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The Tenth Commandment

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The Tenth Commandment, reads almost exactly the same as the ninth. “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 neighbors. (CCC # 2534)” We have traditionally taken the Ninth Commandment to mean not coveting your neighbor’s wife and the tenth as not coveting your neighbor’s goods, but it is quite obvious that God felt he needed to be very clear and specific and say it twice. In fact the Jewish Ten Commandments incorporate our ninth and tenth into one. I do not know the history of how the differences occurred except to say, isn’t that just like religions, they can’t even agree on the same Ten Commandments.

If the Ninth Commandment speaks to the deadly sin of lust, this commandment speaks to the deadly sin of greed-with a side of envy. They are not so far apart in their sinfulness. Wanting is wanting, whether it be person, place, or thing. Both these two commandments come around to remind us of the first three. “Where our heart is so will be our treasure (Matt. 6:21).” Anything we want besides God becomes idol worship. God is not admonishing us by this commandment as much as warning us. We will not be satisfied with “stuff.” Wealth never sees enough wealth, there will always be someone who has something more. For me, it was always my distain that I was never the smartest. In grade school, high school, college, medical school, and even in seminary, I wanted to be number one…I was always about number sixteen.

Someone was kind enough to give me a one year subscription to the Wall Street Journal. I like to read newspapers, and I have been so disappointed with the content and the cost of the Milwaukee Journal that I took to reading my sister’s Wall Street Journal. One of the more interesting features, which I think is on Friday, is subtitled ‘Mansions.’ It lists some very high end homes for sale, in the 35 million dollar range. It must feed many people's desire for want, under the cover of, “I was just curious.” I get reminded of my sin every Friday.

I like Fr. Richard Rohr. He wrote this about the Tenth Commandment. See if you agree, “We can’t possibly preach on, 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods' because Western society is based on this. It is called capitalism. Mass advertising tells us we need things none of us need. It sows confusion about what’s important for life. The level of need has moved to such a level of illusion and sophistication that what were once ultimate luxuries have become necessities…The affluent West has made happiness impossible. We’ve created a pseudo-happiness, a pseudo-success, a pseudo-security that will never satisfy the human heart.”

I quoted him extensively because I want you to spend some time on his words. I know my definition of success was money, a career, “running with the big dogs.” But as I may have said before, God gave me a king’s ambition with a jack’s ability, so I was always just off the mark. This led to a dissatisfaction with my work, and then the death of my wife, and the walls of what mattered came crashing down all at once. It took a spiritual car accident to get me to wake up to God’s voice. Our struggle is not with others, our struggle is within ourselves. The need to matter, outside of mattering to God, seems to drive these desires. We try to prove we matter by accumulating stuff. We are all guilty of this desire. Even now as I write this, I still have about fifteen pair of Allen Edmond shoes from my past life still neatly tucked away. If you saw my black and whites for Christmas, you were privileged to see a pair from my collection.

So here is my debatable point. Lust, greed, and envy, are products of our brokenness, our Original Sin. We can never, even with the grace of God, be freed from these temptations, because they are a part of our broken humanity. They are the reality we carry in our hearts that we are not masters of the world. If we were to be freed from them, we would believe we were gods. So what we need to do is harness the energy of these drives and direct them to good and moral ends. We must use our “lust energy” to build up other people rather than satisfying ourselves. We must use or envy to support those who have fallen instead of stepping on them to get higher. We must use the energy of greed to give from our need. This is how I view this commandment, not as something we should constantly judge ourselves in what we do and not do covet. Rather, I see this commandment as a reminder, as means of using what we would do for selfish motivations, are channeled into self-less caring. Now that takes the grace of God and you know what …he knows it, because he is the one who made this commandment in the first place.

I have had a personal experience which convinced me, and I can tell you as fact, that nothing we have here matters. What does matter is the love and goodness you have built up by practicing the challenging of our brokenness with the grace of God into service, and then God alone will be our only desire. St. Theresa of Avila said that is the Way to Perfection. 

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.