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The Ninth Commandment

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Here is commandment number nine directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or maid servant, or his ox or ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s. Alright then, since most of us have neither ox nor ass, maidservant or manservant, we are down to not coveting our neighbor’s house and wife. Since the tenth commandment specifically covers not coveting our neighbor’s goods, we are left here with not coveting our neighbor’s wife. The distinction between the ninth and tenth commandments is interesting. The ninth expresses envy over living relationships or things. Back in Moses time, a person’s animals were as important as human relationships. The ninth commandment forbids us to be envious of who and what our neighbor is in relationship with. Outside of it being just good advice for a civilized society, it is good advice for our hearts as well.

From a theological standpoint, the ninth commandment is telling us that God has put us exactly where he wants us, and given us all we need to be the person God wishes us to be. That our happiness doesn’t lie in another’s home, but rather in the people and circumstances God places before us. These last two commandments sum up, are indicative of, all the ones before. If we honor God we do not have the idols of the world as our god. If we honor our father and mother, we honor all our relationships for their holy value. If we are not jealous or restless with who we are, we do not steal or kill, or bear false witness. If we do all those things right, we have no trouble with coveting the wrong things.

I hope you begin to see the linkage between all the Ten Commandments. They are not individual, separate demands, but rather permutations, particulars around larger relational requirements with a good and gracious God who wishes relationship with him.

I do not wish to go into the particulars of this commandment, frankly because it involves one of the four ways God loves us. This touches on the Eros or romantic aspect of how we are loved by God. Many people become quite uncomfortable talking about this aspect of God’s love. I, having been married and experiencing all four of these aspects of love (Philia, agape, storge, eros), I can more readily speak that God must love us with all four. Which means our human desire for romantic love, our need for union with the “other” is in our nature and not sinful. It is necessary, because the eros portion of love is the creative portion. God cannot love us without it because his love flows from creation. I do not see having this eros love as a battle, something we either need to tame or remove entirely from our being. I therefore, have trouble with the explanation of this commandment in the catechism (CCC#2514-2527), which examines this desire purely as a dysfunction… as something wrong. The desire to love romantically is the life force of love and it is necessary and joyful. The problem I see with it, I see with any power. Think of eros as a nuclear reactor. If you manage the power properly it can give light and warmth to all, but if you pull out all the damping rods, the reactor can blow and contaminate everything around it for years to come. That is the power of eros. For many years the Church, knowing its power, says not to touch it at all. As I read the Catechism, those thoughts still permeate their thinking. As any one of you married couples will attest, the love, every aspect of it, was the joy of relationship you cherished with your spouse.

I remember when I was first in the seminary. Having come from a marital relationship, I really thought there would be a plethora of knocks at my door, (I will try to be discrete) what it was like…were they missing anything? Nobody ever asked me, which I thought odd. I still wonder how hard it must be for a priest to talk about sex (there I said it!).

Coveting another is using the gift of eros, the energy of creative love for the wrong purpose. That is what is sinful, using any gift from God in a harmful and non-creative manner. I could talk much more on this but I am honestly afraid that if I said too much that will stir up some negative comments. Let me finish by summarizing what I said. To have the feelings for romantic love is not wrong, it is a gift from God and a necessary one because it is the only aspect of love that is creative. It is sinful when we misuse the ‘energy’ of that love in a non-creative and selfish goal. To me that is what this ninth commandment speaks to.

The Eighth Commandment

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The introduction to the eighth commandment from the Catechism of the Catholic Church begins, “The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. (CCC: 2464)” As I read this I thought of some smart aleck child reporting in confession that he “misrepresented the truth in my relations with others.” To which I would reply, “You mean you lied.”

The eighth commandment is “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” It means you should not lie. God could have saved some space on the stone tablets if he had just said that. Jesus spoke of truth in different ways. He, himself, is “the Way the Truth and the Life.” As his disciples, we are to live in him as Truth and in the truth. Living in the big Truth, means living our faith in Jesus. Living in the truth means leading a truthful life. So living in the truth is living in the absence of lying.

Why is lying so dangerous? First, let’s explain why lying is so attractive. One, we often get away with it. Nobody finds out we lied most of the time, and that makes lying at the next opportunity very attractive. Lying serves a purpose. We often lie for a reason. Sometimes we can even convince ourselves it is s good reason. How many husbands have stretched the truth to save their skin when asked by their wives, “How do I look?” We lie to avoid hurting another’s feelings, to protect something we know may be harmful if truth be told, or to save our own embarrassment that would reveal our “nakedness.” So, one could make up a fairly cogent argument that lying is sometimes acceptable and necessary. One could say that, but one would be wrong.

Here is the problem with lying. It is one of those sins which hurts our own souls. There are sins against other people and there are sins against ourselves. Gossiping, swearing, and lying are sins that dirty our own souls. Here is an example. I punch my brother because I am mad at him. I can have true remorse, apologize, and we are good. But if I lie, for whatever reason, I have violated a trust and a truth that Jesus expressly asked us to live in. If I am labeled a liar, where do I go from there? Anything I say is suspect, as after all, I am a liar. The loss of trust is very difficult to recover. Taken to a societal level, St. Thomas Aquinas says this, “Men could not live with one another if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another.” That dictum applies to our society, our family, and our most intimate relationship. And as I think about it, it keeps us from God. Although we, in our head, know God sees everything, we consistently “lie” to God about our willingness to surrender to his will, our ability to forgive, and our attempts to see Christ in all. We consciously or subconsciously lie to the very person who knows everything already. And we often think we are clever at it as well.

We often look at Jesus as the Truth, and forget that we are called to live in the truth as well. This commandment also compels us to serve as witnesses to our faith. We are not to be embarrassed or unwilling to proclaim the Truth to others. The Catechism speaks of many offenses against the truth- CCC # 2475-2487. Suffice it to say, it incorporates gossiping, boasts, and rash judgment. This commandment also calls us to honor secrets we make, which speaks to the gravity of not accepting a secret in the first place. We often welcome hearing a secret as having some power over that person. They now depend on us to preserve their reputation or whatever lends itself to the cause for the secret. The commandment also calls for us to not ask for people to keep secret something which may compromise their faith or their reputation. Social media has opened an entire avenue of presumed anonymity and ease in destroying another person. We feel no remorse in aggravated accusations and conclusions which hurt other people. Many of us check our civility at the door when we turn on our computers.

On the positive side, sacred art and music are deep expressions of truth, and highlight what living in the truth feels like. My bottom line is that there is never, ever a reason to lie. Have I lied in my past? "Yes.” I have lied to save face, to get away with what I wanted, or to hurt other people. As I warned with the other commandments, you can get forgiveness from God, and re-establish your relationship with him, but when you lied over something that was serious, you never will forget it. Living in the truth, won’t guarantee you a smooth life, just a happy one.

The Seventh Commandment

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Our exploration into the commandments continues with the Seventh Commandment- Thou shalt not steal. On the surface this may seem like a relatively straightforward one, and in essence it is- do not take anything that does not belong to you. Yet many “redefine” the word stealing and justify it by entitlement. In our country, the bad word ‘stealing’ has been replaced with ‘negotiating.’ This commandment covers many other aspects of concern. Underlying this commandment, like most of them, is acknowledging the dignity for another person. Everyone is made in God’s image and as such deserves the same dignity and respect we offer and expect for ourselves. There are also inherent general caveats which come with this commandment with respect to society and the common good. Underlying this commandment is the understanding that God created the world for all of humankind and entrusted the stewardship of this earth to everyone. This does not mean that we will live in harmony by sharing of everything, we already proved that we cannot do that. What it does mean however, is that despite a right to private property and security, we have an obligation to help and support and provide for the basic needs of others. In other words, the things we have and claim as our own are first to be used in helping the needs of others. Those that have been blessed with much, “much will be demanded of us.”

At the heart of this commandment is our attachment to material things. It has often been said that we don’t have possessions, they possess us. Having lived a life from the perspective of one of eight children, going through the educational commitment to become a physician, having and wanting a lot, then losing what meant most to me, I have a somewhat unique perspective about this commandment. When we have the notion that other people exist only for an opportunity for exploitation, we justify stealing. What is often not understood or appreciated is the emotional theft that occurs when someone steals. Our justice system attempts compensation for the physical loss, but we seldom address the emotional violation which has occurred. This is where “owning-up” to the theft is critical. It is not enough to just confess that we have stolen, we much make the injured party aware and perhaps others as well. This is a none too pleasant part of retribution, but something which could have been avoided in the first place by not stealing.

This commandment also includes not stealing a person’s good name, their naiveté, their innocence, their intellectual property, or their dignity. These are thefts which persons cannot recover and as such make stealing more heinous. There is a social dimension to this commandment, one we often lose sight of in our individualistic society. We often justify an action acceptable, “if nobody gets hurt.” We think we can steal if no one was going to use it, we can rationalize much of our greed and envy, diminishing the seriousness of the act, in everyone’s eyes, except God’s.

I remember when I was a teenager. I worked as a maintenance person for a White Castle hamburger restaurant. I was sweeping the floor, and in line was a woman who had her purse open. Out on the floor lay a twenty dollar bill. Hanging out of her purse was several more bills waiting to fall out. Just to let everyone know I was not a saint from birth, here is what I did. I discreetly placed my foot over the twenty so none would see it, and informed the lady that her purse was open and that money was falling out. I thought I would at least perform some good deed in addition to my stealing. I was twenty dollars richer, but to recall the problem of sin, I could not tell you what I did with the twenty dollars. What I do I remember now, fifty years later, is taking it. Through some of my stories, I try to tell children, you don’t forget your sin, especially unconfessed ones. They stay with you. I could confess my stealing, but I could never return the money to a woman. I can “make up for it” by giving twenty dollars to a good cause, and that is what I often recommend in confession. To offer even better retribution, I could give back forty. Just to let you know that I have reformed, this last week I was getting my yogurt and fruit parfait for breakfast. I often go to Sendick's after the 6:30 AM Mass and get this treat and a coffee for breakfast. I noticed that the label said Cheese and Cracker Tray. The price was significantly less than what I usually pay. I noticed all the parfaits had been mislabeled. The Old Dennis would have just taken it to some young unsuspecting check-out clerk, hoped they wouldn’t notice, and considered myself luckily. But Fr. Dennis went to the cashier and informed them that these had been mislabeled. It cost me a few dollars more, but I sure feel better than I would have if I had chosen the other route.

That’s one good thing about the commandments, not only are we following God’s law, but they are meant to help us become better persons. I feel good when I follow God’s commandments. You should too, and perhaps that is the best reason to not sin, even little sin…you may get forgiveness later, but you never forget.

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