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The Fourth Commandment

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In the Jewish faith, it is the Fifth Commandment, for us Catholics it is the fourth, Honor thy Father and Mother. The first three commandments deal with our relationship with God, this next one, honor your parents, highlights the most important earthly relationship we have. This suggests there is a special connection between our parents and God. As we honor the God who gave all life, we honor the parents who gave us life. By honoring our parents, we learn to honor God. By honoring God, we become decent human beings, ones willing to share of ourselves with others. This ‘honoring’ can also be translated as ‘respect.’ We live in a society in which the term ‘respect’ has come to mean that everyone has to respect us, that I deserve more respect than other people…that what I need and want… matters more. In our selfishness, as we view the world revolving around us, this ability to respect someone else feeds a virtue which ends with a fundamental respect for all life. So in this “linking” commandment, we have the ability to see, understand, and participate with the eyes of God. Rather than seeing it as a tedious rule, honoring our mother and father is an expression of caring for another more than ourselves. And who better to share that honor with than the one who gave us life.

The additional virtue which is expressed in this commandment is the gift of obedience. I mention it as a gift because obedience, an essential virtue in community life, becomes essential in family life as well. Many question the passage of St. Paul when he opines that wives should be obedient to their husbands. In Pope Pius XI’s own words: “It refuses... to allow the heart to be separated from the head.” Husbands are called the head of the family. And wives are called the heart of the family. And the head and the heart must work together. There has to be some harmony between the two. “As the husband holds the primacy of authority, so the wife can and ought to claim the primacy of love.” Again, the head and the heart must be in harmony for the sake of keeping the body united. They must be in harmony for the sake of keeping the family united! The role of husband and wife is not about competing with one another — competing in the authoritative level! But it is about complementing one another! Again, one as the head and the other as the heart! And both possess the dignity of being human persons and being children of God. Further in that passage St. Paul says, “Obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother. This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth.” So children, this is your duty: honor your parents! And this is the only commandment with a promise. And what is the promise? The promise is that if you honor and obey your parents, God promises you that everything will go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth. Like his advice to husbands, St. Paul says, “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord.” So fathers, you are to discipline your children at times. But God does not want you to get your children to be angry. He doesn’t want you to cause them anger. Anger comes from being unaware as to the ‘why” something is being done. The gift of obedience is doing without completely understanding the ‘why’ but accepting that it is being asked by a loving person, a person whom we completely trust has our best interest.

It is sadly true that many parents because of their brokenness have misused the obedience demanded by this commandment, but it doesn’t negate the commanding. Many of our own experiences, when we have trusted and then been betrayed, have led us off the path of respect or obedience to our parents. Not following this commandment reveals many hurts. We, in the seminary, took a vow of obedience to our archbishop, not the person but the position. It is not asked to make automatons who will blindly follow a person, especially as flawed as all we humans are, but rather to offer respect to accept that whatever is asked has the mark of the Holy Spirit in it and therefore can be accepted without knowing all the reasons. This commandment offers these two virtues which are hard to acquire any other way. We are sometimes asked to trust another person, and trusting another person is integral to close relationships. If, because of our hurtful experiences, we are unable to trust another human being, then how can we trust God, who does not give us all the answers, certainly in this world. The second virtue this commandment fosters is selflessness. In honoring our parents, we are learning a model of self-giving, essential to the second great commandment, to love one another. If we cannot show love and honor to those closest to us, once again, flawed as they may be, we cannot extend that love to anyone else. This acceptance of respect is at the heart of our relationships with anyone. That’s why it is placed as it is, as a bridge between God and the world. Honoring our parents establishes the family as the most important and fundamental domestic church. Finally as best expressed in the Catechism, “The fourth commandment is addressed expressly to children in their relationship to their father and mother, because this relationship is the most universal. It likewise concerns the ties of kinship between members of the extended family. It requires honor, affection, and gratitude toward elders and ancestors. Finally, it extends to the duties of pupils to teachers, employees to employers, subordinates to leaders, citizens to their country, and to those who administer or govern it. This commandment includes and presupposes the duties of parents, instructors, teachers, leaders, magistrates, those who govern, all who exercise authority over others or over a community of persons (CCC#2199).”

The Third Commandment

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In the Third Commandment, we are asked by God to spend six days ‘doing’ and one day just ‘being.’ That is the essence of what we will be exploring today, God’s third Commandment: Keep the Sabbath Holy. While most of us will consider this the imperative the Catholic Church uses to demand attendance at Sunday Mass under penalty of sin (something many generations call our Sunday obligation), this request from God is perhaps THE most humane request an all-powerful, transcendent God can give us. The origins of this day being declared holy goes back way before Christianity commanded attendance at Sunday Mass. This commandment was given to Moses as the God of the Hebrews formed his relationship with his people. In addition to offering laws on cleanliness, work, and food consumption, God ordered that his people rest as well. Mimicking the “Day of Rest” God took after six days of creation, honoring the Sabbath meant not only a respite from work.

Did God need a day of rest after working so hard to create the universe? Certainly not, and with this understanding we can look at the request for a “day of rest” not just as a break from work, but as a devotion of gratitude. God rested on the seventh day to, in a manner of speaking, stop asserting his mastery over our world. In our six days of work we are, in a sense like God, exerting our mastery over our world. On the seventh day we are asked to relinquish that effort to the true master, God. In addition, we are honoring and celebrating, “letting nature happen.” Unabated by our interference, we are allowing God’s plan to unfold. So honoring the Sabbath comes not as a ‘rest stop,’ but as a memorial to emulate through imitation, when God stopped creation for a day. In doing this, we are “to remember” what God has done for us in the past and what he does for us now. The Third Commandment is a commandment against vanity. 

For us Catholics, recalling that Jesus rose from the dead "on the first day of the week," our “Sabbath” becomes the “eighth day” of the week, and for us the first of all days (CCC#2174). Whereas the celebration of Sabbath was Saturday for the Jewish faith, this “eighth day” becomes Sunday for us. This Sunday celebration also offers something new, and it was given to us by Jesus himself, “Do this in memory of me.” Without going into theological detail, our Sunday celebration is a participation of the unending sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass is NOT a “symbolic remembrance of the Last Supper.” Rather, the Sunday Mass, every Mass, is a participation in the unending sacrifice and encounter with Jesus, a sacrifice that breaches the chasm between heaven and earth. In this sense, the Mass is a live encounter with God through Jesus in a great mystery. St John Vianney said of the Mass, “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.” The Mass is the closet event we have next to seeing God face to face on this earth. So attending Mass is not an obligation by its nature, it is a supernatural gift extraordinaire.

So, attending Mass is just the beginning of a day of celebration and accommodation to the great gift we have received in Christ. Just like you spend time recalling some experience of great importance in our lives, so we offer each Sunday as a chance to stop doing and just relish in being a child of God. And what can we offer to God in return for his great gift of his son? We can offer him time. You may say how much time. What is the value of time? In a poem from an unknown author, we have a reminder of times’ value:

  • To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who has failed his final exam.
  • To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
  • To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.
  • To realize the value of ONE DAY, ask a day laborer who has eight children to feed. 
  • To realize the value of ONE HOUR, ask a couple waiting for the wedding ceremony.
  • To realize the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who has missed a train.
  • To realize the value of ONE SECOND, Ask a person who survived an accident.
  • To realize the value of a millisecond, ask the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics.

We all exist in a “time paradox” where we know time is chasing us like a rabid hound, and yet, most often we act as if we have all the time in the world. This paradox dissolves when we prioritize this day of rest as a day of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing.' When we just “be," there is no time lost, no time goes by. When we just “be” God gives us the opportunity to “enter his world” of being, a world in which there is no time. What are we to “do” in this world of God’s? We are offered to create quality experiences devoted to our family, our community, and to God. So any “work” that needs be done on Sunday is anything which supports ‘being.’

This last Sunday, I helped my daughter rake her leaves. It was work, but it was fun doing a service for her, playing with Moses, Millie, and baby Eli…and ‘being’ with my extended family. Being with your family on Sunday lets our children see that  our relationship deserves at least one day of total attention. In short, this day give us an appreciation for life, with a right re-orientation of our values and gratitude to the one God who has made us. The Sabbath is not about time ‘off,’ it is about being ‘on’ sacred time.

The Second Commandment

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God's Second Commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. In the Jewish faith, this is the Third Commandment. 

If we believe and follow the First Commandment, and respect God as our one true creator, we owe him respect according to his station. Before I go into the practicality of what this commandment calls us to do, I first want to speak of respect. There actually is a philosophy of language that explores the use and meaning of the words we use. Not to belabor a point, but you can understand the importance of words in translation. Our sources for the New Testament are in Greek, and translating the words accurately can make a great deal of difference as to the meaning. One classic example is our word for love which in Greek has several different permutations: agape/apgapao - unconditional regard, storge - parental, sibling love, eros - romantic love, and - philia /phileo (philadelphia-brotherly love) friendship love. Knowing which is inferred when we read about love in the bible is helpful knowledge. This philosophy of language has taken permutations from the time of Plato, as to what meaning a name signifies. A name can be construed as anywhere from just pointing to something to actually carrying something of the identity of what is named. Why does it matter? Respect for God’s name comes from the association that when we speak the name of God, we are saying something about him. Persons who may use the Lord's name in vain, may discount it and say, “It’s just a name, it doesn’t mean anything.” It is a mistake to take and use the name of God as if it is any other name. Because names hold meaning. Respect for God’s name is an expression owed the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality it evokes (CCC #2144). It is hard to worship an imageless deity, and to have no name for such a deity is even more difficult to explain. Moses was given God's name-one common translation, "I am that I am." In Hebrew this is "YHWH." No one really knows the correct Hebrew pronunciation of this name. YHWH is the condensed form of the Hebrew words for 'was', 'is', and 'will be.' The Jewish faith held such revere for God’s name that it was only spoken by the high priest once a year in the Holy of Holies. It was not only a blasphemy to misuse it...was a sin to speak God’s name at all.

The Second Commandment calls us not just to be careful with our speech in using God’s name, but “the faithful should bear witness to the Lord’s name by confessing the faith without giving way to fear (CCC# 2145).” This means the Second Commandment implores us to not just NOT use the Lord’s name in vain, but profess his name as Lord from the mountaintops. 

There are a few other caveats that go with this Second Commandment: It applies to the name of Jesus, Mary, and all the saints. It also forbids us from making promises in the name of God so as when they are broken, it doesn’t imply that it was God who deceived them. This commandment also forbids us from using God’s name to swear an oath we do not intend to keep. To invoke God’s name when you promise something means you are using God as a witness to your veracity. If you do not intend to keep that promise, you have sinned against this commandment.

Finally, it prohibits speaking ill of God either inwardly or outwardly. This is a sin many of us may have committed and not realized, when we are angry with God, we may curse him, defile, or be disrespectful to him. We may do it out of misdirected feeling, but using God’s name as if he was one of our associates here on earth, is not honoring him. And it is in this area of sin which we all have seen the Lord’s name be frequently used. It is blasphemy to use God’s name to promote your agenda. It is certainly blasphemous to use the name of God to justify violence but also to use his name to criticize persons and their behaviors. It is taking “what would Jesus do” out of the light of a positive action and passing judgment or condemning a person. I know of circumstances where a person who was a bit different or non-conventional, was made to feel unwelcome in our church by another, all under the auspices of supposedly knowing what God would like or not like. This commandment tells us to be very careful about pontificating God’s choices. Any claim that what we are suggesting is from God, is a sin.

Our Church feels very strongly that it is sinful to use God’s name inappropriately, but this commandment also warns us about misusing or besmirching the good name of another. We are to uphold the good name of another by mainly avoiding gossip. Another corollary comes from Jesus’ response to his own testing by the devil, do not test the Lord your God. There is a rabbinic teaching that states, “Do not stand in a place of danger and pray for a miracle, lest it not happen.” We often put ourselves in harm’s way expecting God will save us, that is a sin. Another interesting aspect of this commandment is that it tells us to not make God “look bad.” Any time we behave badly, we bring shame to our family, and the Body of Christ. There was little room in Jesus’ mind for hypocritical behavior- such as for us, attending Mass and then going out into the world and acting badly. Not striving to have your insides match your outsides is a sin against this commandment.