Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house...nor any thing that is his. – Exodus 20:17
As we talked about in the article on the ninth commandment, to covet something is to desire something and decide to get it. Therefore, coveting something that belongs to someone else is to decide, or make an act of the will, to steal it. The sin, therefore, is not merely the act of stealing something, but in deciding to steal it. For example, if my neighbor buys a new fishing reel, I might say that I’d really like to have one like that, and that isn’t a sin. If I say that I don’t just want one like that, but I want that specific one, and, if I get on opportunity, I’m going to take it, that is what it means to covet.
The Catechesism of the Catholic Church relates covetousness to envy, saying, “Envy is a capital sin. It refers to the sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly. 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’” (CCC 2539). Notice that envy is related to “sadness at the sight of another’s goods” and “joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor.” These are signs that we should look for in our prayers and when we examine our consciences, so that we can fight against these temptations. These are temptations that anyone might experience, but just being tempted, even strongly tempted, is not a sin; instead, recognizing those temptations should lead us to fight against them. The Catechism recommends two ways to combat covetousness and envy: poverty of heart and the desire for union with God.
Poverty of heart is a detachment from worldly goods and riches. In the beatitudes, the Lord said “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “but woe to you that are rich: for you have your consolation” (Mt 5:3 and Lk 6:24). The Catechism says, “The Beatitudes reveal an order of happiness and grace, of beauty and peace” (CCC 2546). What makes us happy? What satisfies the desires of our hearts? Poverty of heart comes from the realization that worldly goods and riches can only bring, at most, temporary happiness, and setting our hearts on them often brings more pain and suffering. However, the Lord says, “Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither rust nor mother doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Mt 6:19-21).
We need to spend some time dealing with worldly things, paying bills, and making money, and these aren’t bad things. They can, however, become bad when they distract us from the spiritual treasure of God’s grace, so that our priorities get switched around. We can’t take any of that stuff with us when we die, but we can leave a legacy to those who are left behind. The best legacy we can leave behind, far better than a large bank account, is to love them enough to prepare them not only for life on earth, but for eternal life in heaven.
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.
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.
The Seventh Commandment: Theft
Thou shalt not steal. – Exodus 20:15
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 2401, says, “The seventh commandment forbids unjustly taking or keeping the goods of one’s neighbor and wronging him in any way with respect to his goods. It commands justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men’s labor. For the sake of the common good, it requires respect for the universal destination of goods and respect for the right to private property. Christian life strives to order this world’s goods to God and to fraternal charity.”
There are many detailed consequences of the prohibition of theft in the seventh commandment, as there are with each of the commandments. One breaks this commandment by unjustly taking something that belongs to someone else, which is what we normally mean by theft or robbery. Another way that someone can steal from another is by unjustly withholding something that belongs to someone else, for example, if your neighbor loans you their lawnmower and you refuse to return it. One indirectly breaks the commandment against stealing by unjustly damaging or destroying someone’s property, for example by slashing their car tire, because this deprives them of the use of their property.
In each of these cases, and there may be others that I didn’t think of, I was careful to say “unjustly taking,” “unjustly withholding,” and “unjustly damaging.” That it is unjust is part of the definition, because we can think of instances where someone can be justified in doing each of those things. For example, you are justified in taking the property of another person if the court orders them to give it to you in a trial or lawsuit. You are justified in withholding someone’s property if you have good reason to believe they will use it to commit a crime. You are justified in damaging someone’s property if you have to do so to help them, as firefighters do when they use the jaws of life to cut out someone trapped in their car.
We have to think carefully about moral issues like this, because we’re very good at fooling ourselves to excuse our sins. I might say that it’s not actually theft for me to scam you out of your money, because you gave it to me and I didn’t take it, but reasonable people would conclude that tricking someone out of their money is a type of taking it and is, therefore, theft. I can also excuse my sin of theft by saying that you don’t have a right to your property, maybe because I don’t believe in the right to private property at all or because I think you don’t deserve something that you have. Since we can find reasons to justify these types of actions, we have to be honest with ourselves about our motivations. Why am I really doing this?
How can I fight against temptations to sins of stealing, greed, and theft? The three things that help us fight these temptations are prayer, avoiding the near occasion of sin, and acts of generosity. Prayer is the first and best defense against sin and temptation. Prayer is an act of humility in admitting our struggles and weaknesses and asking for God’s help. Prayer opens us to grace which God uses to help us grow in holiness. Prayer teaches us to reflect on God and the mysteries of God and on ourselves and our motivations, so that we can grow in the likeness of Christ. We can also fight this temptation by avoiding the near occasion of it. The near occasion means the situation or circumstances where we’re able to commit the sin. If I avoid the near occasion then it will be harder for me to fall into the sin and less likely that I’ll be tempted to it in the first place. Finally, we can practice generosity. If greed is the primary motivation for stealing, then we need to strengthen the virtue that is opposed to greed, which is generosity. When I feal tempted to steal, then I should commit and act of generosity instead. As St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 28, “He that stole, let him now steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have something to give to him that suffereth need.”
The Sixth Commandment: Chastity
Thou shalt not commit adultery. – Exodus 20:14
You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery. 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. – Matthew 5:27-28
Like the other commandments, the sixth applies to an entire area of human life. It names, as the specific prohibition, the sin of adultery, which is betrayal of the marital bond, but it also extends to other acts in this area of life. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord makes it clear that we are called to a higher standard in this area of life. We ought not to aim for the minimum, but to strive for virtue even in how we think of other people.
Reflecting on the marriage vows can help us to better understand the Church’s teachings in this area. In their vows a husband and wife promise fidelity to one another for the rest of their lives, not merely in this moment or until I don’t feel like it any more. They promise to be faithful to one another “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health” and “to love and honor” one another “all the days of my life,” or “to love and cherish until death do us part.” They each promise a generous, self-giving, fruitful love to one another for the rest of their lives and in each moment in between, and they are called to live out that promise.
The physical expression of that promise is the marital act, in which the marriage is consummated. The marital act is an expression of the total gift of self. That is simply what the act means, and taking it out of the context of marriage is inherently dishonest. It amounts to making a promise of total love and commitment that we don’t really mean or intend to keep.
The call to chastity is a call to respecting the dignity of every person by not using anyone as an object for our own gratification, even just in our thoughts. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness. The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality. Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one’s neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all” (CCC 2346-47). That is, chastity allows us to enter into true friendship and witness to the selfless love of Christ, because it frees us to work for the good of others and not to worry about what they can do for us.
“Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (CCC 2339). How do we develop the virtue of chastity and grow in the discipline of self-mastery? First, stay close to the Blessed Mother. Mary, the Mother of God, is our greatest advocate in learning to imitate Christ. Praying the rosary daily and other Marian devotions is one of the best things we can do to grow in chastity. Second, practice custody of the eyes, which is the discipline of avoiding those things that can lead to temptation, both in the world and in media. Finally, practice seeing Christ in every person and treating everyone as a brother or sister. Each one of us is created in the image and likeness of Christ, and everyone is either our brother or sister in Christ or potentially so, and Jesus Christ calls on us to “love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).
The 5th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill
Thou shalt not kill. – Exodus 20:13
The Sacred Scriptures depict life, especially human life, as being holy, sacred, set apart for God. God created everything that exists as good, but when He created humanity He did something different; He created mankind “in our image, after our likeness” (Gn 1:26), and breathed life into us Himself (Gn 2:7). The Bible goes on to depict all of humanity, whatever nation we come from, as one family. All of humanity comes from our common first parents, Adam and Eve, and all murder is seen through the story of Cain and Abel (Gn 4), which was fratricide, brother killing brother. Later, murder and warfare in the world leads to the great flood (Gn 6:11), so that God begins again with Noah and his family, once again depicting all of humanity and the many nations of the world coming from one common family (Gn 10). In the Biblical perspective murder is wrong because every life comes from God, is created in His image and likeness, and therefore possesses human dignity. We’re called to treat one another as brothers and sisters, not competing for resources, honor, or power, but cooperating with one another and treating others as we would have them treat ourselves.
Murder is defined as directly destroying an innocent human being (CCC 2258). Murder is inherently evil and can’t be justified under any circumstances. When someone tries to justify murder they’ll usually argue that it doesn’t fit some part of that definition. They may say that it’s not directly destroying the life because they were “only following orders” or “they made me do it.” They may say that no one is truly innocent. Finally, they may argue, as the Nazi’s did, that their victims aren’t truly human or that they’re less than us in some way.
God wants us to have peace with one another, but He also understands that life isn’t that simple. The Bible clearly shows instances of legitimate self-defense, for example in David and Goliath (1 Sam 17:41-54) or Sampson and the Philistines (Jdg 16:23-31). However, we must keep in mind what the Catechism says:
If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful...Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s. Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge. – CCC 2264-65
Therefore, we have a right to protect ourselves form harm by driving someone off or retendering them unable to harm us, but killing someone when we don’t have to is not legitimate self-defense. This is not a defense of killing someone in an honor duel or over an insult, but in defense of our person or those whom we’re responsible for. Notice that I’m talking about Christian morality, not civil law. The law in your area may be more or less restrictive on the right to self-defense.
The purpose of this reflection is simply to give the basics of Church teaching on the 5th Commandment, and to give us some things to reflect on. We do have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in the world, to treat one another with respect and dignity, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. For a more complete look at the 5th Commandment, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church numbers 2258 through 2330.
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may have a long life upon the land, which the Lord your God will give to you. - Exodus 20:12
The Fourth Commandment is one of the three commandments that are expressed positively. Instead of “thou shalt not,” it tells us something that we are obligated to do. God has willed that we should honor Him above everyone and everything for having created us from nothing, and after Him we should honor our parents first for having given us life, and then other people who are in positions of authority over us. It is also the first commandment with a promise for those who keep it; God says that they will “have a long life in the land.”
Honor doesn’t mean blind obedience. If anyone in authority over us, even our parents, tells us to do something that is contrary to the Law of God or teaches us something that is contrary to what God has revealed, then we have an obligation to disobey them because God must come first. However, when respect for our parents and for civil authorities doesn’t contradict God we ought to respect them for God’s sake and in His name. Just as parents have an obligation to love and care for their children, so children have an obligation to respect their parents and be grateful for the sacrifices they make for them. When parents and civil authorities respect the Law of God and the Commandments and we honor them in God’s name there will tend to be peace and prosperity among families and communities. When either side fails it brings great harm to communities and individuals.
God, and the Church in His name, calls on families to care for the children of the family, the elderly, sick and handicapped, and for the poor within their own families. Since we all struggle at times, the Church calls on families in a community to help one another in times of need. Finally, society should make it possible for families to care for their own and to care for one another. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The family must be helped and defended by appropriate social measures. Where families cannot fulfill their responsibilities, other social bodies have the duty of helping them and of supporting the institution of the family. Following the principle of subsidiarity, larger communities should take care not to usurp the family’s prerogatives of interfere in its life (CCC 2209).” The principle of subsidiarity states that issues should be dealt with locally, at the nearest level, whenever possible. When we are close to one another we can see what’s going on and come up with solutions to fit the specific need and respect the people and families involved.
The Bible is a book about family. It begins, in Genesis 1 and 2, with the creation of the world and the marriage of Adam and Eve, it continues by telling the story of Adam and Eve, their children, and their descendants, and concludes in Revelation 19-22 with another marriage, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb and the marriage of Christ and the Church. God wants us to see one another as family. Therefore, the Catechism says, “In our brothers and sisters we see the children of our parents; in our cousins, the descendants of our ancestors, in our fellow citizens, the children of our country; in the baptized, the children of our mother the Church; in every human person, a son or daughter of the One who wants to be called ‘our Father.’ In this way our relationships with our neighbors are recognized as personal in character. The neighbor is not a ‘unit’ in the human collective; he is ‘someone’ who by his known origins deserves particular attention and respect (CCC 2212).”
Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day. Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works. But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy god: thou shalt do no work on it... For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it. - Exodus 20:8-11
The third commandment finishes out the section that deals primarily with our relationship with God, while the fourth through tenth commandments deal primarily with our relationship with our neighbor. Love of God and love of neighbor always go together; they’re inseparable. The sabbath is the seventh day, Saturday, which is when Jews and certain Christian groups like the Seventh Day Adventists observe this commandment. Catholics and most other Christians observe the sabbath on the first day of the week, Sunday. Sunday is the day that the Lord rose from the dead, all of the Lord’s appearances after His Resurrection took place on Sundays, and the early Christian community always gathered for Mass on Sundays, which they called the Lord’s Day, or the eighth day. The Jewish Sabbath was on Saturday because that was the seventh day of creation, when the Lord rested, so they rested on the seventh day to give thanks to God for the creation of the world and for their lives. We celebrate on the eighth day, Sunday, to show that God did something new when Jesus rose from the dead, a new creation, if you will, and to give thanks to God for bringing us to life in Christ.
On the Christian Sabbath, Sunday, we are required to do two things, go to Mass and refrain from servile labor. This is the time for us to turn our attention away from the way we make a living, our jobs, and towards the things that make life worth living, our relationships with God and with our families. It’s a day of renewal for our bodies and for our souls. We’re required, if possible, to avoid work, or servile labor, on Sundays. The rule of thumb is to abstain from work that hinders you from fulfilling the purpose of the day, worshipping God and true recreation. For example, if gardening is your job, then don’t garden on Sundays, but if it’s your hobby then it’s okay. Fulfilling family obligations or important services, like healthcare professionals and other necessary jobs, are excused from the day of rest. Some people may have jobs that require them to work on Sundays; in that case it’s not a sin to work on Sunday, but don’t let it become a habit of ignoring the Sabbath, but do whatever you can to keep the Lord’s Day holy. Remember that everyone has a right to their day of rest, so avoid things that require others to work on Sundays.
There are at least three reasons that God commands us to rest on the Sabbath. As the Lord said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” After all, God doesn’t get tired, so He didn’t need to rest on the Sabbath, but He also knows that we do need time to rest, recuperate, and refocus on what matters in life. Second, the Sabbath rest requires us to put our faith in God. We could work seven days instead of six and make more money and get more done. Instead, we give one day a week to God. On that day we serve God (the Hebrew word for worship also means serve) instead of ourselves or other people. By taking one day off we’re telling God that we trust Him to provide enough for ourselves and our families. Finally, in respecting the Lord’s Day we give everyone a public witness to our faith in God and show that our faith should affect our lives in a real and demonstrable way.
St. Justin Martyr’s First Apology was written in the second century AD, about 100 years after Christ, to explain Christianity to the non-Christians. Talking about the Mass, it says, “But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration. And this food is called among us Eucharistia, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”
The Second Commandment
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. – Exodus 20:7
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the Second Commandment, “Among all the words of Revelation, there is one which is unique: the revealed name of God. God confides his name to those who believe in him; he reveals himself to them in his personal mystery. The gift of a name belongs to the order of trust and intimacy. ‘The Lord’s name is holy.’ For this reason man must not abuse it. He must keep it in mind in silent, loving adoration. He will not introduce it into his own speech except to bless, praise, and glorify it” (CCC 2143). The Commandment is phrased as a prohibition against disrespecting God’s holy name, but that is because we have a deeper responsibility to respect God, and showing respect for God’s name shows respect for God Himself and teaches us to respect Him in other ways.
We typically think it’s just about not using curse words or foul language, but that’s not really what it’s about. It can be sinful to curse someone or use foul language to attack another person, but the greater sin is in actually taking the Lord’s name in vain. Unfortunately, for many people the only time they ever say God’s name is when they stub their toe on the dresser or get stuck in traffic. To take the Lord’s name in vain is to use it uselessly and without purpose. It could also mean to make a vow or promise to God, thus “taking the Lord’s name,” and then go back on our promise or never intend to keep it in the first place. Possibly the most serious sin against the second commandment is blasphemy, which is speaking words of hatred against God and the things of God, such as the saints or sacred images, using God’s name to cover up a crime or to aid in committing a crime. This isn’t just a little sin, like we usually treat it; it’s a very serious sin, and perhaps even a mortal sin, depending on the circumstances, because it’s an offense directly against God Himself.
Every time we take the Lord’s name in vain we train ourselves to disrespect God. How can we learn to respect God in other matters if we can’t even respect His name? As the Lord said, “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater” (Lk 16:10). The opposite is also true; if we always use the Lord’s name in with reverence, we can teach ourselves to have reverence for God in other things as well. So, how should we use the Lord’s name? As the Catechism said, we should use His name to bless, praise, and glorify God, and to preach and catechize, which teach other people to respect God as well. How can we expect people to believe that we love God and believe in Him if we’re always disrespecting his name?
As Christians, we take the name of Christ, and in Baptism we actually take a Christian name. Our name isn’t just a word, it expresses who we are and who we want to be. This is why the Church asks people not to give their children names that are not “foreign to Christian sensibility” (Code of Canon Law, 855), although the Church would prefer parents give their children Christian names, names of saints or related to Christian mysteries, the Church only requires that the name not be offensive to the faith. This also gives a convert the opportunity to change their name, in the eyes of the Church if not legally, to show that they have begun a new life in Christ. Parents take many things into consideration when naming their children, and I would encourage you to consider a saint name, virtue, or mystery in the life of Christ that reflects the eternal life that you wish for your child.
The First Commandment
The First Commandment is this, “I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them” (Exodus 20:2-5).
God begins by reminding the Israelites that He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, which had just happened about two months before. It’s a requirement of justice to worship God, because we owe Him worship. The Lord God created us from nothing, holds us in existence, revealed Himself to us, sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us, and gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. If the Lord truly is God, then we owe Him, and Him alone, worship. We rightly revere, or honor, the saints and angels, and we give higher honor to the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, because God Himself has honored her (Lk 1:48); however, we reserve worship for God alone.
If we can’t be completely sure that the Lord is God or if there is some other god or if there are many gods or no gods, then doesn’t it make sense to give reverence to all of the possible gods? The Lord, however, commands us otherwise. We are not to serve any other god, because the Lord alone is God. We should try to find the truth and then live in accord with the truth. Elijah said to the Israelites, “How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). We have to make a choice, and even refusing to choose is making a choice.
Who or what we choose to worship affects our lives. The ancients had different gods and goddesses for different purposes. The goddess Athena was associated with wisdom, and was the patron of Athens, the home of philosophy. Jupiter, the god of the sky and lightning, was the head of the Roman pantheon, and so was the patron of the city of Rome, capital of the Roman Empire. There aren’t too many people today who still believe in Thor, Athena, or Baal, but we still tend to worship things that we feel are the most important, like money, fame, or security. In the end, when we choose our own gods we end up worshipping only ourselves and what we hold to be the most important, but “to adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the ‘nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name. The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world” (CCC 2097).
Sins against the first commandment include superstition, idolatry, and irreligion. Superstition is, in a way, an excess of piety, where we begin to think of religious acts as in some way magical, which is to think that prayers or religious acts work merely because of the action instead of the interior disposition of love of God. If St. James said that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26), we might also say that works without faith is dead. Irreligion is, in a way, the opposite extreme. It is a lack of piety and respect for God and religion and treating disrespectfully the sacraments and holy things. For example, simony is the sin of trying to purchase grace or blessings, and sacrilege is the sin of profaning a blessed or holy object, such as the Eucharist. Idolatry is misdirected religion by giving to something other than God the worship that belongs to God alone. Catholics are often accused of idolatry for using statues and holy images. If we use images, even images of Christ Himself, as if they are Christ, then we would be guilty of idolatry, but we can use images in a good way when they make us think of spiritual things or remind us of the presence of God.
Finally, for many centuries Christians have debated whether it is allowed to make any images at all, of God, angels, saints, or any living creatures. The Old Testament definitely forbids make images of God, but it allows, and even commands, in some cases, the Israelites to make other images, as long as they aren’t worshipped as gods. For example, the Lord commands Moses to make images of two cherubim (angels) for the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, in Exodus 25:18, and He commands Moses to make a brazen serpent for the people to look at and be cured of their snake bites in Numbers 21:8. We are able to make images of the Lord because Jesus, the Son of God, took on a human form in the incarnation. The Church approved of the creation of images of Christ, Mary, and the angels and saints, so long as “the honor paid to images is a ‘respectful veneration,’ not the adoration due to God alone,” and leads us on to the worship of God in Himself (CCC 2132).
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.