My name is Father Paul O’Donnell and this is my first article for the PV News. I am an archdiocesan Catholic priest currently serving at Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque Catholic Church in Lomita.
I remember, way back, during my seminary days in Rome, one very intelligent student, in presenting an exam to his professor was asked a very basic question: “Can you name the Ten Commandments?”
Would you believe that this student, so full of so much complicated theology, could not name them all? The professor was making a point — we may know much about a lot of complicated things but we often forget the simple things, the things that matter most.
The Ten Commandments, which come to us Christians through our older brothers and sisters in faith, the Jewish people, matter because they remain the bedrock foundation of the whole moral life. They are valid for Christians, Jews, Muslims, and indeed, for all peoples of all times and all generations because they are hard-wired by God into the conscience of every human being who ever existed. The Catholic Church has traditionally called them the Natural Law. The Decalogue, as they are known in the Bible, far from being a cold list of things we are forbidden to do — “Thou shalt not! — if properly understood and lived faithfully, is actually a prescription for LOVE — “Thou shalt love!”
When lived in the proper spirit, they deepen our love for God and for one another. Although originally given to the chosen people Israel through Moses, we Christians believe that they are fulfilled and take on their full meaning in Jesus Christ.
It was Jesus himself who helps us understand their true meaning because we believe that he most perfectly summed up the entire Law of God in his own person — empowering us to love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves, or better yet, as he loves us.
And so, at their deepest level, the Ten Commandments are about Love, as embodied in a divine Person and as expressed towards human persons. They were written by the very finger of God upon tablets, it is true, but they are equally inscribed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit, because they are preeminently the inspired Word of God.
We find two listings of them in the Bible, the first in Exodus 20:1-17 and the second in Deuteronomy 5: 6-22. Although identical in their message, these two versions have led to variations in numbering and wording. But basically, the Ten Commandments can be broken down into two parts. The first three commandments speak of our obligation to love God above all things. The following seven commandments teach us how we are to love our neighbor. The latter seven prove our seriousness about the first three.
Taken together, they are indeed commandments, that is, obligatory and not optional, as they form the primary road map for daily, moral living. We Christians also believe that they provide the easiest way to examine our consciences in order to make a good confession. Far from being a burden, they are meant to liberate us from what weighs us down, namely, our sins and their consequent sadness. An excellent spiritual exercise for all (individually and as families) would be to look up the Ten commandments in the Bible, or for Catholics, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (because of its lucid, concise explanations and challenging implications). Are you able to list them from memory? We may know much about many complicated things but often we forget the simple things, the things that matter most.
Father Paul O’Donnell is an archdiocesan Catholic priest currently serving at Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque Catholic Church. Reach him at email@example.com.