The Ten Commandments are not 10 suggestions

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald

Pope Francis last week finished up his catechesis on the Ten Commandments at his general audience in Rome. What struck you about his teaching?

For decades, popes have used their weekly audience as a time to teach and call us to discipleship. Pope Francis’ teaching style is clear and very pastoral, and he used Scripture and daily life to break open the Ten Commandments so that we can apply those to our lives. 

What did you learn about the Ten Commandments in the seminary?

They’re very much a foundation of who we are as God’s people. They come from the Old Testament. They’re not suggestions. They are God’s commands to us. Why would he make such tremendous demands? It’s because he loves us, he wants the best for us, he wants us to become the people that he’s called us to be so that we can inherit eternal life. Everyone has rules to live by, and if you throw out those rules, that would mean utter chaos and a road to failure and selfishness. 

How would you break down the commandments?

The first three commandments are about being close to the Lord, honoring his name, having him as the all and not having false gods in our life. He also calls us to worship on the Sabbath day, which for us is Sunday. I think that commandment alone – keeping holy the Sabbath – is something we need to hear in this day and age. It’s not a suggestion. The Lord expects us to honor the Lord’s day by worshiping with a faith community. Some people say, “Well, I can worship God by myself.” While that is true, there is an important dimension that we are a community of faith and that we are called to worship God in that community of faith. This is especially true for us Catholics as we listen to the Word of God speaking to us and as we receive the body and blood of Christ. The other commandments have to do with loving our neighbor and loving our parents. We are called to respect our neighbors by reverencing them, by not stealing, not committing sexual sins that would use the other person. It’s not just adultery but any way in which we could only use another person’s body for our pleasure. We are called not to be jealous, not to covet our neighbor’s goods or gifts. We live in a world of great competition, where it always seems that we are looking at what the other person has that I do not? God calls us in the Ten Commandments to recognize the gifts that we have and not to be jealous of the gifts of others.

The Ten Commandments are often juxtaposed with the Beatitudes.

We like to compare the Ten Commandments, which are God’s commands on what not to do, with the Beatitudes, which tell us what to do – to be poor in spirit, to recognize that we need God, to hunger for righteousness, to strive for holiness, to strive for purity of heart, to be peacemakers, to strive to be merciful and meek. So, those are the positive things that can be matched up with the commandments. The commandments basically tell us some of the temptations that we should not get into; the Beatitudes tell us that which we need in order to live lives of goodness, holiness and discipleship.

The Ten Commandments often are looked at with a wary eye in the public square.

We live in a time when we can’t place the Ten Commandments in public spaces, in schools or on many public or government buildings. I’ve heard many people say we’re taking God’s commandments out of schools and replacing them with guns. There’s something wrong with that. There’s a great analogy that Archbishop Fulton Sheen used in his book, “Remade for Happiness” (Ignatius Press, 1946). While written a long time ago, it has a relevant analogy: “When you buy an automobile, the manufacturer gives you a set of instructions that cover tire pressure, type of engine oil and proper fuel. The manufacturer has nothing against you by giving you these instructions, as God had nothing against you in giving you commandments.” God wants us, Archbishop Sheen wrote, to “get the maximum happiness out of life. Such is the purpose of his commandments.”

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