Conscience and the Commandments

Rembrandt Moses Ten Commandments

The Parable of the Vigilant Servants, according to St. Mark. Here the Lord singles out the gatekeeper from among the servants. Does the watchful gatekeeper represent anyone in particular in the Church? Who among us must keep watch through the night, so to speak, for the benefit of the rest of the household? [Spanish.]

Maybe we could say: The monks and nuns? Or the Pope? Or the bishops? Or all us priests? Indeed, we all have our particular duties in the service of God, and we shepherds must concern ourselves not just with the dangers that could affect our own souls, but with all the souls in the whole flock.

That said, the fact is that every Christian must see him or herself as the gatekeeper in this parable. Because we all have to keep watch over ourselves. We have to pray insistently with the prophet Isaiah: Lord, when You come, may you find us doing good, and not evil!

Now, where do we live? I mean, at this point in our pilgrims’ progress? And I don’t mean Rocky Mount or Martinsville. I mean: “the world.” Right now we live under temporary circumstances, in a place that is not really “home.” A place where things change all the time, and it’s often difficult to get to the heart of the matter, and it’s easy to get confused. We live in a place where doing good doesn’t always come easily. And avoiding evil can involve enormous struggles. We walk as pilgrims in “the world”–a beautiful but dangerous land.

So we must keep watch over our actions and our omissions. We must examine ourselves interiorly, like the night watchman examines the dim horizon. And when we do that; when we live a reflective, careful, sober life–we find within ourselves a helper, a source of insight into the truth, a kind of “moral pacemaker,” so to speak: the voice of conscience.

Charlton Heston Ten Commandments MosesThe invisible and transcendent God, Who has a plan to get us all to heaven–He speaks to me, deep within my heart and mind, to guide me along my pilgrim way.

God never fails to guide us. But I can and do fail to heed His guidance. And every time I ignore the voice of my conscience–every time I sin–I effectively turn down the volume on the interior speaker, if I might put it that way. Every sin makes the voice of conscience weaker. The more I sin, the deafer I become.

Lord, that You might meet us doing good! Because doing good gives us real peace. Doing good makes us genuinely happy. Sin might offer short-term pleasure–none of us would ever sin if it didn’t. But sinning always becomes a dog in the long run; sin always turns from short-term pleasure to long-term slavery. So we pray insistently with the prophet: Lord, rend the heavens and come down! Shake us out of our moral mediocrity! Make us good, by guiding us in the truth!

The Lord replies: Children. I already did that. I already opened up the heavens to help you morally. Ever hear of Moses and Mount Sinai? Remember when I gave you the eight commandments? (Trick question.)

When God gave Moses the tablets spelling out the fundamentals of doing good and avoiding evil, He did our consciences the greatest favor ever. Our consciences cannot work right without the Ten Commandments guiding them. When we stay close to God, the Commandments sit at bottom of the hull of our souls, so to speak, like a keel that keeps the boat from capsizing.

If I find myself starting to think things like, “Maybe one of these ten commandments really isn’t necessary,” then I know that I have strayed. I have turned the volume on the interior speaker of conscience down to zero by settling into one sin or another. I have become a stranger to the truth.

But if the Ten Commandments sing to me like a ten-stringed guitar; if I can hold them like a musical instrument in my hands, to give glory to God by living in obedience to His plan, then I can be sure that the volume knob on my conscience is turned up to the right level, and I can stride forward in life with confidence.

So, the $10,000 question. Do we know all the Commandments by heart? What greater Christmas present could I give myself than making sure that I do? My spiritual project for Advent maybe ought to involve re-memorizing the ten guiding lights of my conscience.

1? No other gods. 2? Don’t take His name in vain. 3? Keep the sabbath. 4? Honor father and mother. 5? Don’t kill anyone, either their body or their good name. 6? No adultery. 7? No stealing. 8? No lying. 9? No lusting. 10? And don’t get materialistic; live for God alone.

We want interior harmony. Harmony between our little wills and God’s great, all-encompassing, purely loving will. He showed us on the cross that He wills only our good, our salvation, our eternal life.

The Ten Commandments don’t solve every dilemma. Sometimes we need more help–prayer, advice, etc. But most of the time we can keep ourselves ready for the advent of the Lord by simply keeping the Ten Commandments in mind. And taking care not to break them.

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