In Muslim countries like Pakistan, many of the young men begin studying the Koran as soon as they can read. In fact, many of them learn to read using the Koran. They read and discuss the Koran every day, for hours each day, every day of the week until they know it by heart. Many of them can recite whole sections of the Koran without thinking. Little by little, like water dripping on a stone, it shapes their whole view of the world—what’s right and what’s wrong; what’s important and what’s not.
Here in America, we have a similar kind of training. It’s called television. The typical American spends between three and seven hours a day watching TV and sees well over 2 million commercials in the course of a lifetime.
That’s a form of education. And most of what we see on TV teaches us that buying a lot of products makes us happy; that young is good and old is bad; that we should eat whatever we want but that we also need to be thin; that suffering doesn’t have any meaning; that relationships never last; that most families are dysfunctional; that authority is dangerous; and that religious people are hypocritical.
None of us lives forever. Or rather, all of us live forever, but only for a very short time in this world. If we lose our money, we can often earn it back. But if we misuse our time, we can never get it back. Where we put our time shows the world what we really value and believe. What we really believe shapes our choices. And our choices shape our eternity.
Muslims didn’t develop their admirable piety in a vacuum. They borrowed their reverence from Jews and early Christians, who had a profound love for the written Word of God in the Old and New Testaments. The lesson for us today is simple. American Catholics have the one true Word of God in the Bible. If we took just one hour of the time we waste on television every day and used it to study and pray over the Gospels, we’d be fundamentally different people, and our country and our world would be transformed.
We were made for better things than silver and gold. We’re more than what we own or think we want. We’re children of God bought back from slavery by the blood of God’s son. Somebody infinitely good, willingly died to make us free. That’s how precious we are in the eyes of God. God loves us infinitely. That’s the source of our faith and hope.
God’s love is not something anyone can buy. It’s a free gift. But it comes with consequences. If we really believe that God raised his son from the dead in order to raise us along with him, then we need to act like it. We need to submit our time and our actions to what we claim to believe. A meaningful life is a life conformed to imperishable things. And a futile life is a life that puts its time in the wrong places—into things that perish; things that lead us away from conforming our lives to Jesus Christ.
Those are the two options. We get to choose.
Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap. is the archbishop of Denver. To read more writings and discourses by Archbishop Chaput, click here.