Commandments Make Wisdom Easier

the prophet Daniel, in the Sistine Chapel

The annual cycle of readings and prayers at Holy Mass concludes this week; the new year begins Sunday. We wrap up the liturgical year by reading from the book of the prophet Daniel.

Daniel lived in exile. The pagan empires had over-run the Holy Land and dispersed the Jews to the four winds. But Daniel remained a faithful Israelite, a child of Abraham and a disciple of Moses—even in a foreign land. And Daniel distinguished himself, even among the Babylonians, as extraordinarily discerning and wise.

Now, what do we members of the People of God have, which the pagans do not have? Well, tons of things. For one: how about the gift that God gave to us on Mount Sinai? Maybe it wasn’t a pure co-incidence that King Nebuchadnezzar regarded Daniel as ten times as wise as the Chaldean sages.

We’ll talk about this more on Sunday. But for the moment let’s pause and give thanks for the enormous advantage in wisdom and discernment that we enjoy, because we have the Ten Commandments.

moses_ten_commandmentsYes, it’s true that God did not spell out anything on Mount Sinai that we could not have figured out on our own. Everything in the Commandments is actually in our consciences, also. But God giving us the Decalogue makes the whole business of acting in accord with our consciences so much easier. It’s like He built a bridge for us over a river—which we would have had to wade across otherwise.

In the pagan world, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty over whether “morality” is even important. But we know that it is—not because it’s an end in itself, but because it involves our relationship with God.

In the pagan world, people dispute over even the most basic principles of good and evil. Many people live with troubled consciences—and the interior agitation that goes with them—just because of moral ignorance. But God has made it so much easier for us; we just have to obey the Ten Commandments.

Granted, morally complicated situations can arise, when we need additional prayer, reflection, and advice, in order to discern good from evil. But most of the time we can stay on the right track—and we can distinguish ourselves as wise and insightful among the pagans, like Daniel—just by holding fast to the ten rules God gave to Moses.

Listen to Him

Church of the Transfiguration, Mount Tabor

This is my beloved Son, listen to Him. (Matthew 17:5)

So spoke the Lord of heaven, the Ancient One who sits upon a throne of divine fire. He judges all things—all of history and every soul. And He said to Peter, James, and John, about Jesus: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” He says to us: Listen to Jesus.

[Click for spanish.]

Listen to His parables of the coming of the Kingdom of heaven and His call to repentance. Listen to the Sermon on the Mount. Listen to His discourse to Nicodemus about being born from above, His Bread-of-Life discourse, His teachings about Abraham’s freedom, the sabbath rest, the faith of the little one, and the resurrection of the dead. Listen to Him describe the Good Shepherd. Listen to His Last-Supper discourses and His descriptions of the final judgment. Listen to His prayers: the Our Father and His priestly prayer in John 17. Listen to His commissionings: His instructions to St. Peter, and to all His apostles. Listen to His promises: the Beatitudes, His promise to send the Holy Spirit, His promise of peace—peace which the world cannot give. Listen to the Word made flesh.

St. Peter put it like this:

We did not follow cleverly disguised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses to His majesty.

We do not deal in myths. We do not deal in merely human doctrines. We listen to the Lord Jesus.

What do we need? We need the four holy gospels and the other writings of the apostles. In other words, we need the New Testament. And since the New Testament constantly refers to the Old Testament, we need the whole Bible. We need the seven sacraments Christ gave us: His Body and Blood, the waters of His baptism, the priesthood of the New Covenant He established. We need each other, the great family of the Church, governed by St. Peter’s successor in office and the bishops in communion with him.

Gerard David TransfigurationEquipped with all this, we can hear Christ. We can hear the beloved Son of the eternal Father. We can hear Him speaking. The words to which God Almighty commands us to listen—we can hear them and take them to heart, here in the bosom of the Church.

Do not be anxious or afraid. Let the children come unto Me. Love your enemies. Pray that you might persevere through temptation. Baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Give your cloak and tunic to the one who asks, and settle with your opponent before the judge throws you both in prison. Beg for mercy before you place your gift on the altar. Fear the one who can send you to fiery Gehenna, where the worm never dies. Have faith in God; have faith in Me; in My Father’s house there are many dwelling places. Let your light shine, so that men might give glory to My heavenly Father. Do good; avoid evil. Ask the Father to send the Spirit of truth.

Listening to Jesus, in the heart of the Church, turns life into something worth doing. The words of Christ turn life into the adventure it was meant to be. The adventure of holiness and eternal salvation.

Why are we here? To serve God and make our way to heaven. What must we do? Give. Love. Sacrifice. Give God the glory and praise. Make peace with your neighbor.

The Transfiguration is real. And it’s not just Jesus on Mount Tabor. Yes, at that moment, the divine light transfigured His appearance, and the apostles saw His glory. But the transfiguration also involves us. When we listen to Christ in the heart of the Church, we change.

We no longer skate on the surface of things. We stop thinking everything revolves around me, me, me. Our perception deepens, and Access Hollywood becomes intolerably boring. Our souls begin to grow like redwoods.

We stop carping and gossiping and tearing people down, because now we see the good in others. We talk less and listen more. When someone suffers, we care. And when we suffer, we offer it to God for the salvation of souls.

The words of Christ hang in the air, in the Church, like shimmering tapestries that beautify the inside of our minds. But, of course, Christ spoke most eloquently without any words at all, when He serenely submitted Himself to His bitter Passion and stretched-out His arms on the cross. All the spoken words of Christ lead to the silent word of the crucifix.

God gives us wisdom. He wills to teach us, so that we can share in the full clarity of His mind. And He teaches us His wisdom one way, as He declared on Mount Tabor: Almighty God speaks to us through His beloved Son, Christ crucified.

When we hear that silent word, and take it in, in the heart of the Church, then our transfiguration truly begins.