On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, ten lords a leaping.
On the tenth day of Christmas we turn our attention to the guide of the Christian moral life, the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments show us that we must love God above all things, and our neighbor as ourself. As each of the commandments could merit at least one post of its own, I will just briefly touch on them here.
1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them. (Exodus 20: 2-5)
The first commandment calls us to be faithful to God in the same way that he is faithful to us. We are to avoid any relationship or object that comes between our relationship with God. Whenever the first commandment surfaces on this blog, it seems the question of Catholics and idolatry rises to the surface. For those who might want to discuss this topic, I would direct you to an earlier post that can be found here.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. (Exodus 20:7)
There is something very powerful in a name. A name, in its true sense, captures the essence of what is being spoken about. The people of Israel took this so seriously that it was forbidden to even utter God’s name. They instead used the name Adonai when referring to him. This commandment reminds us that we are to use God’s name for the blessing of others, never as a curse, and never in blasphemy.
3. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work. (Exodus 20: 8-10)
As a culture we have lost the sense of the sabbath. Little by little we have allowed it to become like any other day. My hope is that even as our culture continues to ignore the sabbath, we Christians will reclaim it by taking time for worship, rest and time for strengthening relationships with family and friends.
4. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. (Exodus 20:12)
Even though there are many cases today of broken families and abuses that exist within families, the family is meant to be the classroom where we learn what it means to be a part of the greater society and to be in relationship with others. “The family should live in such a way that its members learn to care and take responsibility for the young, the old, the sick, the handicapped, and the poor.” (CCC, 2208)
5. You shall not kill. (Exodus 20:13)
This commandment goes well beyond the act of murder. Today in the United States we see attacks upon the sanctity of human life from all directions. Our faith reminds us that it is God who gives life and he alone decides when our earthly life is ended. “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end; no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.” (CCC, 2258)
6. You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)
At the heart of this commandment is the acknowledgement that sexual acts are meant to be shared in the context of marriage between a man and a woman. This physical act strengthens the love between them that sacramentally expresses Christ’s love for the Church. When a spouse is unfaithful, that sacramental love is broken.
7. You shall not steal. (Exodus 20:15)
This commandment calls upon each of us to respect the goods of one another. God has entrusted to each of us the stewardship of certain goods and gifts and we should not worry that someone will take from us what has been given out of love. Nor should we, out of greed, take what has not been given to us. This commandment should also remind us that we are the stewards of these gifts, not the owners as all ultimately belongs to God.
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)
In short, tell the truth. This is especially true when it comes to others. One of the ways people often break this commandment is through gossip. We will rarely have the opportunity to break this commandment in a courtroom, but we certainly have the opportunity when speaking to others at gathering in our churches, homes and on the telephone. Rumors about others can be very damaging. Let us be careful with our words.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. (Exodus 20:17)
My friend Irene when speaking of fasting often mentions fasting of the eyes. It seems to me that one way to strengthen ourselves against breaking this commandment is to practice fasting when it comes to our eyes. By catching ourselves looking with lust at a person who is not our spouse we can choose to focus our attention elsewhere. We are always going to have attraction to other people, but it is what we choose to do with those feelings that is important.
10. You shall not covet….anything that is your neighbor’s….You shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s. (Exodus 20:17)
At the root of these last two commandments is envy. “It refers to the sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly. (CCC, 2539) It is not sinful to desire good things for oneself, but when one can find no happiness for the good fortune of others we begin to covet which can be harmful to both ourselves and others.
When we examine our hearts, it is not difficult to discover the many ways that each of us break these commandments daily. By reflecting upon them often we can see both the ideal of Christian life and where we are falling short of this ideal. My hope is that by regularly examining our conscience we come to grow closer to following the commandments and come to know more deeply the mercy of God.