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The First Commandment

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The Ten Commandments are the laws handed down to Moses some 3500+ years ago. There are some differences in wording and substance between what the First Commandment is for the Jewish people and some Protestants and what we have been taught as Catholics. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a very good table comparing the wording of the laws as received in Exodus, and given in Deuteronomy compared to our tradition. The Catechism also contains an extended commentary on the Ten Commandments starting with CCC# 2052.

The immediate question is, what is the role of the Old Testament commandments for our faith today? To help answer this, the CCC makes reference to the story of the rich man, one we just recently heard in our Sunday scripture. In this story the rich man asks what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus’ first answer is, following the commandments. This gets supplemented by the rich man to “go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and then come follow me.” In this exchange, Jesus does not abolish the importance of the Law but rather adds the importance of imitating Christ as a means of salvation. The Ten Commandments, these “ten words” frame the terms of the covenant with our God. The CCC speaks of the Ten Commandments as showing us what is required in loving God and our neighbor; what Jesus called the two greatest commandments (CCC#2067). The First Commandment has a variety of forms, all of which capture these love commands, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me…It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” In God’s first “words,” he is making himself known as the God who has now taken action in our world. Secondly, God demands a giving up of all other idol worship, a call for fidelity to Him alone. Finally, comes a statement of responsibility for us, as God is loyal to his people, we should by this covenant, be loyal to Him. What is unspoken, is that this relationship, this covenant, is to be the most important “law” in your life. This First Commandment, gives us our vocation…to love and serve God. This First Commandment initiates our relationship with God. 

Within this commandment is held the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (love). We are offered the gift of faith, by God revealing his identity. We are given the gift of hope by His fidelity to us. We experience God’s charity in his first coming to us, and in response, calls us to love Him and all of his creation. Our entire faith is a response to this First Commandment. Our task is to use these virtues in establishing, and enhancing our relationship with God. The trials in life, are meant to be endured in God’s honor. The promises we make or are made for us in our sacraments, hinge on this relationship with God. The commandment also serves as the precepts of love we achieve with each other in a holy life. 

What is the difficulty with hearing, understanding, and accepting this first, this greatest commandment? We don’t see God, and more importantly, we do not feel God in our lives. It is one thing to believe the “historical” God who helped the Israelites and even to believe in Jesus, who 200 years ago walked this earth. But God, what have you done for me lately? Some characteristics of God may help. God is active but he is not imposing. Out of pure love he offers. We can refuse. It is not God who fails to speak, but we, who in our busy-ness, fail to listen. God can be seen in everything and in every moment, we can choose to see him or not. God doesn’t save us from suffering, for reasons we will never fully know, but by allowing his Son to suffer, God guarantees us that he is present and it will eventually be alright.

This First Commandment also centers us in a moral framework of objective truth. If we listen to God, then we must obey him. If we choose not to listen to him, then we decide what is right and wrong, depending on our mood, our energy, and our needs. Yet, if we search our hearts, the decision of what is right and wrong has to come from somewhere, and it is not us. Any other source beside God will lead to survival of the strongest and is the source of disobedience to our First Commandment…when we make ourselves a deity. If we decide to listen to God, we have the benefit of accepting a voice beyond us that reminds us that there can be no compromising on the most important values of life. The First Commandment tells us that God cares about us AND how we act. Steady observance of this First Commandment brings us closer to God. When we lose God as the primary source of our life, when we substitute “idols” of money, fame, power, or if we even stop listening for God’s voice because we distract ourselves with work, leisure, or pursuing our own desires, we have disrupted the very first understanding of what our life means…"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind (Luke 10:27).”

Our Patron, St. Dominic

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In 2021, we celebrate the 800th year in commemoration of the death of St. Dominic de Guzman, our parish patron. 

St. Dominic lived during the same time as St. Francis of Assisi. They actually met each other in Rome. Where the followers of St. Francis emphasize charity and works of mercy, St. Dominic lamented the poor preparation priests had in defending the faith. He felt that through good preaching of Catholic principles, a strong faith could be established. This strong faith would help combat Catholic heresies which had surfaced in the church in the Middle Ages.  Both St. Francis and St. Dominic began church reform from the bottom up. The Dominican order claims great teachers such as St. Thomas Aquinas, great mystics such as St Catherine of Sienna, St. Rose of Lima, patron saint of Latin America and the Philippines, and Bartolomé de Las Casas, who worked against oppression of the indigenous people being exploited by the Spanish in Central America. Even St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), first turned towards God when, during his recuperation from injury, he became devoted to St. Dominic after reading a book by a Dominican friar.

Dominican spirituality consisted of four pillars: prayer - to allow ourselves the milieu to be open to God’s word, study - which includes searching for understanding of truth, all to help our neighbor, preaching- taking the Word of God and incorporating its message into our everyday life, and community- to both embrace the diversity of gifts God gives, but also to muster strength and avoid discouragement. Our parish honors a great saint who in turn honors us with his legacy.

 

Glory to God in the Highest

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“Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” No, I’m not talking about a vaccine for the COVID virus, I am quoting from the gospel of Luke as to the pronouncement by the angel to the shepherds. The angel heralding the birth of Jesus. But the words are good ones to remember and live by.

The birth of Jesus is good news. It is THE good news and no matter what we are feeling, the recalling of God made one of us means that as we and the world are living through these times, so is Jesus. Knowing it was God’s choice to enter into the mess of humanity 2000 years ago, and still walks with us today, is the foundation of Advent and of joy.

It’s not too late to stop and enter into the mystery of Christmas. It’s not too late to find that joy which may have eluded you until the very moment you are reading this. Take this moment, right now, to ponder the reality of Jesus with us. What would it mean in your life and the life of your family if you lived each day, made each decision, knowing Jesus was at your side? Maybe, like the angel, you would become a herald of the Good News! Announcing the good news that God didn’t come to praise those high up, but to elevate the lowly, to bring comfort to those in sorrow, to quell fear to those distressed. God started life as a small vulnerable infant. Remember, as God cared for the Holy Family, you are cared for and protected.

This year may seem like one in which everything is askew, that nothing is what it was, and yet, on Christmas Day we celebrate a certainty. On Christmas Day, we celebrate that God loved us so much that He sent his only Son to be with us, and with that the world is changed forever. This year, we may need to draw this mystery out a little more. We may need to work harder at pondering the meaning of the birth of Jesus. We may have need to search deeper for joy, but it is there and it is waiting. It is not too late. Start with repeating, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Have a blessed Christmas season.

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