Ever wonder where the phrase “cheap as dirt” came from? It probably has a long philological history, but one significant occurrence is in the biblical Book of Wisdom, where it’s used to describe how a particular father’s hope had become “cheaper than dirt.”

His heart had become “ashes” and “his life [was] of less worth than clay” (Wis 15:10, all references RSV). What had happened to cause this situation — and is it possible that it could happen to you or me?

Wisdom chapters 14 and 15 tell a sad story about a father who had become “consumed with grief” over the death of his son “who had been suddenly taken from him.” In an attempt to deal with his “untimely bereavement” he “made an image of his child” (see 14:15).

The Scriptures say that “he now honored as a god what was once a dead human being, and handed on to his dependents secret rites and initiations” (14:15). What began as one father trying to overcome his grief grew into a religion of idolatry.

In time, every manner of unspeakable immorality became accepted as a part, even a rite, in this new idolatrous religion. In the end, Scripture says, all this had happened — his hope had become cheap as dirt — “because he failed to know the one who formed him and inspired him with an active soul and breathed into him a living soul” (15:11).

I suspect that nearly everyone reading this column would presume that this could never happen to them. Which of us would ever be tempted to worship an idol of wood or stone, or even the picture of a dear lost loved one?

The apostle John ended his first epistle abruptly with the warning, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn 5:21). How could the first-century Christians to whom John was writing, enthusiastic converts who had learned their faith at the feet of the apostle “whom [Jesus] loved” (Jn 19:26), be in any danger of drifting off or back into idolatry?

Actually, that danger existed for the very same reason that the father in the Book of Wisdom had abandoned his faith for a false religion of idolatry: He had “failed to know the one who formed him” (15:11).We may know our faith well. We may practice all the rituals and rites of our faith with great diligence and devotion. But have we truly come to know Him who has “inspired [us] with an active soul and breathed into [us] a living soul”?In the late 1960s, a well-known spiritualist-medium led the first live televised s é ance. One of those taking part in this attempt to contact the dead was a nationally known Episcopal bishop, recognized for his liberal views and his interest in the occult. He hadlong abandoned his belief in the resurrection of Christ, yet he was intrigued by the claims of spiritualists.

At the time, this bishop was “consumed with grief” over the death of his son. He was hoping the spiritualist-medium could make contact with his lost child, to comfort him in his “untimely bereavement.”

On this live broadcast, the medium claimed to have made such contact, convincing the bishop to make a journey into the Judean desert where he, too, would make this contact. Two years later, while on this quest, the bishop was stranded in the desert after his car broke down, and he was later found there dead.

St. Peter wrote in his first epistle: “In your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pt 3:15).Usually this verse is understood in the context of defending our faith. But it is also a warning for you and me. We must have a hope within us that is firmly built on knowing and reverencing Christ as Lord. Only then can we stand strong and true whenever anyone or anything attempts to distract us — especially during times of great distress and bereavement. TCA

Marcus C. Grodi is host of the popular EWTN program "The Journey Home" and president of the Coming Home Network International. Contact him at mgrodi@osv.com