Ten Commandments

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Ten Commandments • 1st

"If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:17).

“The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.  The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.  The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.  The command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye” (Psalms 19:8-9).

“Healing the wounds of sin, the Holy Spirit renews us interiorly through a spiritual transformation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1695).

The Law is God's Gift to Israel

After God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt He gave Israel the Law (Torah). With the gift of the Law God desired to give Israel true freedom, freedom from sin.  Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).

God called Israel to worship the one true living God and to reject the false Egyptian gods that would enslave them.  In the book, An Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger teaches that the three most powerful false gods of this time, responsible for the enslavement of many people, were bread, power, and Eros (pg. 111).  Slavery to sin results in the destruction of self and the community and it separates us from the thrice holy God.

God wanted Israel to know the true God, the God of freedom and holiness.  He wanted Israel to flourish and to be a light to the nations so they could proclaim God's will and His saving power to all people.

The Law Deals With Grave Matter

The Ten Commandments deal with very serious human behaviors and desires.  A parent who has lost a child to violence understands very well God's command, “Thou shall not kill.”  The person whose life has been fractured into two because of an adulterous spouse knows the gravity of God's words, “Thou shall not commit adultery.”  The person who lives in slavery to sinful thoughts knows very well the truth of God's words, “Thou shall not covet."

Many of the serious problems in a person's private life and many of the grave problems in society can be alleviated and even removed through living the Law of God.  God is a loving Father and wants to save His children from unnecessary pain and suffering and wants them to have happy lives.  Jesus said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Jesus Reveals the Beauty of the Law

Jesus did not release his disciples from the obligation to fulfill the Law.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following:

The Lord's Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them . . . It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to renew the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure (CCC, 1968).

In the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes, Jesus reveals the profound beauty of the Law given to Israel.  He reveals that God wants to totally renew the hearts of people so that they will desire and do what is good out of love for God and neighbor.  Jesus summarized the entire law in the following words:

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?  He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments’ (Matthew 22:36-40).

The Holy Spirit Gives the Strength to Keep the Law

St. Paul taught on multiple occasions that the Law given to Moses is good and teaches one the holy will of God and His righteousness, however, hearing or reading the Law and its requirements does not of itself give one the power to live what God commands.

Through Jesus' sacrifice he merited for us the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, given to us in the sacraments and prayer, adopts us as children of God and gives us the Spirit of the Son so we can fulfill the Law of Christ.  St. Paul said, “Bear one another's burdens, and so you will fulfill the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Moving back to God and His truth and turning away from Satan and his lies, is a slow and arduous process.  It begins with trusting in God's goodness and recognizing Satan's cruelty.  Then, as virtues are established, by the infusion of God's grace and one action after another in conformity with the will of God, the sinner is moved to ever greater degrees of peace, freedom, and happiness.  The first few good actions bring with them the experience of spiritual and even physical death, and rightly so, for the old is dying and the new is rising.  This is not a metaphor.  It is an ontological reality.

Pope John Paul II gives a beautiful summary of the three stages of the interior life in his book, Memory and Identity - Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium.  They are the purgative, the illuminative, and the unitive.  First, one conquers moral evil and is purged of sin through correctly observing the Ten Commandments.  From this purging, the mind is illuminated and begins to see the values underlying the commandments and one develops virtue - a firm and permanent disposition in which one desires and does good with ease, promptness, and joy.  Lastly, the soul enters into a profound union with God and the intensity of love for God increases (pg. 27-30).  The interior life begins and reaches its fulfillment through union with Jesus Christ.

After being sculpted by God and through our own deliberate choices, we become, "a new creation," as St. Paul calls Christians, "So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Corinthians 5:17).  St. Paul says this in another way, "For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the Christian Life as follows:

The New Law is the law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear; a law of grace, because it confers the strength of grace to act, by means of faith and the sacraments; a law of freedom, because it sets us free from the ritual and juridical observances of the Old Law, inclines us to act spontaneously by the prompting of charity . . . (CCC, 1972).

St. Peter summarizes the above statement by writing, “Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God” (1 Peter 2:16).



Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004).

John Paul II, Memory and Identity (New York: Rizzoli, 2005), pg. 27-30.


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