God’s Law is Personal and Loving

In Monday’s first reading (Monday of the First Week of Lent) there is a recitation of the law that features the refrain “I am the Lord.” What does this expression mean and why is it appended to each command?

When we think of God’s law, there is a danger that we might think of it as we do of any secular law: as a sort of impersonal code written by nameless legislators or bureaucrats. We have not met them; we do not love, trust, or even know them. They are an abstraction we call “the government,” or just “they,” as in, “They don’t let you park here,” or “They’ll arrest you for that.”

If we have faith, God’s Law is personal, for it is given by someone we do love, trust, and know. Further, we believe that He loves us and wants what is best for us.

God’s law is not the equivalent of a no-parking sign put up by some nameless, faceless government agency. Rather, it is a personal exhortation, an instruction and command given by someone we know and who knows and loves us.

Consider this example: Suppose you pull in front of my church to park and you see a no-parking sign. Now suppose further that you decide to ignore it. You have broken a law—not a big one, but a law nonetheless. You’ve chosen to ignore a sign put there by “the government.” Now consider a slightly different scenario: You pull in front of my church to park and I, your beloved blogger and the pastor of the church you are attending, am standing out there by the curb and I say to you, “Please don’t park here.” This situation is different in that I, someone you know and love 🙂 , am personally requesting that you leave the space open for some reason unknown to you.

An old rabbinic saying makes this same point:

You want to know why so many of God’s laws end by saying “I am the Lord”? I will tell you! When God says, “I am the Lord,” he is saying, “Now look, I am the one who fished you out of the mud, so come over here and listen to me.”

When you experience the law in this personal way, you are far more likely to follow it, because someone you know and trust is asking and/or directing you. Now what if, despite this, you still choose to ignore the instruction not to park there. In this case, the law is personal, so your refusal to follow it becomes personal and is a far more serious situation.

Here are two (of many) examples of the “I am the Lord” phrase from Scripture:

You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor.
You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.
You shall not curse the deaf,
or put a stumbling block in front of the blind,
but you shall fear your God.
I am the LORD.

You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment.
Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty,
but judge your fellow men justly.
You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
I am the LORD
(Lev 19:11-14).

Note how each ends with, “I am the Lord.” On the one hand, it lends solemnity to the pronouncement, but on the other, God is saying, “Hey, this is God talking! It is I, your Father, who speak to you; I who created you, led you out of slavery, parted the Red Sea for you, dispatched your enemies, fed you in the desert, and gave you drink from the rock. It is I; I who love and care for you; I who have given you everything you have; I who want what is best for you; I who have earned your trust. It is I, your Father, speaking to you and giving you this command.”

God’s law is personal. Do we see and experience it this way? This will happen only if we come to know the Lord personally. Otherwise, the danger is that we see the Law of God as merely an impersonal code, an abstract set of rules to follow. They might as well have been issued by the deity, the godhead, or even just the religious leaders of the day.

A gift to pray for in terms of keeping God’s Law is a closer walk with the Lord and an experience of His love for us. Such an experience is a great help in loving the Law of the Lord, for when we love the Lord we love His Law, seeing it not as an imposition, but as a personal code of love meant to protect us. When we offend against it, either willfully or through weakness, we are able to repent with a more perfect contrition, for we understand that we have offended someone we love and who is deserving of all our love.

Abba – St. Paul indicates that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is to be able to experience God as Abba. Abba is the Hebrew and Aramaic family word for father. It is translated by some as “Papa,” or “Dad,” but regardless of how it is translated, it indicates a deep love and tender affection. He is not merely “the Father” in some abstract or titular sense. He is someone I experience as my own dear Father, as someone who loves me. It is a personal, familial relationship that the Holy Spirit wants to grant us.

This personal relationship brings God’s law alive, makes it personal. And so God says, as He reminds of His Law, “I am the Lord. It is I speaking; I, the one who loves you.”

I might add that we also need to experience this with regard to the Church. Many see the Church in an impersonal way, as an institution. The real gift is to see the Church as Christ’s beloved bride and our Mother. In this sense, we love the Church and grow daily in affection for her, not seeing her “rules” as impersonal, but rather as the guidance and direction of a loving mother.

In this video, Fr. Francis Martin beautifully describes the gift of loving the Father with deep affection:

The Gift of the Tenth Commandment

The Tenth Commandment is, You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet. your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Ex 20:17). It is one of more rarely quoted commandments in conversation, and frankly is often confessed than most of the other Commandments. Yet in a way it may be one of the most commonly breached of the commandments since it directly addresses our desire to possess things unreasonably. This is a very deep and disordered drive that gives way to many other sins as well.

Fundamentally to covet means to be possessed of a strong and unreasonable and inordinate desire to possess the things of another. It’s Latin root is cupere, meaning simply “to desire.” But in the Biblical usage, coveting is more than mere desire. It is a nurtured desire that is excessive, unreasonable and thus sinful.

Let’s begin with a little background on desire itself. There exists within each of us a whole range of appetites or desires. We desire everything from food, security, and temporal goods, to affection, friendship, sexual union, and a sense of being loved and respected. In themselves these desires are good and they help protect and foster important aspects of ourselves. However, since the human race labors under the effects of original sin, our desires tend also to have an unruly dimension. Frequently we desire things beyond what we know is reasonable or just. And this is where coveting enters. Coveting does not include momentary desires that occur to us and which we dismiss as being unreasonable or inappropriate. Rather, coveting involves the willful entertaining or eliciting of inappropriate or excessive desires.

Thus, the Tenth Commandment points to the gift that God can give us, the gift of self control. For, a significant truth about our desires and passions is that if we overindulge them they become more and more demanding and powerful in their influences over our conduct. Self control becomes increasingly difficult to those who are self indulgent. The Catechism teaches,

If we do not learn to temper our desires we quickly become dominated by them. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy..Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice…and not by blind impulses in himself…Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself from all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good…. (Catechism 2339).

The Tenth Commandment reminds us of our freedom and dignity and solemnly instructs us in the importance of self control in terms of our desires. The significance of this issue for our well-being and happiness is emphasized by the fact that two commandments the 9th and 10th) are devoted to matters of covetousness.

Self control may seem difficult since our desires do not usually change in an instant. Just because we know that our heart desires things or persons in ways that are excessive or inappropriate, does not make these desires disappear. Yet through consistent self discipline, custody of the eyes and the other senses, recourse to prayer and sacraments, all with the help of God’s grace, the desires of our heart change. We begin to love what God loves. What is sinful becomes less tempting and the thought of sin eventually becomes even abhorrent to us. By God’s grace our hearts change.

The command not to covet is not merely a rule to follow, it is a gift to be sought.

The Tenth Commandment itself: Since it is the last of the Ten Commandments, it is fitting that the tenth commandment flow from and complete many of the other commandments.

  1. It forbids coveting the goods of another, which is at the root of theft, robbery, and fraud, which the seventh commandment forbids.
  2. Coveting, or “lust of the eyes” as scripture calls it (1 Jn 2:16), many times leads to the violence and injustice forbidden by the Fifth and Seventh Commandments.
  3. Likewise, covetousness tends to originate in the idolatry prohibited by the first three commandments. This is because of the way that covetousness frequently leads to a kind of worship of material goods.
  4. The tenth commandment also completes the ninth since coveting involves far more than sexual matters.

The scriptures specify the wide scope of coveting: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet. your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s. (Ex 20:17).

A Distinction – We should recall that coveting by definition involves the willful entertaining of excessive or inappropriate desires. Thus, it is not wrong to desire the things we reasonably need. Clearly it is essential for our survival that we desire food, water, warmth and shelter. Love, affection, family, and work are also essential for us and it is proper that we desire and seek fulfillment in these areas.

Even seemingly non-essential things like recreation and entertainment are in fact necessary ingredients in life and our desire for such things is an important aspect of every healthy person.

So long as our desires for any of these things is not unreasonable and we do not seek to fulfill them in inappropriate ways we can say that they are good, even holy aspects of the human person.

The Catechism goes on to elaborate on coveting:

The tenth commandment forbids greed and the desire to amass earthly goods without limit. It forbids avarice arising from a passion for riches and their attendant power. It also forbids the desire to commit injustice by harming our neighbor in his temporal goods (Catechism 2536).

Greed is the insatiable desire for more and, as we have already noted, excessive desires once indulged grow very insatiable and become increasingly difficult to control. The Book of Ecclesiastes says, The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing (Eccl 1:8). And Again, Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income (Eccl 5:10). St Augustine says, For my will was perverse and lust had grown from it, and when I gave in to lust, habit was born, and when I did not resist the habit, it became a necessity (Conf., Book 10). Thus, again we see the Tenth Commandment’s summons to freedom from lusts, excessive desires and many bad habits and addictive or compulsive behaviors.

The Catechism also connects the Tenth Commandment to Envy:

The tenth commandment requires that envy be banished from the human heart…Envy refers to the sadness at the sight of another’s good…When it wishes grave harm to a neighbor it is a mortal sin. St. Augustine saw envy as “the diabolical sin: “From envy are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity.” (Catechism 2538-2539).

What then are some antidotes to Covetousness?

  1. Gratitude – In the first place there must be gratitude for what we do have, an abiding and deep gratitude for the things and people in my life.
  2. Contentment and Satisfaction – Another gift to be sought is contentment and an abiding sense of satisfaction. Satisfaction is the ability to say to God, “It is enough O Lord!” Contentment is the capacity to hold gratefully to what one has, rather than to constantly reach for more.
  3. Appreciation – Yet another related gift is appreciation which is the gift to regard as precious what one has received.
  4. Moderation should be sought also from God. Moderation is the capacity to observe the “mode” or middle range of something so that we do it neither to excess or defect. Since severe asceticism is rare in our culture, most of us know that moderation will mean recognizing our tendency to excess and the need by God’s grace to curb it.
  5. Trust – Another gift to be sought is trust. For is often happens that we excessively desire, grasp at, and hoard out of fear that we will not have enough. But if we trust that God can provide for our basic needs, fear diminishes and inordinate desires diminish too.
  6. Generosity is still another gift to seek. Once our basic needs are met we are essentially dealing with surplus. Generosity is a freedom that recognizes surplus and gladly shares.

Thus as we see, the Tenth Commandment points to gifts and calls us higher. It calls us to recognize the freedom and the healing which God offers us through his grace. For in terms of our passions and desires we can easily become enslaved. How easily we become inebriated with the things of this world and become trapped by the seemingly insatiable desire for more.

One look at the credit card balances of many Americans reveals that we live beyond our means and have difficulty controlling our desires. In some cases individuals are unable or unwilling to delay gratifications. Others consider as essential, things which they could do without.

The tenth commandment calls us away from the illusions of necessity and immediacy. We are summoned to a freedom which recognizes that we can discipline our desires and master our passions so that we make sound, wise, and just decisions in acquiring and using the goods of this world.

Finally, the Tenth Commandment calls us to remember something very important about our desires. As we master our passions and desires we also learn more clearly what they are truly saying to us. Fundamentally every desire represents a deeper longing for God who is the giver of every good gift. In the deepest part of our heart there is a song, I’d rather have Jesus, than silver or gold.

The tragedy is that many become lost searching for happiness in the things of this world. This ends in frustration and emptiness for our deepest longings are infinite. The finite things of the world cannot fulfill the infinite longings of our heart. The Catechism concludes,

Jesus enjoins his disciples to prefer him to everything and everyone, and bids them “renounce all that [they have]” for his sake and that of the Gospel [Lk 14:33]. The precept of detachment from riches is obligatory for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven…The Lord grieves over the rich, because they find their consolation in the abundance of goods.[Lk 6:24] But blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”[Mat 5:2] (Catechism 2544, 2547).

This song says, You may have all this world. Just give me Jesus.’

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor – A Reflection on the 8th Commandment

The Eighth Commandment proclaims the splendor and the beauty of the truth. It is not often that we hear of the truth described in this way, but consider how precious and essential a foundation the truth is for our lives.

Without the truth there can be no trust, and without trust there can be no relationships with others. Without the truth there is cynicism, fear, and an atmosphere of exclusion and secrecy. Without the truth, lives are ruined or lost by error and falsehood. Without the truth, countless men, women and children are misled by deceitful and destructive philosophies that sow confusion and error.

Jesus declared just how important and essential the truth is by describing it as the fundamental purpose of his saving mission: For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. (John 18:37). Jesus also taught, If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (Jn 8:31)

Dedication to the truth – The first implication of the eighth commandment flows from the importance and essential nature of the truth. The Catechism teaches:

Christians must be dedicated to the truth and live according to it. The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His “faithfulness endures to all generations.”[Ps 119:90; Prov 8:7; 2 Sam 7:28; Ps 119:142] Since God is “true,” the members of his people are called to live in the truth. (Catechism 2465) To follow Jesus is to live in “the Spirit of truth,” whom the Father sends in his name and who leads “into all the truth.”[Jn 16:13] To his disciples Jesus teaches the unconditional love of truth: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes or No.'”[Mt 5:37] (CCC # 2466).

Witness to the truth – Not only are to be dedicated to the truth and to love it, we are to witness to it by word and deed. This is particularly the case with the truth of our faith, the truth which has set us free. This witness is a transmission of the faith in words and deeds. Witness is an act of justice that establishes the truth or makes it known. All Christians by the example of their lives and the witness of their word, wherever they live, have an obligation to manifest the new man which they have put on in Baptism and to reveal the power of the Holy Spirit by whom they were strengthened at Confirmation. (CCC #  2472).

Since the eighth commandment upholds the goodness and beauty of the truth we must avoid all sins against the truth. There are numerous ways that the truth is undermined. It will be fruitful for us to consider them each in turn.

I. False Witness – Scripture says, A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow. (Proverbs 25:18) Nothing can be so injurious to individuals as to harm their good name or reputation. Without a good reputation it becomes difficult for an individual to successfully relate to and interact with others whether it be for business or merely at a personal level. Clearly, to bear false witness against someone is to harm their reputation and we are forbidden to do so.

In the the most technical sense, false witness is something which takes place in a court of law and, since it is under oath, is also called perjury. But it is also often the case that false witness is given in daily matters through lies, half truths, exaggeration, and the like. Clearly our call to love the truth and to respect the reputation of others forbids us engaging in such activities.

Respect for the reputation of others also forbids us from:

A: Rash judgment (assuming without sufficient foundation the moral fault of a neighbor),
B: Detraction (disclosing another’s faults and failings without a valid reason to others who did not know them)

C: Calumny (imputing false defects to another with the knowledge that they are false).

II. Flattery – Yet it is also possible to offend the truth by inappropriately praising others or by refusing to correct them when it is proper to do so. Flattery distorts the truth when it falsely attributes certain good qualities or talents to another. This is usually done to ingratiate oneself to individuals or for some other ulterior motive(s). Such behavior becomes particularly sinful when it confirms another in malicious acts or sinful conduct.

III. Lying A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving…Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord…The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: “You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” [Jn 8:44]….By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity…A lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision…Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust…and tears apart the fabric of social relationships. (Catechism 2482-2485)

Acts of lying are sins from which we must repent. Lying is also a sin that demands reparation. That is to say, since lying causes actual harm and real damage. These damages must be repaired. The actual truth must be made known to those who deserve to know it. The reputations of others which have been harmed by the lie must also be restored.

Is lying always so evil? The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. (Catechism 2484). Thus there are big lies and smaller ones. Nevertheless, it is always wrong to intentionally lie. This includes so called “polite lies.” For example suppose a phone call comes in for someone in the household who has indicated a preference not to be disturbed just now. It is a lie to say, “She is not here.” Yet one could say, “She is not available now.” Other social situations are less simple! For example, if Mrs. Smith asks you, “Do you like my new hairstyle?” Suppose you do not. It is in fact wrong to say, “Yes, I like it.” Granted, we all feel a bit stuck in such situations! Perhaps we could answer truthfully but discreetly and say, “You look alright.” (Presuming that we do think so). But wouldn’t it be nice if we actually felt secure enough, either to indicate charitably our true feelings, or to indicate our preference not to answer the question? Wouldn’t it be even better if our relationships with others were so based in sincerity and truth that people both gave and expected honest answers? It is to this blessed state that the Lord points when he says, Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ (Mt 5:37).

IV. What about secrets? This reflection has thus far emphasized the goodness and the splendor of the truth as well as the importance of communicating that truth to others who need it. However, the right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional..fraternal love…requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it…Everyone should observe an appropriate reserve concerning persons’ private lives. Those in charge of communications should maintain a fair balance between the requirements of the common good and respect for individual rights. Interference by the media in the private lives of persons engaged in political or public activity is to be condemned to the extent that it infringes upon their privacy and freedom (Catechism 2488, 2489, 2492).

However, the fact that we are permitted, even obliged, to keep certain secrets and maintain discretion, does not mean that we are free to lie. For example we cannot say, “I don’t know anything about that.” Neither can we make up false answers to requested information. When we must decline to give information that is properly to be kept secret we must still remain truthful. We might say instead, “I am not free to discuss this matter with you now.” Or, “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on that.” Or, “Why don’t you ask him yourself?” Occasionally we may need to be more direct and say, “This is a private matter and not for you to know.”

Thus secrecy and discretion are often proper. Here too however, absolutes must be avoided. Sometimes we are asked to keep secrets that we should not keep. For example, suppose someone confides in you that they intend to commit a serious crime, or bring harm to another? It would be wrong to keep such a secret. Other things being equal, secrets ought to be kept, save in exceptional cases where keeping the secret is bound to cause very grave harm to the one who confided it, to the one who received it or to a third party, and where the very grave harm can be avoided only by divulging the truth. (Catechism 2491).

An exception to this is the seal of confession which may never be violated for any reason whatsoever: The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore, it is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason. (Catechism 2490).

Jesus has taught us that the truth will set us free (Jn 8:32). If this be the case then anything which distorts the truth leads to bondage. Thus the eighth commandment calls upon us to love the truth and to love one another by proclaiming the truth and witnessing to it in sincerity with mutual respect and love.

I couldn’t think of a video to post today, but then it struck me that there was something very honest about this video.

Pondering Persecution

In this week just before Holy Week we are reading from the 8th Chapter of John’s Gospel wherein Jesus enters into increasingly severe conflict with the temple leaders in Jerusalem. The conflict will ultimately end with Jesus death which we celebrate a week from this Friday.

I wonder if most Catholics today are ready for persecution. It probably doesn’t take a prophet to realize that, as the world around us goes increasingly insane and strays from God’s ways, we are more and more likely to experience persecution. The basic path seems to be this:

  1. Biblically Based moral vision is set aside either as old fashioned or as merely “personal opinion.”  
  2. Tolerance is exulted as the only real virtue.
  3. Insist that all behavior (except perceived intolerance) is to be tolerated.
  4. Accuse anyone who questions newly sanctioned behaviors of being intolerant and thus worthy of increasing punishment. Call them names such as intolerant, reactionary, rigid, unkind, mean, hateful, etc. Generally incite personal dislike of those who hold to traditional biblical morality through such labeling.
  5. Begin the process calling all perceived intolerance “hate crimes”  and start exacting punishment. Start by removing tax exempt status, begin permitting lawsuits for failing to observe all forms of tolerance (Except tolerance of intolerance).  
  6. Exact more punitive measures such as jail time for those guilty of  so-called “hate crime” or intolerance. Declare such people as dangerous since their “intolerance” may cause violence and thus call for their imprisonment.

As the world gets crazier such a process (which is already far along) does not seem so far-fetched. In Canada there are already clergy on trial for the “hate-crime” of opposing so-called “Gay marriage.” You can read more of that  HERE  and HERE. But there are several things to ponder about persecution:

  1. Persecution is normative for the Christian. Jesus exemplifies this in his own life and also teaches: If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:19ff)
  2. Hence, the fact that we are persecuted does not mean we have done anything wrong.  – Too many Christians are swayed by the anger of others into thinking that they have done or said something wrong or inappropriate. While not every tactic we might use is always appropriate, our message, even if delivered with appropriate means will often anger the world. Again, this DOES NOT mean we have done anything wrong.
  3. Refuse to accept and internalize the labels. Just because some one calls you intolerant does not mean that you are. Further we should not be required to tolerate everything. Hence it is appropriate to strongly oppose, to refused to tolerate that which we consider wrong.
  4. Courage– Preaching and living the faith in a world gone increasingly mad will require guts and persistence. We must re-examine our intense need to be liked by everyone and approved by all and prefer nothing to God and his truth.

So, as we see Jesus in the Gospels of this week go into the fray for our sakes, we must admire his courage and pray for similar strength and virtue. Things may get difficult in the years ahead. But listen again to Jesus: In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”  (John 16:33).

I preach on this topic at this morning’s Mass. If you’d like to hear more you can listen here: Pondering Persecution (17 Minutes)

Here too is a video clip of John 8 that depicts the increasing opposition that was mounting against Jesus. It is from the Movie The Gospel of John.

40 Reasons for Coming Home – Reason # 24 – Martyrs have died to give you the faith.

Reason# 24 – Martyrs have died to give us the faith.  Every Sunday at Mass we recite the Creed: I Believe in one God, the Father Almighty….  I often think of the blood of Martyrs as I pray the Creed. They died for the faith that I can so easily take for granted. Others, though not suffering death lost property and jobs, or were imprisoned and disowned. For many of us in modern day America the idea of suffering death or extreme punishment for the faith seems remote. At worse,  we are verbally scorned for our faith or laughed at; maybe a raised eyebrow or a smirk. We may suffer more in days ahead but for now, we have it easy compared to others. And consider this too, martyrdom is not something from the remote past. Many suffer intensely and are killed for the faith in many parts of the world even today. See how precious the faith was and is to them! They willingly suffered for it.

 So here is an important reason to come home. The faith that we celebrate each Sunday is so precious that multitudes of martyrs down through the ages were willing to suffer extreme punishment, torture and death for it. Rolling out of bed on Sunday mornings may seem an inconvenience, living the faith may have its demands, but these things do not compare to what Jesus and the martyrs experienced to hand on the faith to us. When I roll out of bed early on Sunday morning to unlock the Church I may grumble at having to end my sleep. But others suffered far worse for me so that I could celebrate Mass and know that Jesus is Lord. When someone told them to be silent and not speak of Jesus they spoke anyway and suffered on account of it. My faith has come at great price and I think of that each Sunday, especially as I so easily say the Creed, a creed written in the Blood of Jesus and the Martyrs of every age. Come home to the faith of Jesus and the Martyrs.

Be careful of the following video. It is graphic in its depictions of the suffering of the early Christians in the Colosseum. But if you are able to look upon it, it is a powerful and moving depiction of the horrors they faced as they were thrown to the lions while hard hearted on-lookers were “entertained” by their sufferings.  If this video is too much perhaps the second video will be more palatable.

40 Reasons for Coming Home – Reason # 21 – The Command

Reason # 21 – The Command.   Not uncommonly today I hear some people say that they do not go to Church because they “don’t get anything out of it.” We can address the substance of this complaint in a moment but first it must be said that we don’t go to Church merely to get something out of it. We go because we are commanded by God to do so. The Third Commandment says, “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.” The Book of Leviticus spells the commandment out for us further: “For six days work may be done; but the seventh day is the sabbath rest, a day for sacred assembly.” (Lev 23:3). Let’s be clear, God is not merely suggesting or requesting that we keep holy the Sabbath, he is commanding it. We are to avoid unnecessary work and to keep “sacred assembly,” Sacred assembly means, getting to Church. The notion that we should simply go because we get something out of it is rather an ego-centric approach and misses the more simple reason of obedience. We ought to go simply because God commands it.

Now we may wonder as to why God commands it. It remains true that God does not command things of us merely for arbitrary reasons. The most obvious answers as to why he commands it would seem to be these:

  1. He has many graces to bestow on us at Mass
  2. He knows we need community and fellowship in order to be spiritually healthy
  3. We need to be instructed in his Holy Word
  4. We need to be fed on his Body and Blood
  5. Alone, we do not have all the gifts we need, but together and with Christ we have all the gifts we need.
  6. We need the blessings and minsitry of the priest who acts in the person of Christ.

Now as to the point that some raise that they don’t get anything out of  Mass there are many possible answers. I would first say that it is a call and reminder to the clergy and to parishes that the Mass and all liturgical celebrations should be well planned, beautifully celebrated, and reverently prayed. The Mass, well celebrated, should never be boring. Every priest or deacon who preaches should be prepared, enthusiastic and prophetic. The choirs, lectors, ushers and others should all be prepared and enthusiastic about what they do. Every priest should celebrate Mass with piety and devotion. So, in the first place I think that we who are tasked with planning and celebrating the Sacred Liturgy should take to heart the complaint that some (not a few) make when they claim to get little out of it.

However, it also remains true that in order to get something out of Mass, everyone has to come prepared and with plans to participate. The Mass is not spectator sport. We are all to pray and take part in the Sacred liturgy. We ought to grow in our understanding of the Mass over the years and be as attentive as possible. In the end, if we  receive Jesus in Holy Communion can we really say we “got nothing out of Mass?” So here is a call to faith as well.

But let’s end where we started. We go to Mass in the first place because we are commanded by God to do so. Hence, even if the choir is off for the summer or my favorite priest is away on vacation, or the new pastor isn’t to my liking etc, we go anyway. We go because we love God and want to obey him. We don’t just go to get entertained. We go to worship God. And God is worthy of our praise, worthy of our obedience. Here’s a reason to come home: He’s worthy of our praise and our obedience.