The Ten Commandments

For centuries there was no debate about the Ten Commandments.  Moses brought them down from the mountain and everyone took them to heart.  “Thou shalt not kill.”  “Thou shalt not steal.”  Nothing controversial about that.

But here in the twenty first century, things are different.  Misguided people have found problems with God’s commandments.  First you have those who don’t believe that killing an unborn child is wrong.  They call their stand “pro choice” and say that it’s about women’s health care.

I’ll say this.  Thou shalt not kill also applies to capital punishment and I’m against that too.  But, at least I can understand why someone would think it’s ok to execute a convicted murderer.  I don’t agree, but I can understand the reasoning.  But how anyone could possibly think it’s ok to murder an innocent, unborn baby is beyond my comprehension.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  Anyone who would like to try to explain it to me, take your best shot.

Then we have the issue of atheists who believe the Ten Commandments are religious and so have no place in the public square.  Again, an argument I can’t comprehend.  A murdered atheist is just as dead as a murdered Christian.  In fact, in our belief system even more so.  Why is being opposed to murder or stealing or any of the other eight commandments a religious principle that violates anyone’s rights?

Every society, whether they’ve even heard of Moses, has some sort of moral code that looks an awful lot like the Ten Commandments.  They may be codified in the Bible, but they’re not religious.

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30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus was a Jew. Everybody knows that. His mother was a Jew. His step-father was a Jew. All his aunts and uncles and cousins were Jews. Most of the people He ministered to were Jews. Jesus lived in a Jewish society.

 

In Jesus’ time, Jews had an entirely different view of God than we do today. Look at today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus. The Lord says “you shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword, then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.”

 

Whoa! The Old Testament God didn’t mess around. “If you’re not nice to widows and orphans, I’ll kill you.” End of story. Jesus introduced us to a kinder, gentler God. He told us it was OK to call God “Our Father”.

 

Look at our Gospel reading.   The Pharisees decided to test Jesus. One of them asked Jesus “which commandment of the law is the greatest?” We all know the answer to that question. “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment.” He goes on to say that the second commandment is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Of course, he knew that the Pharisees, experts in the Jewish Law, weren’t following either of these two commandments.

 

As 21st century Christians, we look at this reading and think, “OK, out of the Ten Commandments these two are the greatest. But wait! “Love your neighbor” isn’t one of the ten.

Maybe we should have a little quiz here. Who knows the Ten Commandments?

  1. I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
  4. Honor your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not kill.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

The first three are about loving God. The last seven are about loving our neighbors. The Ten Commandments can be reduced to just two.

 

But, remember, Jesus was speaking to 1st Century Jews, not 21st Century Christians. The question the Pharisee asked Jesus was, “which commandment of the law is the greatest?” He wasn’t asking about Moses’ TEN commandments, he was asking about the commandments of the Jewish law. The Jewish Law, which still applies to Jews today, was made up of SIX HUNDRED THIRTY ONE LAWS! And every good Jew was expected to know all of them!

 

If we look back at the first reading, every point the writer makes is one of the Jewish Laws. Don’t molest or oppress an alien. Don’t wrong widows and orphans. Don’t demand interest on a loan. If you take your neighbor’s cloak, give it back before sunset. There are 627 more. And observant Jews know all of them.

 

One of the Jewish laws is to “love all human beings who are of the covenant”, in other words, to love all other Jews. Another law says to “love the gentiles”. The Jewish laws did direct the Jews to love everyone, but Jesus wrapped up dozens of individual laws of the Old Covenant into one law of the New Covenant.

 

Even though the Jewish Law says to love one another, it does make some distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. For example, charging interest on a loan to a fellow Jew is prohibited in the law and in today’s first reading. But the law also says charging interest to a Gentile is mandatory.

 

The point is that today’s Gospel, which we’ve all heard dozens of times was a major shift in thinking about God. Don’t fear God. Love God. Love your neighbor. The two are one and the same. Our God’s not an angry God. He doesn’t kill people with swords. We don’t think of Him as being wrathful. We think of Him as Our Father.

 

When Jesus came, everything changed. He didn’t come to abolish the Jewish law, He came to fulfill it. At the time, the 631 individual laws made sense. They covered every area of life. The Jewish people weren’t just a religious group, they were also a society. Their laws were their constitution. Their laws protected them from making bad choices. In today’s world, our Church doesn’t care if you charge interest on a loan, as long as it’s not excessive. If you were to take out a loan from the Vatican bank, you’d better believe you’ll be charged interest.

 

There are a lot of Jewish dietary laws. Many of them make perfect sense, even today. “Don’t eat a worm found in a piece of fruit” is pretty good advice. “Not to eat or drink like a glutton or a drunkard” is also wise. Some of the laws about certain foods were written to keep people from poisoning themselves and that’s a good thing.

 

Without rules, it would be impossible for people to live together. You and I have rules where we work. If we’re retired, we still have rules we have to follow. If you’re married, there are rules you follow to keep a happy home. If there weren’t traffic laws, none of us would ever be able to go anywhere. There would be chaos. But it’s hard to find a rule about anything that doesn’t fall under “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” And “love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

The Catholic Church has laws. They’re called Canon Laws. This is the Canon Law book. Thanks be to God you and I don’t have to memorize it. It’s nearly 2,000 pages long. I’m willing to bet that you don’t even own a copy of it. Frankly, if someone hadn’t given it to me, I wouldn’t own one either. It costs about $100.00. But it exists and there are people who do know it backwards and forward. They’re called Canon Lawyers.

 

When I studied Canon Law the instructor told us there was just one thing we needed to remember. It was the telephone number of the Office of Canon Law. They could answer any question.

 

The thing is, we need these rules and laws to maintain an orderly church. What happens at Saint John Nepomuk in Saint Louis is the same thing that happens at Saint Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague. At least that should be the case. It’s in the book.

 

But the point is, Jesus boiled all of this down for us into two sentences. Love God. Love your neighbor. That’s it. If we judge everything we do according to those two simple sentences, we’re doing God’s will. Anything we do that’s contrary to those two sentences is against God’s will. It’s all so simple. And it’s all so very, very hard.

 

When we gossip; when we talk about people behind their backs, we’re not loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. When we refuse to accept change because it’s not the way we’ve always done things, we’re not loving our neighbor either. When we criticize the Church and its leadership, we’re not loving God or our neighbors. When we don’t welcome strangers, we’re not doing God’s will. When we come to church with the attitude that “it’s all about me”, we’re violating God’s commandment. When we act like a Pharisee instead of like a disciple, we’re breaking the covenant that God made with us by the death of His Son.

 

Our faith is simple, but it’s not easy. The Pharisees thought they knew it all. They did everything they could to defeat Jesus, up to and including hanging Him on a cross. But they didn’t win. They committed the greatest Sin of all time. And Jesus lives! He’s alive for each of us and He’s in each of us. All we have to do is remember the two commandments He reminds us of today.

 

We’re called to constantly judge our actions against these two commandments. We have to ask ourselves, “Am I a Pharisee or am I a disciple?”

 

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Liberals vs. Conservatives

“I sure hope this new Pope will be more liberal.  I hope he changes some of the Church’s out-of-date teachings.”

This one drives me crazy.  If there’s a worse myth than conservative Catholics and liberal Catholics, I don’t know what it is.  Once and for all, there is no such thing as a conservative or liberal Catholic!

Let’s look at what these two words mean.  According to Webster’s online dictionary:

Conservative:  tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.

Liberal:  not literal or strict.

The Catholic Church was started by Jesus 2,000+ years ago.  He left it so we’d know what we need to do to gain eternal life. He put men in charge and gave them the power to bind and loose.  He said that whoever heard them heard Him.  He left them an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to protect them from error.

The Church is not a political party.   Politics are open to interpretation.   Put in simple terms,  conservatives believe in smaller government and lower taxes.  Liberals believe in higher taxes and bigger government.  There are good people on both sides.  Once upon a time, liberals and conservatives could actually sit down and have a civil debate.  Today, not so much.

But that’s not the Church.  The only interpretation to be done has already been done.  Truth doesn’t change.  What was true even before Jesus’ time is just as true today.  Some would say the Church is old-fashioned.  True Catholics see it the other way around.  What some people see as positive change is actually moving away from the truth.

If God told us that we shall not kill, is abortion really a modern “right” or is it a perversion of the truth.  The same goes for “Thou shall not commit adultery.”  Sexual activity was created by God for the continuation of the human race.  It’s supposed to be between a married man and his wife.  Premarital sex, extramarital sex, sex between two men or two women, or any other perversion you can come up with is a violation of God’s law.

Anyone who thinks we can ignore the Ten Commandments isn’t “liberal”; he or she is a heretic!  Using the political anology, this person isn’t in favor of big government or small government.  (S)he is in favor of no government.  In the political world, that’s called “anarchy”, and that’s not the Catholic Church.  This so-called “liberalism” has led to more than 20,000 protest denominations.  Does anyone really believe that’s what Jesus wanted?

Here’s the thing.  There are two kinds of Catholics.  One group believes in everything the Church teaches, both from the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition.  These people are called “Catholics”.  The other type believe they can pick and choose what teachings to believe.  These people are called fallen-away Catholics.  It’s an injustice to the Church and to faithful, practicing Catholics to soften the image of the heretics by calling them anything other than what they really are.  I repeat, there are no “liberal” Catholics.

In summary, anyone who thinks our new Holy Father, Pope Francis I, is going to change Church teachings, is dreaming.  Doctrine doesn’t change!  There will be no women priests.  There will be no gay marriages.  It just ain’t gonna happen.

 

Mindless Sheep

Actual Irish sheep taken by yours truly in 2008.

It’s been my experience that when people discuss a controversial issue concerning the Catholic Church, sooner or later, someone in opposition to the Church will argue that Catholic are “mindless sheep”.  We’re not capable of independent thought and we follow whatever the Church teaches without thinking it through for ourselves.  I’ve personally been called a “mindless sheep” more times than I can count.

This pseudo-argument puzzles me.  Many of these same people who will vote to reelect the current occupant of the White House because they’re still waiting for “hope and change” think I’m a sheep because I choose to believe the Son of God and the Church He created.

I’m curious.  At what point does a faithful follower cross the line into “sheephood?   Surely my belief in the Ten Commandments isn’t it.  Even people who have no religious faith at all are against murder.  (Unless the victim hasn’t been born yet, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I believe that Jesus became one of us, died, and was crucified to save us from our sins.  Billions of people share that belief.  Are we all mindless sheep?  I think even our moth ruthless detractors would give us that one.

So, when does one become a sheep?  I think a lot of haters believe that agreeing with the Church and disagreeing  with them qualifies us for sheepdom.  To pro-abortionists, the fact that we believe in the sacredness of ALL human life is sheeplike.  Despite the fact that our support of all life comes directly from the before-mentioned Commandments, somehow extending the prohibition against murder to our future citizens puts us into some brainless caste.

Here’s the thing.  I (and I hope you) believe what the Church teaches.  I don’t fall thoughtlessly in line with every word that comes out of the Vatican (or from my local ordinary) but I’m committed to learning everything I can about an issue.  When I do, the truth invariable comes down on the side of the Church.  How can this be?  Maybe it has something to do with Jesus’ statement to Peter and the other Apostles, “whoever hears you, hears me.”  Could it be that He wasn’t kidding?  Did He really mean it?

I believe that He did.  Does that make me mindless?  I don’t think so.  Not anymore mindless than anyone who chooses to put their faith in something outside themselves.

 I don’t think that anti-Catholics are mindless.  I just think they’re wrong.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #10 The Saints

“You Catholics are crazy! You  worship saints, and even worse, you worship statues of saints!!!”

First, let’s make one thing perfectly clear:  We don’t worship saints and we don’t worship statues.  That would be crazy.  We venerate saints.  According to Webster the word venerate means ” to regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference.”   That is definitely not the same as worship.

So, who are these people we venerate?  What makes someone a saint?  Saints are people who exercise heroic virtue.  They are people we can emulate as we try to live holy lives.  A canonized saint is someone the Church has recognized officially as having met the qualifications for sainthood.  The Church doesn’t make anyone a saint.  The fact is that you and I know a lot of saints who will never be recognized by the Church, but who definitely meet all the qualifications for sainthood.  In fact, our goal as Christians is to live a saintly life.

Canonized saints are designated as patron saints based on their lives on earth.  For example, Saint Joseph is the patron of fathers and of workers.  Saint Francis is the patron of animals.  If you’re bothered by snakes, Saint Patrick is your man.

Your non-Catholic friends may tell you that you don’t need to pray to saints, that Jesus should be the focus of our prayers.  Guess what?  They’re right.  Jesus is the one we should be talking to.  Your patron saint can’t answer your prayers.

Let’s use this analogy.  When you have a particular need how often have friends and family promised to pray for you?  It happens all the time.  If it’s ok for my living friend to pray for me, why isn’t it ok for my friends in heaven to pray for me?  Saints can’t answer your prayers but they can sure pass them along to Jesus.  As they say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.  And our friends, the saints, have Jesus’ ear.  Think about the Litany of the Saints.  After we name each saint we ask them to “pray for us”.

So, what about all those statues?  Aren’t we worshiping graven images which is against the Ten Commandments?  My church, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis has forty five statues.  Once again, we don’t worship statues.  We use statues of the saints in the same way that we use pictures of our loved ones in our wallets, in our offices, or as wallpaper for our computers.  We don’t worship the piece of paper (or the computer screen), we use those images to remind us of the ones we love.  When we’re separated from them we may even take out their picture and talk to it.  “I love you.  I’ll be home soon.”

That’s what we do with statues.  They exist as reminders of the ones we love, the saints.

Having thousands of friends in heaven to pray for us is definitely one of the ten coolest things about being Catholic.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #33 Free Will and Informed Conscience

I originally planned to have this be much closer to the top ten list, but based on the homily I gave today and the circumstances that led me to the topic, I thought it would be good to go ahead and talk about free will today.  Throughout its history, the Catholic Church has been criticized, even attacked, because it “has too many rules” or “it’s all about control“, or my personal favorite, “the Church only wants your money.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.

As I said in my homily, if you look at the Book of Genesis, God created man and woman and gave them two instructions.  1.  Be fruitful and multiply and 2.  Don’t eat the apple.  That’s it.  Two things.  Everything in the entire world was there for the taking.  So what did Adam and Eve do?  God gave them free will so they ate the apple and got thrown out of the Garden.

Given that you and I have free will, the idea that the Church controls us is ludicrous.  The Church doesn’t control.  She teaches.  Think of her as a parent.  She tells us that certain things are sinful.  This isn’t stuff the popes and bishops made up.  It goes all the way back to the Bible.  The pope wasn’t sitting around one day and decided that abortion is a sin.  God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  Moses passed them along to the people.  The Church, you know the one established by Jesus, she has defined abortion as murder.  You and I, through our baptism and confirmation, are part of the Church.  Therefore, if we’re true to our word, we should with the Church’s teaching.  Remember, Jesus told Peter and the other Apostles, “Whoever hears you, hears me.”

But, remember that Adam and Eve, because they had free will, were free to choose whether to eat the apple or not.  They ate and the consequence was that they got tossed out of the Garden.  Likewise, you and I are free to accept Church teaching or ignore it.  But, if we ignore it, we will pay the consequences.  What consequences?  That’s where it gets more complicated.  Are you going to hell if you use artificial birth control?  I don’t know.  Adam and Eve got evicted from the Garden for eating an apple.  But the sin wasn’t eating the apple.  The sin was disobeying God.  Personally, I prefer to err on the side of caution, especially when it involves where I’m going to spend eternity.

But, it’s our choice.  We can do whatever we want.  Isn’t that cool?

Just a short commentary on Informed Conscience.  Sometimes you’ll hear dissenters saying that they act according to their conscience and the the Church says that’s OK.  Hold on a minute.  That’s not exactly what the Church says.  The Church says we must used our informed conscience.  Big difference.  If you haven’t taken the time to study the Bible and the Church’s teachings, you don’t have an informed conscience.  If you derive your theology from your local daily newspaper or from Jay Leno, you just have a set of ideas that you’ve come up with yourself, or an uninformed conscience.  By definition, an informed conscience can’t disagree with Church teaching.

Here’s the thing.  If you’ve taken the time to build an informed conscience, and if you follow it, you’ll never make a mistake.  You’re on the runway for the flight to heaven.  When the time comes, you’ll be cleared for take off.

That’s really cool.

 

Religion and Politics

You’ve heard it said that religion and politics don’t mix..  Some misinformed souls even think the Constitution calls for “the separation of church and state”, even though there is no such language in our nation’s most important document.  I’m afraid that politics and religion do mix and in fact it’s almost impossible to separate the two.

Case in point:  NBC Sports began its coverage of the US Open golf tournament this past Sunday with a “patriotic piece” celebrating the fact that the “US” Open was being played in the nation’s capital.  Featured in the segment was a group of grade school children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.”  So far, so good.  But, some genius at the network decided to edit out the words “under God”, not once but twice.

Frankly I don’t know which was more offensive, NBC’s deliberate exclusion of the Almighty from the pledge or their half-hearted apology three hours later!  Notice two things about the “apology”, the first is that announcer Dan Hicks  doesn’t repeat the words that were left out and second that he doesn’t apologize for NBC’s actions, saying only  “It was not done to upset anyone, and we’d like to apologize to those of you who were offended by it.”

Let’s be realistic here.  Once might have been an editing mistake.  Twice was deliberate.  If we’re to believe that this was truly an accident and not intended to offend anyone, then NBC Sports must be run by imbeciles.  Doesn’t anyone screen this stuff before it goes on the air?  The phrase “under God” in the pledge has been a subject of controversy for years. Surely someone must have questioned its omission.

What about Bob Costas, the host of the US Open coverage.  Costas calls himself a Catholic though his battle with then Archbishop Raymond Burke over the hiring of a renowned pro-abortion, pro-embryonic stem cell singer to headline an event for Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital raised some serious questions about his Catholicity.  Whether he’s a serious Catholic or a nominal Catholic, he should have seen the potential outrage that this piece would cause.

Whatever your religious persuasion, if you believe in and love God, (which means you are in the majority) then you have to be concerned and angered by NBC’s actions.  This country was founded by God-fearing men who never expected to have their words twisted in an effort to push God out of our life.  This is a nation “under God” whether the atheist minority likes it or not.  You and I must stand up and protest what’s happening in America today.

I don’t want to sound like a paranoid Christian but……if the phrase were “under Allah” I doubt that NBC would have the intestinal fortitude to mess with it.  I’m just sayin’….

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a bold prediction.  The US economy is in a mess.  The Democrats and the Republicans have very different opinions of what’s going to make us well.  I don’t think either one of them has the answer.  The answer lies somewhere in between, but today’s climate in Washington makes compromise almost impossible.  I believe the answer lies with the very guy that so many people are trying to push out of the public square.

This nation was founded by God-fearing men leading God-fearing citizens.  And, we’ve been abundantly blessed.  Personally I believe that the same Holy Spirit who inspired the writers of the scriptures inspired the authors of our founding documents.  How else could a small group of men, living in the 18th century, create a system of government and the documents to support it that endures to this day?

Unfortunately, subsequent generations of Americans have drifted away from the principals of our founders and of our Creator.  Now we’re even letting a minority of Americans (and some non-Americans) push God out of our secular lives.  I can’t speak for God, but if I were Him I’d be plenty ticked off.

Now, here’s that prediction.  Our country is never going to get better until we embrace God again.  I don’t mean just giving Him lip service.  I mean following the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, attending Mass (or the church of your choice) on a weekly basis, and making yourself heard when others try to take away your religious rights.

We’re never going to get moving in the right direction until our elected employees in Washington begin to work for the people and not for themselves.

Meanwhile, if we don’t act, the forces of evil are amassing against the United States.  These are forces that have existed for years in small pockets, mostly in the Middle and Far East.  But modern communications tools have made it possible for these groups to unite against a common enemy.  That common enemy is us.  Frankly, I don’t think we can repel an attack by our united enemies without God’s help.  Our “Red Sea” moment could be coming sooner rather than later.  Will God be on our side?  I think that’s up to us.  And I don’t think we have a lot of time.