A sermon by Father Jonathan Hill.
It was long ago that God gave the Commandments and the Law to Moses and the Children of Israel. Yet we read elsewhere in Scripture that the Law was incapable of making us righteous. What then was the purpose of this gift? The Law was intended to prevent people from doing evil, to turn their hearts towards ways of righteousness so that when Jesus came, in the fullness of time, to bring His teaching which went far beyond the Law, there would be a foundation for Him to build on. The Commandments might be seen as our Basic Training for living a life acceptable to God. God gave us Commandments. Jesus willed that we should not simply be obeying laws but that we should be obeying because we wanted to grow close to God, to grow in righteousness, in faith, in compassion, in devotion.
Yet we find it so hard to follow the teaching of Jesus. We find it so hard to allow God to make us truly righteous. In part this may be because we have not yet grown to the stage where we keep the Commandments. And if we have not completed our Basic Training, how can we expect to grasp the words that come to us from heaven?
When God gave His people the Commandments, He began by stating Who He was. If someone gives us instructions we might well ask, ‘Why should I listen?’ So God tells us. ‘I Am the Lord your God, Who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’ We might be able to amplify that greeting. He says to us, ‘I Am the Lord your God, Who left the glory of heaven and came to dwell with you, to share your lives. I Am the Lord your God, Who suffered and died on the Cross for you to pay the price of human sin. I Am the Lord, Who by rising from the dead destroyed the ancient enemy that is death so that all people may have life.’ As a preface to His commandments God reminds us of what He has done for us. That is the reason why we should listen to Him and take heed. That is why we can confidently look forward to the things He desires to do for us in the future.
But perhaps as individuals and certainly as a society we fail to keep even these basic commandments. Let’s think about them.
You shall not utter the Name of the Lord your God to misuse it. Well, even in schools we find young children routinely using ‘Oh my God!’ as an expression of surprise. Is this treating the name, the idea of God as something holy, something to be treasured and loved? And they do it, of course, because they have learned to do so from us.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. How often we hear things like: ‘I won’t be at Mass next week because my son has a football match’ or ‘…my daughter has a competition’ or ‘I have visitors.’ These things are fine to do on Sundays if we make sure we go to Mass as well – and let’s face it there is a good choice of Masses from Saturday evening to Sunday morning to Sunday evening, if we choose to put ourselves out a little. How many people neglect the obligation to take part in Sunday Mass and, forgetting it is grave sin, simply come to Communion the following week as if nothing untoward had happened. In such a case, we need to make a Sacramental Confession with a firm intention of amendment before coming to receive Communion.
And in this grave sin we are also in effect worshiping false Gods. We are saying that the football, the competition, the visitors are more important than the Mass, the Sacraments, than God.
We’re not doing very well so far. Let’s see if things get better!
Honour your father and your mother. As our society moves ever closer towards legislating for euthanasia and assistant suicide, can we say we are doing this? The older generation far from being honoured are to be shunted away out of side and then quietly removed so that we no longer need to care for them?
This brings us to the commandment not to kill. Well, where is our respect for life as the first, greatest and eternal gift of God? It has become a commodity as we routinely kill thousands of unwanted babies, as we seek to manipulate the genetic inheritance in an effort to get the child we want. We are left with no sense of reverence for this most wonderful of mysteries.
You shall not steal. Perhaps we don’t as such. But how easy it is to be tempted to make a slight adjustment in expenses claims. ‘I know I didn’t actually spend money on such-and-such, but I could have done so I’m entitled to it. It’s not really stealing.’ Isn’t it? And how honest are we if someone gives us change for a twenty instead of a ten. I comment on it quickly enough if it’s the other way round of course!
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. Again, how easy it is, isn’t it, to find ourselves drawn into gossip and the making of disparaging remarks about others. Oh, not out of real malice perhaps but just to feel part of the group – never thinking of what harm we might be doing, never thinking of whether we’re speaking the truth or not. And more widely in talk how far do we go to insist on the truth? ‘Oh, well, I tell a few white lies on occasion, but that’s OK.’ Again, is it? Did Jesus not say ‘I Am the Truth.’ ‘But I tell white lies because sometimes the truth might be hurtful. I think it was Thumper the rabbit in the film of ‘Bambi’ who said ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say nothing at all!’
So here we are getting lessons in morality from a cartoon rabbit!
You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. His wife, or anything that is his. Is the whole advertising business not built around this temptation to covet? If someone has this thing then you should have it too. ‘It’s all about you.’ ‘Because you’re worth it.’ Slogans like this are commonplace. And we learn it very early on in life. Every parent will know the moment when their child wants such-and-such an item and the parent, mum or dad, says it’s too expensive or it’s not needed or whatever the answer might be. The child then says ‘but everyone else has one.’ Our covetousness is not far beneath the surface.
In the light of all this sinfulness never affecting our decision, when at Mass, to come forward to receive Communion, often in a state of grave sin, is it surprising that voices are heard even within the Church saying that those in adulterous relationships should receive Communion at Mass?
No, we need the Sacraments, we need the Commandments. They are signs to us of God’s immense love for us and of His helping hand reaching down from Heaven to save us. But we must receive them on God’s terms not on ours. He is Lord and Master, we are merely unworthy servants. We need to take seriously the Commandments, to think about our obedience (or lack of it). It’s not about being scrupulous but about being honest. If we truly desire to know the joy that our faith can bring us we need to be trying with our whole being to live lives that are faith-full. If we complete this Basic Training there are no further limits as we journey on into the wonder of God’s love. If we neglect the Basic Training we are merely entering an imaginary world of self-deception, a Fool’s Paradise.