Tag Archives: Commandments

Obedience, the Love Language of Jesus

19 May

discipleshipIn today’s Gospel, we hear these words of Jesus: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Our Lord emphasizes in this passage the close connection between love and obedience.

I think there is some parallel here to faith and works. Faith without works is dead (James 3:17), while works without faith are futile. We need both. More specifically, an authentic, living faith should lead to actions that reflect our upward calling in Christ (cf. Philippians 3:14). If the faith isn’t affecting how we live, then it is for all intents and purposes lifeless.

Love without works is also dead. Ask any married person if he or she would feel loved if their spouse on occasion said “I love you” but never backed it up with meaningful action. Learning to love one’s spouse well  involves discerning what actions make each feel loved (i.e., their “love language”) and making a habit of those loving actions.

Our Lord wants those who love Him to follow Him every day. He wants us to be close to Him. We certainly do this by setting aside time for public and liturgical prayer. But following Him as His disciple goes beyond these moments of prayer to how we live 24/7. We can’t sit at Jesus’ feet during Mass or a Holy Hour and then disregard His Word to us the rest of the time!  He expects our obedience–our not only hearing His Word but also putting it into action out of love for Him.

Obeying the commandments without love is not possible and, even if it were, it wouldn’t be what saves us. At the other extreme, saying we love the Lord but not doing what He teaches us through His Church doesn’t work, either. As Jesus says, not everyone who calls out “I love you, Jesus” will be saved, “but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

It’s clear, then, that a significant way we manifest our love for God is by obeying Him. In this regard, the Blessed Virgin Mary is a model for us. Our Lord says that she is blessed not so much because she gave birth to Him, but because she heard the Word of God and kept it (Luke 8:21; 11:27-28). Not surprisingly, one of her simplest yet most profound messages for all of us is that we ‘do whatever Jesus tells us’ (cf. John 2:5).

Christ has told us and Mary has shown us that obedience is Jesus’s love language. If we truly love Jesus as Our Lord and Savior, we can’t help but strive to keep His commandments.

Complete Joy

2 May

complete joyIn today’s Gospel (John 15:9-11), Our Lord tells us something for the explicit purpose of imparting His joy to us, so that our “joy might be complete.” What was this joy-producing message? It was this:

“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

The connection between keeping the commandments and loving God is a recurring theme in the biblical writings of St. John, and in this particular instance we hear it from the Lord Himself, with the motive that we might be filled with joy.

A few years ago I told my then six-year-old son Samuel that he was developing into a fine young Christian man, and that I thought that he was about ready to make his First Confession. I told him, however, that in order to make a good Confession, he would have to know the commandments. He replied, “I know them already.” I was justifiably skeptical, so I asked him what they were. He answered: “Obey your parents, don’t pick your nose, listen to your teacher . . .”

Obviously Sam still needed a little work (and a handkerchief).

But in our own lives as adults, do we experience the observance of the commandments as simply following a bunch of arbitrary rules, or as the means of discovering the complete joy that the Lord wants to give us?

In creating us in His image and likeness, God gave us free will and expects us to use it well. He doesn’t coerce us to love Him and follow His commandments.

Human freedom is widely misunderstood today, as many understand freedom as existing apart from the truth about God and about human nature. The discussion surrounding Jason Collins’ “coming out” this week is but one example. Freedom has become a very personal, exclusively subjective reality that boils down to the ability to do whatever I might feel like doing at a particular time, apart from the “rightness” or the “goodness” of such choices. This, of course, is not authentic human freedom, but mere license or whim.

And so Our Lord today reminds us that obeying the commandments does not involve a renunciation of freedom. Rather, it involves the exercise of freedom to do good, rather than evil. This wise use of our freedom results in our loving God and neighbor, and brings us “complete joy.” Sounds like a ”win win” situation to me!

Working for Sunday

15 Jan

st joseph the workerA friend recently asked me, “Isn’t human work the result of the fall? How should Catholics view the subject of work?” Here’s how I responded:

In the beginning, God fashioned man in His image and likeness and called him to “cultivate and care for” (Gen. 1:15) the land that was given him. Therefore, work was part of human life before the fall, and thus it is not in itself a punishment or curse. Since the fall, work has become burdensome (see Gen. 3:17-19), but it has also been redeemed by Christ.

The life and preaching of Christ is instructive. For example, we know that He spent most of His years tending to the carpentry trade that St. Joseph taught Him. Once His public ministry began, He described His mission as involving work: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn. 5:17), and He often likened His disciples to laborers for His harvest (e.g., Mt. 9:37-38).

He taught us to be diligent in our work, but also not to be enslaved by it. We must not let work or other worldly concerns consume us with anxiety, but rather we must see our work as a way of honoring the Father.

Work is a duty. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (no. 264) teaches: “No Christian, in light of the fact that he belongs to a united and fraternal community, should feel that he has the right not to work and to live at the expense of others (cf. 2 Thes 3:6-12).” Work enables us to participate in the ongoing work of creation as collaborators with God. In doing so, we become who we were created to be, we honor God through our use of the gifts and talents He gave us, we provide support for ourselves and our family, and we help build up the human community. Continue reading

The Name Above All Names

3 Jan

St. BernardineToday is the memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus. The saints through the ages have borne witness to the Holy Name of Jesus. Here are a few noteworthy examples:

“At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” –St. Paul (Philippians 2:10-11)

“St. Paul bore the Name of Jesus on his forehead because he gloried in proclaiming it to all men; he bore it on his lips because he loved to invoke it; on his hands, for he loved to write it in his epistles; in his heart, for his heart burned with love of it.” –St. Thomas Aquinas

“Jesus, Name full of glory, grace, love and strength! You are the refuge of those who repent, our banner of warfare in this life, the medicine of souls, the comfort of those who mourn, the delight of those who believe, the light of those who preach the true faith, the wages of those who toil, the healing of the sick. To You our devotion aspires; by You our prayers are received; we delight in contemplating You. O Name of Jesus, You are the glory of all the saints for eternity. Amen.”
St. Bernardine of Siena

Devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus is truly the antidote for sins against the Second Commandment. (“Thou shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.”) The goal is to duly honor and praise Our Lord, and not simply avoid blasphemy or cursing. Here are some of the ways we keep the Lord”s name holy:

–Fostering a sense of the sacred, of God’s presence and action in our midst.
–Proclaiming without fear our belief in the Holy Trinity.
–Listening attentively to the Word of God.
–Offering prayers of praise and thanksgiving, and by invoking His name in times of need.
–Taking oaths very seriously, in honesty and integrity, because taking an oath (“swearing to God”) is to call upon God as a witness to the truth of what we are saying.

Are names important? What are the first three words of our most common prayer? “In the name . . .” And in return, God doesn’t call us in some generic fashion. Rather, He calls each of us by name. For more, check out Catechism, nos. 2142-67. 

Catechesis on the Eighth Commandment

19 Dec

In the final post in our series on the commandments we turn to the Eighth Commandment:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

All people, despite our fallen nature, are naturally drawn to the truth. We were made to seek the truth with sincerity and to live it. We admire honesty, but we are disgusted by hypocrisy, which is nothing other than the disconnect between knowing the truth and a failure to live it.

Christ is the fulfillment of our human yearning for truth. In fact, He identified Himself as “the truth” (Jn. 14:6). His words are the truth that set us free (Jn. 8:31-32).

The Eighth Commandment, then, exhorts us to speak and live the truth.  It calls us to live honest, upright lives as “children of the light” (1 Thess. 5:5), as authentic witnesses of the truth that is Christ.

As Christ came into the world to “bear witness to the truth” (Jn. 18:37), so too as His followers we must bear witness to the truth of the Gospel in every aspect of our lives even, if necessary, to the point of death. The Church has always considered martyrdom as the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith. Indeed, as the ancient saying goes, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

Some of the principal sins against the Eighth Commandment include:

Lying: Speaking or acting against the truth in order to lead someone into error.

False Witness: Making a public statement contrary to the truth, thus compromising the proper exercise of judgment. When done under oath, it’s the sin of perjury, which is also a sin against the Second Commandment.

Rash judgment: Assuming as true, without sufficient information, the moral fault of another.

Detraction: Unnecessarily disclosing another’s faults to someone who doesn’t already know them.

Calumny: Also known as slander or defamation, making statements contrary to the truth in order to harm another’s reputation.

Any sin committed against the Eighth Commandment demands reparation if it has caused harm to others. Often this might entail not only issuing a private apology, but also setting the record straight.

The Eighth Commandment requires respect for the truth, but it also calls forth the exercise of prudence and charity when it comes to imparting information to others. The commandment requires us to respect the privacy of others, and to exercise the utmost discretion in respecting confidences and secrets that have been confided to us.

The Eighth Commandment applies in a particular way to the use of modern means of social communication. The media serves the common good by providing information that is truthful and presented fairly, in keeping with the moral law and the legitimate rights and dignity of the person.

The truth is beautiful. Therefore, artistic works can be expressions of truth. Sacred art that is true and beautiful brings alive the mystery of God made visible in Christ. It leads to the adoration of God, the Creator and Savior who is the surpassing, invisible Beauty of Truth and Love (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 526). Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI has identified sacred art as being a more compelling witness to the truth of the Catholic faith than verbal arguments and explanations (Ratzinger Report, pp. 129-30).

For more on this commandment, check out Catechism, nos. 2464-2513.

Catechesis on the Seventh and Tenth Commandments

13 Dec

stealToday in our catechetical series on the commandments, we turn to the Seventh Commandment:

You shall not steal.

But just as the Sixth and Ninth Commandments work together to shape our approach to human sexuality, the Seventh and Tenth Commandments work together to shape our approach to the goods of this world, recognizing that we “cannot love God and money” (Mt. 6:24). The Church isn’t satisfied with our simply not taking what doesn’t belong to us (though that’s a good start!), but wants us to approach worldly goods in a spirit of stewardship and detachment. So we also include here the Tenth Commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

The Seventh Commandment forbids theft, which is the unjust taking or using of another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. This can be done also by paying unjust wages, speculating on the value of goods in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others, or by forging checks or invoices. Other acts forbidden by this commandment include tax evasion, business fraud, willful destruction of private or public property, usury, corruption, the private abuse of common goods, work deliberately done poorly, and waste.

Early in its treatment of the Seventh Commandment, the Catechism talks about the “universal destination of goods,” a principle which acknowledges that God entrusted the earth’s resources to all people. This speaks not only to our sharing resources with others who are less fortunate than we are, but also being good stewards of creation and the earth’s resources for future generations.

At the same time, the Church affirms the right to private property, so long as it’s justly obtained and used. The purpose of private property is to guarantee the freedom and dignity of individual persons by helping them to meet the basic needs of those in their charge and also of others who are in need.

As Vatican II, citing numerous saints and social encyclicals, teaches:

“[M]an should regard the external things that he legitimately possesses not only as his own but also as common in the sense that they should be able to benefit not only him but also others. On the other hand, the right of having a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church held this opinion, teaching that men are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 69).

One can readily see that the Church finds in this commandment the basis for her rich social teaching, which guides our approach to economic, social, and political life, the right and the duty of human labor, justice and solidarity among nations, and love for the poor. Over the course of 2013, we will survey the various dimensions of the Church’s social teaching in more detail.

The Seventh Commandment requires respect for the goods of others through the practice of justice and charity, temperance and solidarity. In particular it requires respect for promises made and contracts agreed to, reparation for injustice committed and restitution of stolen goods, and respect for the integrity of creation by the prudent and moderate use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe with special attention to those species that are in danger of extinction (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 506).

The Lord truly does hear the cry of the poor and identifies with them. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy and the many charitable institutions formed throughout the centuries are a concrete witness to the preferential love for the poor which characterizes Christian disciples (Compendium, no. 520). We need look no farther than Blessed Teresa of Calcutta for evidence that we are called to love the hidden Jesus in the poorest of the poor (cf. Mt. 25:31-46).

As we interiorize the Seventh Commandment, we come to see Our Lord as our treasure, and we hear the call to abandon ourselves to His providential care.  The Tenth Commandment continues this work upon our heart, as it calls us in particular to work against the vices of avarice and envy.

Avarice involves an excessive, disordered desire for riches and power.  In other words, we “covet” our neighbor’s good and may go to the extreme of unjustly taking these goods for ourselves.

Envy, meanwhile, involves sadness at another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for ourselves by whatever means we can.

We combat these vices of avarice and envy–and thus observe the Tenth Commandment–by fostering in ourselves a spirit of goodwill and humility, and by rejoicing in other’s blessings.

For more on these commandments, check out Catechism, nos. 2401-63 (Seventh Commandment) and nos. 2534-57 (Tenth Commandment).

Catechesis on the Sixth and Ninth Commandments

5 Dec

Stone tabletsThis week we will treat the Sixth and Ninth Commandments together. First, we have the Sixth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2331-2400):

You shall not commit adultery.

It is generally understood that this commandment applies not merely to adultery itself, but all misuses of one’s sexuality. Amidst a culture that is largely addicted to sex (see this amazing article by Dr. Peter Kreeft), this commandment calls us to reexamine how we understand the incredible gift of human sexuality.

The Ninth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2514-33) provides:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

As we shall see, this commandment forbids cultivating thoughts and desires that are connected to actions forbidden by the Sixth Commandment.

It’s easy to look at the Sixth Commandment simply from the standpoint of prohibited activities. But if we look just a little deeper, we will quickly see it’s all about fostering the virtue of chastity. It is a moral virtue requiring much effort, but at the same time it’s a gift of God and a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is expressed in our friendship with others.

Chastity is related to the cardinal virtue of temperance, in that it helps us to moderate our sexual passions according to reason and Christian morality. All men and women are called to chastity according to our state in life. Chastity is not the same as continence or celibacy, which entails refraining from sexual activity. Even married people with active, healthy sex lives are called to live chastely. Sex is not evil. In fact it’s more than good. It’s holy.

The “theology of the body” taught by Blessed John Paul II has helped us to understand the gift of human sexuality in a healthy, more holistic way that recognizes the complementarity (see Catechism, no. 372) of man and woman. Theology of the body helps us to understand our sexuality as a way of seeking the good of others rather than using them as objects. Continue reading