Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife. – Deuteronomy 5:21
The ninth and tenth commandments command against covetousness and ought to be read together, as the tenth commandment expands upon and completes the ninth commandment. In the traditional numbering of the commandments, the ninth commandment forbids coveting another’s spouse, and the tenth commandment forbids coveting someone else’s posessions. The sin of covetousness is to desire something that you know you don’t have a right to and to make an act of the will to possess it.
Merely desiring somthing isn’t a sin. Only disordered desires can be sinful. Desires can become sinful when we desire something that is bad, when we desire something in the wrong circumstances, or when we desire something too much. Wanting to eat an entire quart of ice cream is an example of desiring something too much. Wanting to eat fried chicken on Good Friday is an example of desiring something in the wrong circumstances, because we ought to be fasting and abstaining from meat on Good Friday. Wanting to do something because we know it’s a sin is an example of desiring something bad. All of this can be and is debated by moral theologians, but my main point is that desiring something isn’t wrong by itself, because our appetites are a natural part of human nature. However, we also shouldn’t think that something is okay just be we want it. We have to examine our desires and appetites to see if they accord with what is truly good.
However, desiring something isn’t a sin, even if we very strongly desire it; just like being tempted to sin isn’t a sin, even if you’re strongly tempted. We sin as soon as we make an act of the will. The sin isn’t desiring something that is wrong; the sin is in deciding to act on that desire. Notice, this is a sin even if you don’t actually do it. So, the sixth commandment forbids adultery, while the ninth forbids coveting your neighbor’s wife. Actually committing adultery is a sin, but deciding to commit adultery is also a sin, even if you don’t get the opportunity to act on it or you later change your mind. As Jesus said, “But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5:28).
We all have temptations to sin, which are basically disordered desires. The question is how to deal with them. In relation to temptations of lust, we ought to practice modesty and custody of the eyes. On modesty, the Catechism says,
Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet. There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes is possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies (CCC 2522-2523).
Therefore, out of respect for human dignity and love for our neighbor, we ought to practice custody of the eyes by controlling what we look at, not treating others as mere objects, and promoting media that respects the dignity of the human person. Out of modesty, we should try not to lead others into sin by the way we speak, dress, and behave. This is not a limitation on our freedom, but instead a way to open ourselves to truly loving relationships.
"To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year," these words of Pope Benedict XVI, from his letter Porta Fidei, reflected his goal in proclaiming the Year of Faith which began October 11, 2012, the 50th Anniversary of opening of the Second Vatican Council, and ended on November 24, 2013.
In many ways we are experiencing a cultural crisis of faith. There are so many different voices speaking to us that it can be difficult to sort through all of the baloney to find something of substance, something true. Sometimes we look at the successes of human ingenuity and think that we no longer need God. Sometimes we look at horrors and atrocities, genocide, abortion, starvation, and corruption, and wonder where God has gone.
"I love you, LORD, my strength, LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold!" -- Psalm 18:2-3
The philosopher Kierkegaard said that faith is jumping into the black unknown, but Catholic philosopher, Dr. Peter Kreeft, adds to this. He said that faith is jumping into the unknown and trusting that someone will catch you. The above quote from Psalm 18 reflects our belief that God will take always take care of us. In the midst of the uncertainty of our lives, of suffering, and of doubt the Lord God is the rock on which we stand.
You see, faith is not just a set of beliefs that we hold. Faith is a relationship with a person, with God, and He is inviting us to grow into a deeper relationship with Himself, to learn what He has told us about Himself through the Scriptures and through the Church, and to grow in our trust and love for Him, because He is our rock, our fortress, and our salvation.
First, we are asked to learn about the faith by reading the Holy Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Do not merely read them, but read them slowly and prayerfully, reflecting on the truths they contain. The amount that you understand is more important than the amount that you read.
Then, we are encouraged to put that knowledge into action. Pope Benedict writes, "By their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us." Our thoughts, words and actions should be infused with the faith which we believe so we can be a witness to our brothers and sisters in the world, strengthening them through our witness and in turn being strengthened by their witness.
Finally, we are called to celebrate the faith that we have received through the Sacraments, especially through the Mass. In the Mass we proclaim, "The Mystery of Faith," and respond, "We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again." We have received the faith from Jesus Christ and our faith leads us back to Him through His Cross.
I encourage all of you to read the Bible and learn more about the faith individually and as families, but we also have faith formation events at Church:
The Eighth Commandment: Lying
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. – Exodus 20:16
The eighth commandment, against lying, is fundamental to Christian morality, even though it, along with the commandment against using the Lord’s name in vain, is often overlooked. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6), and as St. Paul said, “God is true; and every man is a liar, as it is written, That thou mayest be justified in thy words, and mayest overcome when thou art judged” (Rm. 3:4). If God is truth, then we must seek the truth in order to seek God, and in finding God we find the truth. Therefore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Truth or truthfulness is the virtue which consists in showing oneself true in deeds and truthful in words, and in guarding against duplicity, dissimulation, and hypocrisy” (CCC 2468).
There are many offenses against the truth. The Church defines lying as speaking a falsehood with the intention to deceive (CCC 2482). We might lie to get ourselves out of trouble, to benefit ourselves, to harm or to help someone else, to prevent an awkward situation, or to spare someone’s feelings. There are several particular sins that fall under lying or deceit. Perjury is a particularly grave offense against the truth because it is lying under oath and interferes with the exercise of justice in society. Detraction and calumny are lying about someone to damage or destroy their reputation, which is an offense against the dignity of the person. However, flattering someone falsely is also a form of lying, and it is especially grave when it is done to temp someone to sin. Boasting or bragging about oneself can be another form of lying, as can caricature, when they are done with the intention to deceive.
There are other ways to deceive someone other than speaking a falsehood; we can also act to deceive someone, and this could also be considered lying. Lying is at least a venial sin, but it can become more grave, even a mortal sin, when it undermines justice and charity. Lying to save someone’s feelings is a sin, but it isn’t as serious as lying to cause harm to someone else. The purpose of speech and of language is to communicate truth, so lying is a misuse of speech and is disordered, it “does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgement and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart he fabric of social relationships” (CCC 2486).
Those who struggle with lying and dishonesty can work to grow in the virtue of truthfulness. They ought to pray, even daily, and ask God for help in growing in that virtue. They can also consider the harmful effects of lying, which can motivate them to tell the truth. They can also consider that lying makes the entire spiritual life more difficult, because it separates us from God Himself, who is Truth, it harms our neighbor, and it covers up other sins, making it more difficult to avoid them. God, in His mercy, wants all of us to know the truth of His mercy. Through confession and reconciliation we can be forgiven of our sins, including sins of lying, and be strengthened by God’s grace.
Q & A: Christmas
Question: What are the 12 days of Christmas?
We all know the famous song about the 12 Days of Christmas, and the better one about the 12 Yats of Christmas, but what are the 12 days of Christmas? Early in the Church there were disagreements about the date of Jesus’ birth. Some believed it was in March, some during June or July, but most people settled on either December 25 or January 6. Therefore, both of these days became important feast days related to the birth of Christ. On December 25 we celebrate Christmas and on January 6 we celebrate Epiphany, which is the revelation, or making known, of the birth of Christ by the Magi. Since there are 12 days in between Christmas and Epiphany, with Epiphany being on the 13th day, we traditionally celebrate Christmas for all 12 of those days. Therefore, the 12 days of Christmas don’t end on December 25, they begin on December 25.
Question: Who were the Magi?
In the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we read about people who visit Jesus after he was born. The Bible calls them magoi, singular magos, which we normally translate as wise men. It doesn’t call them kings, like in the popular song “We Three Kings,” but that idea might have started because of the expensive gifts that they bring, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Similarly, we normally think of three wise men, or three kings, but the Bible doesn’t say that there were three of them, only that they brought three gifts. The Bible says that they came from the east, but it doesn’t specify exactly where they came from. The Magi originally referred to a group in Persia, where Turkey is located now, who performed religious rites and rituals in the Persian religion as well as practicing astronomy and astrology, which would explain how they saw the star and knew what it meant. This makes a good case for Persia, but the word “magi” was used for similar people in other areas as well, so we can’t be sure exactly where they came from. What we do know is that the coming of the magi to worship Jesus was a sign that people from other gentile nations would also recognize Jesus and come to worship God as well.
Question: Since Christmas isn’t in the Bible, why do we celebrate it?
Even though we don’t know for sure when Jesus was born, we celebrate his birth on December 25 because it’s good to set aside special dates to celebrate important things, and the birth of Jesus Christ is one of the most important things that have ever happened in human history. The idea of celebrating important things at a certain time comes from our Jewish heritage. In the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, the Lord gives Israel certain times to celebrate special feast days to remember the Passover and other events that show God’s love and care for them. We still celebrate Passover and Pentecost, which were originally Jewish, Old Testament feasts, but we celebrate them in the Christian context. Therefore, it made sense to most of the early Christians to choose a date to celebrate the birth of Jesus as well. So, Christmas may not be specifically in the Bible, but it is inspired by a Biblical world view and fully supported by the Church.
Question: Is Christmas based on a pagan festival?
You may have heard that Christmas is just a Christian version of the Roman pagan festival of the Unconquerable Sun, Sol Invictus, or Saturnalia, which celebrated the god Saturn, but this is not supported by good historical research. Saturnalia was celebrated on December 17, and later extended until December 23, but it was over before December 25, so there doesn’t seem to be any connection. As for Sol Invictus, the first reference we have to the birth of Jesus being on December 25 is by St. Hippolytus of Rome writing around the year 204 AD. However, the first reference we have to the feast of Sol Invictus being on December 25 is in a work called the Chronography of A.D. 354, which was written nearly 150 years after the first reference to December 25 as the birth of Christ. In fact, the cult of Sol Invictus doesn’t seem to have been very popular in Rome until the reign of Aurelius from 270-275 AD, also after the above date. However, even if it does turn out to be true, it would do nothing to undermine the Christian faith in Jesus as the true Son of God and Light of the world.
Once a month I’ll write an article answering a question from a parishioner on the Church, the Mass and sacraments, the Bible, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints, spiritual theology, or anything related to Christianity. Either write your question down and put it in the collection basket, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since yesterday was the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, here are some great quotes on Motherhood:
“As all men died through one, because that one sinned, so the whole female race transgressed, because the woman was in the transgression. Let her not however grieve. God has given her no small consolation, that of childbearing. And if it be said that this is of nature, so is that also of nature; for not only that which is of nature has been granted, but also the bringing up of children. If they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety; that is, if after childbearing, they keep them in charity and purity. By these means they will have no small reward on their account, because they have trained up wrestlers for the service of Christ. By holiness he means good life, modesty, and sobriety.”
~ St. John Chrysostom
“Listen, and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little child; do not be troubled or weighted down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?"
~ Our Lady of Guadalupe to San Juan Diego
“[A] mother is one to whom you hurry when you are troubled.”
~ Emily Dickinson
“Hear this, you fathers and mothers, that your bringing up of children shall not lose its reward. This also he says, as he proceeds, Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children. Among other commendations he reckons this one, for it is no light praise to devote to God those children which are given them of God. For if the basis, the foundation which they lay be good, great will be their reward; as great, if they neglect it, will be their punishment (1 Timothy 5:10).”
~ St. John Chrysostom
“An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.”
~ Spanish Proverb
“This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator.”
~ Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 62
The Creche and the Cross
As we celebrate Christmas on Saturday and the Feast of the Holy Family on Sunday we should recall how strange the story of the Incarnation is. God Himself came down to earth, the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary, and the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, was united to a human nature in the person of Jesus of Nazareth through the hypostatic union, and He, God and man, was the Christ. This same Jesus Christ revealed Himself as the Son of God during His public ministry, and He eventually gave His life in atonement for sin and for the salvation of the world. Therefore both the creche, the scene of His birth, and the Cross are signs of the self-emptying of God and His sacrificial love for the world.
In the incarnation God condescended to become one of us. The word condescension is usually a pejorative meant as an insult, because it means that someone who feels they are superior to others stoops down to their level. God, however, truly is superior to us. God is uncreated while we are created. He is infinite and we are finite. He is the Creator and we are creatures. Therefore, St. Paul says, “For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man” (Philippians 2:5-7). Jesus Christ became one of us for our benefit, not for His. In emptying Himself Jesus didn’t stop being God, rather He took on the nature of a man. He condescended to become a creature, to develop and mature in the natural way, to be obedient to Mary and Joseph, and to follow the laws of men.
St. Paul continues after the quote above, “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names: That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Phil 2:8-10). Jesus’ entire earthly life is an example of God’s love for us, and His greatest act of love is His death on the Cross. The humility of Jesus is that He didn’t take advantage of His Divine prerogative, even though He truly is God, but that His Divine love led Him to the Cross.
The love of God is not merely sentimental. Sentimental means marked or governed by feeling, sensibility, or emotional idealism, and love can certainly provoke emotion, very strong emotion. However, the love of God, and the type of love He desires us to show, is governed by reason, not emotion. It is concerned primarily with doing good for other, not making them feel good, and it has real consequences for our lives.
So, as we celebrate Christmas this weekend and for the next few weeks, we’ll celebrate with a lot of sentimentality. We’ll gather with family, put up lights and decorations, participate in family traditions and customs, and exchange gifts. Let us also remember that Christmas is a celebration of the love of God, which lead Him to become one of us, to live with us, and to give His life for us in the torturous death of the Cross. May the love of God also have a real and lasting effect in our lives leading to repentance, conversion, and growth in holiness.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.