“Ask a Priest: Could I Be Slipping Into Idolatry?”

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Q: I watched a video and listened to podcasts that spoke about modern idolatry. Some forms could be technology or online shopping. I was doing online shopping during the pandemic and using my technology for everything for school, Mass, entertainment, communication with people, and different apps to help with prayer and Bible studies — hearing that they could be a form of idolatry has me worried that I committed it without meaning to. I usually start my day by saying hi to God or just in prayer for a bit in general and end my day in the same way. I’d sometimes pray throughout the day too, but a decent amount of my time was watching shows or reading. I don’t think I’m worshipping what I watch or read, but I’m just concerned. I did confess my worries to God and asked him for forgiveness. How do I know if I committed idolatry without fully meaning to? – S.Mc.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good that you are raising this question. Some people rarely if ever think about what idolatry can mean in day-to-day life. Anytime we start seeking our happiness and fulfillment in something apart from God, we are entering into the idolatry spectrum.

Idolatry might not be a risk in cases where you are using media to watch Mass or to help with prayer and Bible studies. And the fact that you are asking could be a sign that you haven’t quite given in to the kind of idolatry that that video and those podcasts warn about.

Nevertheless, shopping and the use of technology in general can take on the feel of idolatry at any point along a wide spectrum.

It is hard to pinpoint an exact moment when these things become “idols.” It’s like trying to pinpoint the moment when a marriage starts to fail.

Bad habits tend to develop slowly. One day we spend 30 minutes on the Internet looking to buy an unnecessary gadget. Another day we forgo a phone call to a sick relative because we are spending an hour browsing the Walmart website.

Then, little by little, more of our day revolves around shopping and web surfing and gadget-delivered entertainment. Contact with family and friends starts to wane. Perhaps our prayer time gets shorter and more distracted. Somewhere along the line, the Internet and social media take pride of place in our lives. And practical idolatry sets in.

Again, it is hard to pin down when lines are crossed. But the fact that you are asking about all this might be a prompting from the Holy Spirit to re-examine your priorities and how you spend your days.

It might help to print out a weekly grid and then see what you are doing at any given hour of the day (be honest!). It might be eye-opening to see how much time we dedicate to God and how much we dedicate to things of the world.

It is worth remembering, too, that at the end of life we will have to give account for how we used one of God’s most valuable gifts to us: time. So, we want to use it wisely.

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