It’s a real temptation to act like our own problems are groundbreaking and unique, that our path is ours alone and that the answers can’t possibly be as simple as people say — and have always said. Our resistance to doing the right thing is even stronger, it seems, when the answers literally have been etched in stone for centuries.
But as we travel the ancient penitential journey of Lent, it’s helpful to remember the basics — not just prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but the ancient Law given by God to Moses, which is also the subject of this week’s In Focus (Pages 9-12). The Ten Commandments, as Pope Benedict XVI once noted, are best understood not as prohibitions but as affirmations of behaviors that put us at peace with God. In the context of Lent, we can see they are behaviors that lead us out of the desert to freedom and true happiness in God.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how an individual’s life could be warped by making an idol out of money, power, sex, drugs, one’s career or even one’s ideology. It doesn’t take much to imagine how refusal to keep the Lord’s Day holy, working continuously and never stopping to rest, find perspective or express gratitude, can quickly sap one’s humanity.
It’s not a leap in the dark to imagine how interpersonal relationships become damaged and toxic when people fail to provide the respect that is due to a parent or other elder, or when they betray the sacred trust owed to a marriage bond.
And it’s not surprising to see entire societies fall into disarray when they take a callous or cavalier attitude to killing — from abortions to drone strikes — or taking from people what is rightly theirs (whether personal possessions, just wages or health care), or lying, or when so much of our identity is given over to a consumerism that can be aptly labeled “covetous.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the Ten Commandments “express the implications of belonging to God through the establishment of the covenant” (No. 2062). A covenant, per the Catechism’s glossary, is “a solemn agreement between human beings or between God and a human being involving mutual commitments or guarantees.”
In other words, the Ten Commandments are a path to freedom in God because as we are faithful, so God is faithful. It’s easy to forget this. Psalm 13 captures the familiar lament to God: “How long will you hide your face from me?” And the answer comes, “Whoever walks without blame, doing what is right … shall never be shaken.”
This reminder reverberates at a time when God is largely forgotten by the culture, either through secularism or through a superficial show of religiosity that clamors for cultural dominance while forsaking the Gospel. The former sees old structures such as marriage and Catholic morality as constricting to individual freedom. The latter see themselves as exempt from charity and truth so long as “our side wins.” Both sides risk reaping the whirlwind.
God’s law, as found in the Ten Commandments, is an enduring example of permanence and how God continually sets us free when we keep his commands.
We might want to go our own way. But when we do, God will always be ready to forgive us and welcome us back, should we but ask. It’s the saving nature of God’s covenant. We are prepared for salvation through the beauty, simplicity and freedom of truth.
Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor