The Ten Commandments Revisited

The RCIA program at Our Lady of Lourdes includes several talks centering around the Ten Commandments as a means of giving flesh to what it means to live a moral life. Some weeks ago I gave a presentation on the first three commandments (which you can find here). On another occasion the deacon in the parish gave a talk on the commandments having to do with marriage. Yesterday, I talked about the remaining commandments addressing our relationship to one another: Commandments 5, 7, 8 and 10.

I used to think of the Ten Commandments as the “bare minimum” – the minimum conditions for leading a moral life. And, if one approaches them literally, they are no more than that. However, reflecting on the commandments in terms of, not only the literal things they command us to avoid, but in terms of the positive behavior they seek to encourage, suggests a richer and much more challenging set of instructions for the moral life.

In my talk, for each of the Fifth, Seventh and Tenth, and Eighth Commandments, I spoke about the obvious and the not-so-obvious implications of the command. For each, I also included a series of questions one might ask to see how well one is doing in fully living in the spirit of the commandment. We ended with a lively discussion of the challenges, during which the participants found ways to tie in today’s discussion with prior discussions we’ve had about sin and discipleship.

You can listen to the talk I gave yesterday here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 33:48. (I interrupted my talk several times for comments from participants. I tried to hold the recorder in a way that would capture their comments; apologies if there are a places where the audio is unclear.)


God’s Covenant With Us

Yesterday I gave an RCIA talk at Our Lady of Lourdes on the first three commandments, the first of three sessions on the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments contain the terms of the covenant concluded between God and his people. They express the implications of belonging to God through the establishment of the covenant. Although they precede Christ, the Catholic Church has always acknowledged their importance to the moral life.

It is possible to think of the Ten Commandments in a very narrow and literal way. By that I mean both thinking of them as primarily a list of “thou shalt nots” – things I had better comply with because not doing so is a big sin, and limiting them to their literal meaning. In that sense, they don’t really challenge people already on a spiritual path. Chances are pretty good that if people are, e.g., showing up for Mass and attending an RCIA classes afterwards, they are not going around killing people, committing adultery, stealing other people’s cars or other possessions.

But, thought of more broadly and deeply, the Ten Commandments help us explore the contours of right relationship with God (the primary focus of the first three commandments) and right relationship with one another (the primary focus of the last seven commandments), although obviously there is a strong interrelationship between those two in all of the commandments. This is the sense in which I encouraged participants to reflect on the commandments.

As I said, the focus of today’s talk was the commandments that focus primarily on right relationship with God. You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 41:57.

Some Additional Helpful Commandments

For several reasons, this past week has been a very exhausting one, emotionally more so than physically, although three nights of speaking engagements following the weekend retreat I gave last weekend – with two more this weekend – has certainly taken a physical toll as well.

As I was exercising in my basement this morning, I happened to glance up at a bulletin board of Elena’s, one of the small posters on which was labeled The Other Ten Commandments. The poster indicated no source, but it wasn’t hard to locate them online (“author unknown”).

Several of them really spoke to me – not surprisingly, mostly the ones I’m guilty of violating. With the hope that they may say something that helpful to you, here they are:

Thou shall not worry, for worry is the most unproductive of all human activities.

Thou shall not be fearful, for most of the things we fear never come to pass.

Thou shall not cross bridges before you come to them, for no one yet has succeeded in accomplishing this.

Thou shall face each problem as it comes. You can only handle one at a time anyway.

Thou shall not take problems to bed with you, for they make very poor bedfellows.

Thou shall not borrow other people’s problems. They can better care for them than you can.

Thou shall not try to relive yesterday for good or ill, it is gone forever. Concentrate on what is happening in your life and be happy now!

Thou shall be a good listener, for only when you listen do you hear ideas different from your own. It is hard to learn something new when you are talking, and some people do know more than you do.

Thou shall not become “bogged down” by frustration, for 90% of it is rooted in self-pity and will only interfere with positive action.

Thou shall count thy blessings, remembering who they come from, and never overlook the small ones, for a lot of small blessings add up to a big one.

Blessings on your day.