Catholics sometimes have a reputation for being a little smug in looking down on our non-Catholic brethren. While there is a genuine sense in which the See of Rome does stand above the others, nonetheless, smugness is not a virtue. And I’d have to confess to having been guilty of smugness at times, and I’m reminded of that in particular whenever I hear the Ten Commandments as we just did in our second reading from Romans, because it reminds me of an incident in the seminary.
Some of you may recall that there was a survey done of clergymen in the Church in England that showed that the vast majority of them did not know the Ten Commandments! That survey came out while I was in seminary, and I can remember a group of us sitting around and laughing about it –laughing about the Church of England. And we laughed for quite a while. We laughed, that is, until someone asked, “What are the Ten Commandments?”
-and I’m afraid to say that a rather long silence followed. It turned out that not one of the 6 of us could list the Ten Commandments. Even worse, even when we clubbed together, we could only come up with 9 –and I think a couple of those were bogus!
Now, why am I telling you this? Because I suspect what was true of my friends is also true of many of us here today:
It is very easy to think that the world outside has forgotten about what right and wrong are, that we are Catholics and we know.
But we live in this world, and it influences and corrupts the way we think –it reduces our own capacity to tell right from wrong. That means we need to continually be striving to think straight –to think as good Christians, to look to Christ and what His Scriptures and His Church teaches, to look to Christ and not to Oprah Winfrey or the BBC.
If I asked you all to take out a pen and paper and write out the Ten Commandments, how would you score? And if Christ asked you 20 questions about specific rights and wrongs in your own life, are you confident you’d know what he asks of you this day?
As Christians, we know that Christ asks us to love. Few people in our society would disagree with that. We just heard St Paul reiterate the command to love and tell us that love sums up all the commands. So why do we need to know the commandments?
Its important to note that it was AFTER St Paul said that love fulfilled ALL obligations that he then re-listed the Ten Commandments. He did this because we need to know what love looks like –love has a form and a structure. There are certain things that are in accordance with authentic love and certain things that are opposed to it.
Love is not just a vague fuzzy feeling, love makes demands, and those demands are specific.
As Catholics, in particular, we hold that love and WISDOM must go together in order for love to be true love, otherwise love is not GOOD love.
The Ten Commandments itemised the essential structure of love, the skeleton all other commandments relate to:
The 10th Commandment is to not covet your neighbour’s goods, and all sins of envy and greed are subdivisions of that.
The 6th Commandment is to not commit adultery, and various sins against chastity and purity are subdivisions of that. And so forth.
Love has a structure and we need to use our REASON and the wisdom of Christ if we are to know it.
As I started by saying: I smugly made jokes about other people forgetting the 10 Commandments not realising that I too had forgotten them. I was influenced by the world around me, and so are you. If we would know what true love is then we need to remember the Ten Commandments.
1. I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me;
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain;
3. Honour the Sabbath
4. Honour you father and mother;
5. You shall not murder;
6. You shall not commit adultery;
7. You shall not steal;
8. You shall not bear false witness;
9. You shall not covet you neighbour’s wife;
10. You shall not cover your neighbour’s goods.