honestly, what is your one thing? What is your choice, as demonstrated by how you live your life?
And what do you want your choice — your first-and-foremost — to really be?