First Commandment

[written 2/13/14]

moses_ten_commandments

Our first reading at Holy Mass today recounts King Solomon’s infidelity to the one, true God. Hopefully that put us in mind of one of the Commandments, namely…

By the grace of Jesus Christ, which He gives us through His sacraments, we can believe in the triune God. We can hope to share His perfect, eternal blessedness. We can love Him honestly, with our whole selves.

God gives us the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. But we have to co-operate with His grace by cultivating them.

We give the true God His due by practicing religion. We daily recognize the grandeur of God’s Providence. We acknowledge that we are but dust and ashes in His sight. We beg His mercy. We praise Him and adore Him. We offer ourselves to Him, in union with His Son Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross.

Thus we observe the most-basic of all laws. We never forget the One Who, in His kindness, delivered us from slavery. The slavery of sin. And the slavery of not even existing at all.

Keeping the First Commandment saves us from the terrible fate of Solomon. His “heart was not entirely with the Lord, his God.”

Meditating on a Few of the Commandments…

You shall not have other gods besides me.

If Sunday (or Saturday evening) finds us in church, then, thank God, the Lord will not catch us off worshiping the almighty god of I-get-to-do-whatever-I-want-with-my-weekend.

But: Am I ever guilty of worshiping the god of I-get-to-do-whatever-I-want-with-my-[fill in the blank]?

You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.

Do I take the name of Christ in vain by calling myself a Christian and not behaving like one?

Does “you shall not kill” give me peace? Seems like the commandment aims at peace.

God wills the peace and harmony that comes from honest, humble, generous hearts. Selfishness kills peace. Grasping fear kills peace. Faithlessness, or too much drinking, or driving too fast, or distracted—they all kill peace. Impatience kills peace. Rash judgments, tale-bearing, backbiting, and gossip kill peace.

Maybe I am not as innocent of breaking this commandment as I thought I was.

The sixth commandment obviously pertains only to adults. Do we adults commit adultery—just be being adults? Well… “If you look in the wrong way, you have committed adultery in your heart,” saith the Lord.

Did I mention that I sit in a little room every Wednesday evening and every Saturday afternoon? Many of my brother priests likewise keep such weekly vigils.

You shall not steal.

This one would be easier to obey if it read, “You shall not steal when you can’t get away with it.” But the Lord makes it a sin to steal even when we can get away with it. Even if there is no law per se against the particular stealing that we do. Like calling in a favor that cheats a worthy person out of an opportunity. Or giving a golf ball, or a basketball, the attention that I really owe my wife.

Which brings us to “you shall not lie.” What standard of truthfulness must we uphold?

For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.

Who said this, and when? Then He spread out His arms on the cross, rather than leave any doubt about how pure our witness to the truth must be.

Wednesdays at 6:15. Saturdays 3:45. (Check local listings for Confession times in your parish.)

You shall not covet anything belonging to your neighbor.

Why should I want anything belonging to my neighbor? I only want God and His hidden and mysterious kingdom.

I don’t care that people might like my neighbor more than me. I never give a second thought as to whether my neighbor looks better in his or her outfit than I do in mine. The question of whether my neighbor has more clout in this town, or in this parish, than I do—such a question would never cross my mind.

When my neighbor gets more attention, or affection, or appreciation, or admiration than I do, I really do not care. All I need is God and His mysterious, hidden kingdom. I just want to live in the kingdom that we reach by being misunderstood, unappreciated, maltreated, and neglected—like the King was.

Whenever my neighbor wrongs me, I pray quietly and say, “Father, forgive him. Forgive her. He doesn’t realize. She doesn’t know.”

Whenever some great effort or substantial accomplishment of mine goes unmentioned and ignored, I rejoice inside and say, “All the glory belongs to God anyway.”

6:15 Wednesdays. 3:45 Saturdays.

Remember when we started Lent, and we set out to learn God’s ways? God has given us six luxurious weeks to crack our minds on studying His ways. Then on the seventh week, we get to rest.

Well, one thing we know for sure: God does not forgive people who are not sinners.

We could read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and we would not encounter a single passage about the Lamb of God suffering for the perfect people. God concerns Himself with blessing, understanding, loving, pardoning, and healing sinners.

In fact, the Lord seems strangely preoccupied with forgiving sins. He became man, wandered the land, taught, healed, suffered, died, rose again, founded the Church and gave us the sacraments—all for the sake of forgiving sins. He appears never to take a day off from the sin-forgiving business.

In four weeks, a few of us—our Elect—will receive the sacrament which washes sin away by a spiritual bath, namely Holy ___________.

A person can only be baptized once, of course. So, if, once I have been baptized, I commit a sin, I might as well give up, because I will never get to heaven, because no one can ever go back to the cleansing power of the baptismal font…

No?

Right! God has given us a sacrament of “second Baptism.” Let’s make an appointment for it! Wednesday evenings at __________. Saturday afternoons at _________. (Check local listings.)

The Lapsed

During the third century A.D., the Roman emperors repeatedly persecuted the Church. The Emperors Decius, Valerian, and Diocletian ordered that all Christians must renounce the faith and offer pagan sacrifices. Registries of compliance were to be kept in all provinces. Recusants could be punished by forfeiture of property or death.

Human beings being human beings, a mad whirlwind of attempted scams ensued.

By the third century, the Empire was home to many well-to-do Christians. These did not relish the prospect of offending God. But neither did they want to be impoverished or executed.

So they paid their slaves to offer pagan sacrifices on their behalf. Or they bribed officials to produce false certificates, saying they had sacrificed, even though they really hadn’t. Or they lent their identification documents to a pagan, who would then offer sacrifices under the assumed name.

The Christians who employed these stratagems to save their hides came to be known as “the Lapsed.”

The persecutions of the third century came in fits and starts; they lasted for a time, but then the Church would enjoy a few years of peace. St. Cornelius was Pope, and St. Cyprian a prominent bishop, through a couple of these cycles.

During the intervals of peace, a question inevitably arose: Could the Lapsed be forgiven? They had failed to exercise the heroic faith and courage of the martyrs. But, at the same time, they had never stopped believing in the Trinity and in Christ.

Now, of course, neither Cornelius nor Cyprian ever lapsed. Both of them eventually went to their deaths as martyrs. But, before they themselves were killed, they had to deal with the question of what to do with the conniving Lapsed who wanted to go to communion.

Perhaps we might think that, since Cornelius and Cyprian proved to be heroic martyrs themselves, that they would have insisted on Christian heroism. But the opposite is the case. Both of them were roundly criticized by other bishops for being too lax.

Cornelius and Cyprian both taught: We believe in the forgiveness of sins. Let the Lapsed confess their sins, do penance, and be reconciled. The martyrs are our heroes. The Lapsed do not pretend to have been heroes. But they are our brothers nonetheless. Let’s gather around the altar together, so that we can all learn to be heroes next time.