We’ve begun meditating on Christ’s Passion. The Passion is not just a history lesson, though it is historical. The narrative is happening now and in every age, in one way or another. It’s about us. The lives of the baptized extend the experience of Christ’s Passion until time’s end. That’s why, when the Risen Christ appeared to Saul in blinding light, he asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me” (Acts of the Apostles 9:4)? Christ called his Church “me.” What happens “in the Church” and “to the Church” happens to Christ. The Church is Christ’s Body – the subject of the Passion.
The plot thickens. The Ten Commandments are part of that narrative, though perhaps not obviously so. So often we think of the Commandments as “laws” that keep us well behaved. If that’s all they do, that’s not a bad thing. But there’s more to them. Read the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. The Commandments are prophecies and preparations for Jesus, who came to give us the “new wine” of a “new grace.” This fact permeates the Gospel. Recall the story of the young man in Matthew 19 who asks Jesus, “What good must I do to obtain eternal life?” Jesus replies by telling him to follow the Commandments. Then the young man asks, “What else?” Jesus replies, “Drop your baggage. Follow me.”
Transgressions against the Commandments reveal the causes of Jesus’ suffering and death. Following Christ entails following the Commandments. Breaking the Commandments persecutes Christ. “Why are you persecuting me?”
For instance, look at the First Commandment: “You shall have no false gods.” To be sure, a “false god” is not just a brew of ancient religions and cults. You don’t have to be a primitive Canaanite to have a “Baal” or an “Astarte.” And you don’t have to be from ancient Carthage to have your flesh-eating “Moloch.” Nor do you have to frequent palm readers and enlightenment mediums. For Christians, there is something more insidious: compromising the faith to please the world. Or, compromising love or justice for an “ideal.” Ideology is a false god. There is also the false god of ego or superego. This is the case when we’re tempted to deny truth or faith for reasons of approval. Even more pernicious, we’re tempted to be “faithful” for reasons of approval, like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Being “right” can be a false god. On the other hand, martyrs show us that even faith’s finer points are worth dying for. St. Thomas More wasn’t imprisoned and beheaded for defending the big-ticket items in the Creed. He was beheaded because he affirmed the Pope’s authority to settle a marriage question. This is about the First Commandment.
Jesus suffers because we break the Second Commandment: “You shall not take God’s Name in vain.” This is about using the holy Name of God, the Trinity, Jesus and Mary disrespectfully, of course. Broadly, it’s about any violation of the sacred. When we use language to harm, detract, gossip, control, lie, deceive or alienate, we break this Commandment. To be sure, this isn’t necessarily about using “curse” words or salty language for emphasis or frustration. If you drop a hammer on your toe, not even God expects to you say, “By golly!” It’s about breaking hearts with words, spoken or written. Even photographs can violate this Commandment. It need not be a matter of vocabulary. It’s about being demeaning or degrading. St. Paul says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Invective words, gestures, symbols or images put vinegar in Christ’s mouth.
Christ’s loneliness is caused by breaking the Third Commandment: “Keep the Lord’s Day holy.” When we miss Sunday Mass or a Holy Day because of “more important” things, we run away from Christ, like the Apostles (except John), leaving him to be whipped and beaten without our love and consoling presence. (To be sure, I’m not talking about bedridden or elderly folks staying home during ice storms). We are also ungrateful, like nine healed lepers who didn’t return to say thanks. Recall the Parable of the Banquet: “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come’” (Luke 14:16-24). We join the Pascal Mystery at Mass. What a gift! Ingratitude breaks the Third Commandment. Would you skip Christ’s death and resurrection for your kid’s soccer game? “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul” (Mark 8:36)? But, for a game?
Herod’s arrogance and dismissiveness toward Christ is caused by our breaking the Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and mother.” Dismissive attitudes towards God’s Law are rooted in disrespect for the “imperishable flame of the law” which has been passed down to us through Tradition. Whenever we lie to our parents, teachers or other legitimate authorities, or dishonor their legitimate requests, or become rebellious toward legitimate authority, we insult Christ. The Fourth Commandment is about respecting Tradition that comes from God.
Christ’s Body was abused, lacerated, and nailed to the Cross because we broke the Fifth Commandment: “Do not kill.” It’s easy to be self-righteous about this one. It’s reassuring to know that we’re not among America’s most wanted. But every time we get drunk, abuse the body, insult or shame others on social media, embarrass others about long past sins, we abuse the Body of Christ. Every time we give a nod of approval to others who do so, we are rejecting the Fatherhood of God. When we savor salacious gossip, we kill. To be sure, the worst kind of murder is not the murder of the body but the murder of the soul. Abusing and killing the grace of Baptism – mortal sin – is the worst form of homicide.
Breaking the Sixth Commandment – “Do not commit adultery” – mocks the naked Body of Christ. To be sure, the Sixth Commandment is not just about immoral sex. It’s also about suggestive or explicitly prurient behavior, gestures, jokes, immodesty, and enticing others to impure thoughts or memories. Do we poison others’ minds? Have we done this to someone who has been, hitherto, innocent? When we enjoy entertainment with degrading content or form, or with vile or disturbing messages, we mockingly jeer and laugh at Christ, hanging on the Cross. When we are provocative and suggestive, we insult Christ’s Body, which we have become through Baptism and Holy Communion.
When we break the Seventh Commandment – “You shall not steal” – we sell out Christ for thirty pieces of silver. You may say, “I don’t steal.” Are you sure? Do we steal people’s reputations by detraction, slander, calumny or gossip? The worst theft of all is stealing that which has no price tag, like a good name. Are we kind and helpful to the poor? Do we acknowledge the humanity and rights of people of different races, nationalities and cultures? Are we content with simplicity? Are we willing to sell out Christ, like Judas, in order to live only for ourselves or our ideas? Here’s a good question: Is our generosity about control? “After all I’ve done for you…”
When we break the Eighth Commandment – “You shall not bear false witness” – we join the scoundrels who lied and slandered Christ’s good Name. Every time we backbite or break a confidence, we join Satan’s conspiracy to bring down Christ. When we flatter or manipulate with smooth words and even tears – to get what we want – we join Christ’s enemies in laying traps. Do we use “guilt” in order to manipulate? Would we betray Christ with a kiss?
When we break the Ninth and Tenth Commandments – “You shall not lust” and “You shall not envy” – we join the Scribes and Pharisees who lusted for the people’s admiration and envied Jesus’ divine favors. When we tempt a virtuous person to sin, we tempt Christ to disobey his Father, as did the devil.
Ask yourself: Am I grateful for the price that Christ paid for his Church? Do I express gratitude to God by my life? Have I made a good honest Confession. Have I sought a true conversion, again and again.
Christ paid an immense price for us. He was slandered, mocked, and ridiculed. He was spat-at in the face. A priest betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver. Another denied him. Others, except John, abandoned him. He was beaten and lacerated with iron-tipped whips. His skull was crushed with long hard thorns. A beam was laid upon his lacerated back. He was fastened to the Cross by thick nails for three hours, between thieves, with nothing but vinegar to drink, hearing nothing but taunts, and with no consolation but for the grief of his heart-broken Mother. And he personally knew and felt the darkness of every sin committed from time’s beginning to the end. The least we could do is to console him with our gratitude. How? Accept the Gift. Repent. Confess. Weep. Convert. Pick up your cross. And follow him.
Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor