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Are you distancing yourself from life and inner happiness?

DZIESIĘC PRZYKAZAŃ

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Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP - published on 05/13/23

We have been given a mirror of our true self— reflecting back to us what we have been created to be: our destiny. Do we embrace it?

We will hear Jesus say this weekend, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. What is this link between love and observing the commandments?

The answer is rooted in our view of the Ten Commandments. 

Commandments and the human heart

Why are the Commandments so important? Recent popes have offered beautiful catechesis on the gift and blessing that the Commandments are for our relationship with God and our happiness.

We may be tempted to regard the Commandments as strictures foisted on our life — add-on impositions hard to follow, holding us back. But they are really just the opposite. Pope St. John Paul II stressed that, even though God wrote the Ten Commandments in stone, he even more “inscribed them in every human heart as the universal moral law. Being faithful to God means also being faithful to ourselves, to our true nature and to our deepest and irrepressible aspirations.” The Ten Commandments are a kind of mirror of our true self— reflecting back to us what we have been created to be: our destiny.

That is why living out the Ten Commandments means, as Pope Benedict XVI expressed it, “living out our own resemblance to God, responding to the truth of our nature, and thus doing good. The Ten Commandments are the answer to the inner demands to our nature. They are the concrete form our freedom takes.” For when people ignore the Commandments, not only do they alienate themselves from God, but such a one “also distances himself from life and from lasting happiness.”

Pope Francis continues this theme:

God himself, upon Mount Sinai, indicates to his people and to all of us the way to remain free, a path that is engraved upon the human heart as a universal moral Law. We should see them as signs for our freedom. Following the Ten Commandments means being faithful to ourselves, to our most authentic nature.

Revelation, salvation, education

And where would we be without this help? We cannot overestimate the safeguard the Commandments are for us. First of all because the Ten Commandments reveal to us a real greatness we would otherwise only grasp at. As Pope Benedict XVI observed:

The Ten Commandments are a sign of the love of God the Father, of his desire to teach us the correct discernment of good and evil, of the true and the false, of the just and the unjust. They are comprehensible to all precisely because they establish the fundamental values in concrete norms and rules, in putting them into practice man can walk on the path of true liberty, which renders him firm in the way that leads him to life and happiness. Man left to himself, indifferent to God, proud of his own absolute autonomy, ends up by following the idols of egoism, of power, of dominion, polluting the relations with himself and with others, and following paths not of life but of death. 

Which is why we esteem the Ten Commandments as an indispensable element of our salvation. “The Ten Commandments save man from the destructive force of egoism, hatred, and falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw him into slavery” (St. John Paul II).

In the process, the Ten Commandments teach us what it means to be a saint. “God has given us the Commandments to educate us to liberty and genuine love, so that we can be truly happy” (Pope Benedict XVI). The lessons offered in the Ten Commandments are the most far-reaching. Pope Francis tells us:

The Ten Commandments teach us how to avoid the slavery to which the many idols that we ourselves build reduce us. They teach us to open ourselves to a wider dimension than the material one; to live with respect for others; overcoming the greed of power, possessions, and money; to be honest and sincere in our relationships; to protect all of creation and to nurture our planet with high, noble, and spiritual ideals.  

The Commandments and the Family

In particular, the Commandments play a crucial role in the sanctity of the family, as Pope Benedict XVI explains:

The Ten Commandments call us to preserve and to promote the sanctity of the family, in which the personal and reciprocal, faithful and definitive “Yes” of man and woman makes room for the future, for the authentic humanity of each, and makes them open, at the same time, to the gift of new life. To witness that the family continues to be the essential cell of society and the basic environment in which human virtues are learned and practiced is a precious service offered in the construction of a world with a more human face.

This is depicted in Francesco Bassano II’s painting Autumn, with Moses Receiving the Ten Commandments (circa 1575). There we witness a family engaged together in the hard work of harvesting the grapes from the vineyard. United in the happy labor, the family members prepare the grapes they’ve picked for transport, even taking the “first steps” to turn them into wine as the sun begins to set on a most productive day. It is a satisfying scene of wholesome well-being, vivacity, and robustness. But what is it that makes this event so hopeful and life-giving?

The answer is to be found in the upper left-hand corner. There the artist has inserted Moses on Mount Sinai receiving the stone tables of the Ten Commandments. The family can be caught up in the gusto of life and the promise of lasting happiness precisely because they have received the Ten Commandments as the heart of their communion. The covenant of genuine love they experience is not the product of their hard work, but the fruit of God’s grace offered in that covenant. Obedient to the gift of heaven they have been given from Mount Sinai, they are faithful to their true selves, living out their own resemblance to God vivaciously in the painting.

Francesco_da_Ponte_gen_Francesco_Bassano_-_Herbst_Moses_empfangt_die_Gesetzestafeln_-_GG_4304_-_Kunsthistorisches_Museum.jpg

And it is apt that it takes the form of work. Jesus says, Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. How do we show Jesus that we love him? St Gregory the Great comments: “The proof of love is the exhibition of work. The love of God is never lazy. If it exists, it works great things.” 

One intriguing detail: At the base of the mountain, we spot a leaping hare mid-air. In sacred art, the hare is a symbol of abundance, prosperity, good fortune, fertility, and rebirth (the basis for the Easter bunny). Did Bassano know that St. Jerome, in his biblical commentary, refers to Moses as “the Lord’s hare”?

We can be sure of this: “God’s Commandments have no other object than to keep us from desiring less than the infinite” (M. Zundel). Even though the sun is setting, the family can count on a day of even greater promise tomorrow. Why? Because they have embraced the Ten Commandments in their life. And the Ten Commandments, says St. John Paul II, “disclose to us the only authentically human future.”

~

Find Fr. Peter John Cameron’s reflection on the Sunday Gospel each week here.

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