The 29th installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 415-433 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Ten Commandments are like an “owner’s manual” for our humanity. Far from being arbitrary or outdated, they are God’s way of helping us know how we should live so as to attain true happiness and fulfill the purpose of our existence. What they teach can be known, however imperfectly, by reason. They universally apply to people of all times and places.
Jesus Christ reaffirmed the truth of the Ten Commandments not only by what he said and did but also by his very identity as the eternal Son of God. By assuming our human nature and becoming one of us, he revealed the Father’s love. He revealed us to ourselves and showed us who we truly are in the sight of God. The commandments are thus crucial not only in our human development, but also in our response to the many ways God calls us to share his life and love.
'I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD’
Asked by a young man how to attain eternal life, Jesus told him to keep the commandments and then to follow him. We can “rediscover” the truth and permanent validity of the commandments by reflecting on how perfectly Jesus showed their fullest meaning (Compendium, 434). In Jesus, the good teacher, the commandments are summed up in loving the Lord with all one’s being and loving one’s neighbor as oneself (435)
The Ten Commandments — also called the “Decalogue” or “ten words” — are a summary of the law given to Moses as part of God’s covenant with the people of Israel. The first three commandments pertain to love of God, and the remaining seven pertain to love of neighbor. Taken together, the commandments show us the path to freedom from sin so that we can truly love God and neighbor in purity of heart (436). Indeed, the commandments are not mere rules. What God asks of his people is that they express their gratitude by doing what is right and good, in turn becoming the people he created them to be (437).
Following Jesus, the Church recognizes the fundamental importance of the commandments and teaches us to follow them. The Church also helps us see how they are interrelated and pertain to our duties toward God and our neighbor. Breaking one commandment can seriously weaken our love and dispose us to break others. Although weakened by sin, we are enabled to keep the commandments because of the grace of Christ given to us by the Holy Spirit (438-441).
We turn now to the first three commandments, which regard our duty to love God with our entire being. The first is this: “I am the Lord your God. You shall not have other gods before me.” Here, we acknowledge the only true and living God through the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Through faith, we believe in God and reject deliberate doubt or unbelief, false teachings (heresy), the total repudiation of the Catholic faith (apostasy), and the willful separation of oneself from the Catholic faith (schism). The virtue of hope “trustingly awaits the blessed vision of God and his help” while avoiding despair or presuming that God will reward us no matter what we do. Charity “loves God above all things” and thus rejects every form of ingratitude and indifference toward God’s love. It also rejects laziness in our spiritual life and, above all, hatred of God born of pride (442).
WORSHIPPING IN SPIRIT AND TRUTH
Both as individuals and as a community of faith, we are to adore and worship God alone. We do so in private prayer and in the celebration of the sacraments, most especially the Mass, and by giving praise to God by how we live. Our human dignity demands that the sincere search for God and one’s response to him must be carried out in freedom (443-444).
The worship of “false gods” forbidden by the First Commandment can take the form of power, money or pleasure, as well as demon-worship. Superstitious beliefs are also opposed to authentic religion. In our day, God is often profaned by ridiculing religious faith, and there is an aggressive atheism that seeks to discredit those who profess belief. With “practical atheism,” meanwhile, a person decides that not much can be known about God and then proceeds to live as if God did not exist (445). Forbidden also are idols or false images of God. This does not include things such as images of the Trinity or statutes of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints; these are not worshipped but simply serve to remind us of heavenly realities (446).
The Second Commandment forbids us to take God’s name in vain. The name of God is itself holy and worthy of all praise. When someone shows contempt for God’s name (blasphemy) or uses God’s name as a curse rather than a blessing, God is dishonored. This commandment also forbids us to swear by God’s name (447-448).
The Third Commandment tells us to “keep holy the Sabbath.” In the story of creation, God “rested” on the seventh day and asked his people to rest. Since Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, the Sabbath was changed to Sunday for Christians. We are to keep Sunday holy by avoiding unnecessary work and by attending Mass (450-453). Deliberately missing Sunday Mass violates both the Third Commandment and the first precept of the Church. Simply put, Christ in the Eucharist must be the center of our lives, and that cannot happen if we are absent from Sunday Mass. Finally, as citizens and believers we should do all in our power to preserve Sunday as a day of rest and worship.
By following the commandments in the spirit of the Beatitudes, may our lives truly be “a living sacrifice of praise.”