Sometimes the Lord Jesus said genuinely hard-to-understand things. He came to reveal the eternal mysteries of divine love. So the gospels record statements He made that require a lifetime of meditation even to begin to understand. Like “I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me.” [Spanish]
But sometimes Jesus’ words sound out clear as a bell. Like the list of evils we hear at the end of Sunday’s gospel reading. In addition to “evil thoughts,” the Lord listed twelve particular sins that defile the human heart. We can break down the list into four groups, and co-ordinate them with the Ten Commandments. Let’s turn this into a fun little quiz.
Group One: Adultery, unchastity, and licentiousness. First we have to make sure we know what “licentiousness” means. Promiscuity, unprincipled sexuality. So: adultery, unchastity, and licentiousness involve violations of which commandment? Or commandments? Correct. The Sixth and the Ninth, which prohibit violations of the marriage bond.
We can begin to grasp the fundamental holiness of marriage when we reflect on how we each came into existence. Namely, the union of a man and a woman. Because children deserve to grow up in a family, sexual union requires lifetime fidelity. We talked about this a little last week. God makes the rules, and the law of chastity is crystal clear.
The Catechism has a helpful definition of chastity:
The inner unity of a human being, body and spirit. Sexuality becomes truly human when it makes a part of a lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman… either man governs his desires and finds peace, or he lets himself be mastered by them and becomes unhappy. (CCC 2337-8)
Ok. Second group of items on Jesus’ list. Greed, envy, theft. Which commandment? Or commandments? The Seventh and the Tenth. Thou shalt not steal nor covet.
When my neighbor has something good, and that very fact makes me sad, instead of happy; makes me want to have the good thing, rather than my neighbor having it—well, then I’m in trouble.
What’s the antidote? St. Paul wrote about “the desires of the Spirit,” as in the Holy Spirit. If we live the Catholic life, receiving divine grace through the sacraments and praying daily, then God will work within us. He will move us to desire Him. He will make us want the true happiness of Christ’s eternal Kingdom. When we want God, envy, greed, and theft, fall by the wayside.
Third group. Arrogance, malice, murder. Which commandment? The Fifth.
God does not simply prohibit literally killing people, like in abortion or euthanasia. God prohibits not just killing people, but also hating people. When they came to take Jesus to the cross, He told Peter to put his sword in its sheath. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We must practice brotherhood. Some people practice tennis, or yoga. Fine. But Christians practice brotherhood, sisterhood.
Finally, the last group of items from Jesus’ list of sins: Blasphemy, deceit, folly. Which commandments? The Second and the Eighth.
We owe the ineffable mystery of God profound respect. We owe Him silence. We owe Him our attentive ear.
Yes, we must speak of Him sometimes. We’re not agnostics. We have a message to communicate to the world. God has revealed Himself, and He has entrusted His Holy Gospel to us, for us to spread and help souls get to heaven.
But we must exercise great restraint and discipline in speaking of God Almighty. Because His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. Like I said, we are most certainly not agnostics; we believe that God has revealed Himself fully in Christ. But: We give the genuine agnostics a grudging respect. Because they cultivate the skill of absolutely avoiding blaspheming the impenetrable awesomeness of God.
Now, that great God gave us our capacity to communicate, so we must use that capacity well. That means honesty. I daresay that ‘deceit’ might pose the greatest danger of all the items on Jesus’ list. What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to…
Problem is: Good intentions can and do lead us down the path of deceit. Because we have Messiah complexes. I am a good person; I please everyone; I do good to everyone…
But wait. Oh, no! I double-booked myself. Or: Oh, no! I’m too tired or out-of-sorts to do that good deed, even though I said I would. Or: Gosh, I’m embarrassed by my own weaknesses and human limitations. I can’t bring myself to admit them even to myself.
So I lie.
Maybe I convince myself it’s a “white lie.” Maybe it protects someone else’s feelings. More likely: It protects my feelings. That is: my egomaniacal delusion that I am Mr. or Mrs. Super-Good Person.
Well, what could I have said, Father? Rather than that little white lie? How about… Nothing.
May God help us to avoid all the sins that Lord Jesus listed. And humbly try to do good.