The Ten Commandments
Patrick Breen, O.Carm.
When the Jewish people fled from Egypt they spent forty years wandering in the desert on their way to the Promised Land, to Israel. When they reached Mount Sinai the Lord summoned Moses to his presence on the mountain. There he gave him the Ten Commandments, known also as the Decalogue (deca=10), the most basic law by which the people were to live. These Commandments are found in the books of Exodus (20:2-17) and Deuteronomy (5:6-21). In a very basic form they are:
1. I am the Lord your God, you shall not have strange gods before me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
4. Honour your father and your mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
9. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.
10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods.
While they may each appear to refer to something different they are in fact a coherent whole. During his life on earth, Christ said: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). Taking love as the basis of the Commandments we see how they all hang together. The first three of the commandments refer to God and the next seven refer to our neighbour. The Ten Commandments are not seen as ten individual laws but as one law. To love God is to keep all his commandments and if we break one of the commandments referring to our neighbour then we refuse to love God and have broken the commandment to love God. Also, one cannot truly say that they love God unless they truly love their fellow men and women and all of creation. In the Ten Commandments both our religious life and our social or civil life are brought together.
There is nothing truly spectacular about the Ten Commandments. In fact, reason alone could arrive at these as a basis for the good ordering of society. The fact that they are obvious does not lesson their impact or their importance. What is important is that given their simplicity we are under greater obligation to make every effort to live up to them.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraphs 2052-2557)
To sin is to refuse to love God and to fail to keep his Commandments. We can sin by doing something or by failing to do something. Throughout the Scriptures God calls us to keep his commandments and to live according to the covenants. In the Gospels, Christ also calls us to turn away from sin and to keep the Commandments. He also calls us to conversion – by changing our lives to confirm with his teachings we will also be turning away from sin. Christ also taught us to ask for forgiveness and in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation we have the opportunity to confess our sins to God and receive forgiveness. Strengthened by the sacrament and God’s forgiveness we are able to begin anew and continue the process of conversion.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraphs 1846-1876)