FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
Sometimes you have to wonder, "What's the big deal about the Ten Commandments." Whenever there is a news story about some debate somewhere about their display in a courtroom, or in a public park, part of me wants to say, "Ok, leaving alone the whole separation of church and state issue, what is so offensive about thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, thou shall not bear false witness, thou shall not commit adultery, etc.? Isn't all this common sense? Do we really have to be told this?"
The answer is both yes and no. We know of the Ten Commandments (also called the Decalogue) as being given to Moses directly from God Himself. As a direct communication from God, they are considered Divine Law. However, the content of the Decalogue is strictly from the natural law. This means they are precepts based on our own human nature. If we think about what it means to be a human being, we can understand with our own reason that the things forbidden in the Ten Commandments are beneath our dignity. They are bad for us; we go against our nature when we do them. You might say (and in fact St. Paul did say) that these laws are written on our hearts (Romans 2:15).
This is not some secret wisdom that it took Christians hundreds of years to figure out. In fact, Moses said as much right from the beginning. From today's first reading (Dt 30:10-14):
For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, 'Who will go up in the sky to get it for us...' No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.
So why don't we? Why is it so hard to simply carry out the law written on our very being by the One who made us? The answer is sin; specifically original sin, but also the many personal sins we pile on top of it.
Besides being kicked out of Paradise, pain in childbirth, and having to labor for our food, one of the consequences of original sin is called concupiscence. This is just a big, fancy word meaning "the tendency to sin." Even though we were made good by God, and in our essence are still good, we have this annoying habit of choosing things that are bad for us. We decide, over and over again, to go against God, against ourselves, and against our better judgment. Bad behavior is so attractive to us; we become selfish, self absorbed, and get mired in greed, lust, gluttony, jealousy, or whatever your pet vice may be.
We say to ourselves, "we are only human," even though these things are contrary to human nature. If we acted "only human" we would be fine. When we sin we act less than human.
One of the universal truths about humanity is that everyone wants to be good. No one wakes up in the morning thinking, "I think I'm going to do some evil today!" Yet we have an terrible capacity to do evil. We do this by justifying our actions in our own minds. Before we can perform an evil deed, we first convince ourselves that what we are choosing to do is really in some way good. We have gotten quite good at this sort of thing. The more we do it, the more we sin, the more we forget about the natural law and fall into self destructive behavior.
What is the remedy? This is the good news. We have been given the answer from our very Creator. A "plug in," if you will, from our Designer to fix this bug in our systems.
Moses said to the people: "If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes." So is the answer obedience? That is certainly part of the solution. But there is more to it. Jesus lifts the veil and shows us what is at the heart of the commandments. "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."
This is a summary of the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments tell us what it means to love God (no false idols, do not take His name in vein, keep the Sabbath holy). The last six commandments tell us what it means to love our neighbor (don't kill, steal, lie, covet, etc.). The fourth commandment links the two together (honor your father and mother - including your heavenly Father). So if we loved God perfectly, and loved our neighbor perfectly, we would not need to be told the commandments. We would simply do them.
This is why St. Augustine summarized the moral law by saying, "Love God, then do as you will." The real solution to the problem of sin -- the only solution -- is love.
But we don't love perfectly. There is too much love of self in the mix. Too much damage from sin. We need help. And this is where the real good news can be found. Not only are we called to love perfectly, but we are loved, and loved perfectly. God our Creator, the author of our human nature, loves us. And with that love He is willing to fill in what is lacking in our own charity.
He offers us His grace, His very life, in the sacraments. His gift to us is a gift of love, and with that gift we may begin to love not as fallen man does, but as God does. This is how God intended us to be from the beginning. We have fallen, but He will restore us. We only need to cooperate with the cure.
The cure is Jesus Christ, God Incarnate. He established a Church to teach us, govern us, and sanctify us (make us holy). If we hold fast to the Church, we hold fast to Christ. We will come to know God's love and mercy for us, and so be equipped to show love and mercy to others.
We can, with God's help, start to be truly human.
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723