My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It is not uncommon today to hear people criticize organized religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular as being too preoccupied with rules rather than love. What such critics fail to realize, however, is that rules help to specify how a loving person is supposed to behave. Without rules, love is empty sentimentality. Without love, rules are simply cold and arbitrary regulations.
That is why God gave us the Ten Commandments. Certainly, we are familiar with the Biblical teaching that the two greatest Commandments are to love God with all your heart and mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. But God knew that people need a more detailed description of how to love God and neighbor, so he gave us the Ten Commandments to specify what such love looks like in practice, lest love be understood as simply a vague idea or a warm feeling.
The first three Commandments, for example, specify how we are to show our love for God: 1) to love no other God than the one, true God; 2) not to dishonor God’s name; and 3) to keep holy the Sabbath. The other seven Commandments specify how we are to show love for people: 4) to honor one’s father and mother; 5) not to kill; 6) not to commit adultery; 7) not to steal; 8) not to lie; 9) not to covet the goods of another person; and 10) not to covet someone else’s spouse.
The flip side of every “no” in the Commandments is a “yes” to something positive. The “no” to committing adultery, for example, is a “yes” to being faithful to your spouse. Imagine someone saying to his or her spouse, “I love you very much, but I’m just not into rules, like this rule about adultery, so I’m going to start dating other people, but don’t worry, I still love you very much.” The absurdity of even thinking this is obvious since it is not likely that many spouses would be very receptive to such an arrangement! Even if they were, such relationships would not be very happy and would not flourish.
On the other hand, people do not seem to have much problem with saying essentially the same thing to God. Take the Third Commandment, for example, about keeping holy the Sabbath. For Catholics, keeping holy the Sabbath means to go to Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation. Unfortunately, polls tell us that the majority of Catholics in the United States do not go to Mass every Sunday. In effect, such Catholics are saying to God, “I love you very much, but I’m just not into rules, like this rule about going to Mass on Sunday, so I hope you will understand if I have chores to do around the house, or shopping that needs to be done, or maybe just catching up on sleep, but don’t worry, I still love you very much.” God will indeed understand; he will understand that you love these other things more than you love him.
From a positive perspective, going to Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation is important because we not only show our love for God by doing so, but he gives us the great gift of coming into our hearts when we receive holy Communion. From a negative perspective, missing Mass is a mortal sin because doing so brings a deadly harm into our relationship with God. Some people scoff at that too, questioning whether missing Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation is really a mortal sin. In that regard, such scoffers are like the biblical serpent in the Book of Genesis who ridiculed God’s rule about Adam and Eve not eating from the tree of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Their single act of disobedience in listening to the devil and not to God had disastrous consequences for mankind, which required God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, to redeem us from the effects of this original sin.
It is very telling what some candidates for confirmation write in the questionnaires that I send them asking what receiving the sacrament of confirmation means to them and how they plan to live as a follower of Jesus. I get answers like, “I’m going to go to Mass more often.” Well, if someone goes to Mass once a year, it would be “more often” if they went twice a year!
One confirmation candidate recently wrote, “I am going to try to go to Mass three out of every four Sundays per month.” Well, the Third Commandment does not say that that one should try to keep holy three out of four Sabbaths per month! There is no “try” in the Third Commandment. There is simply God’s command to do it, and to do it every week.
The word “obedience’ comes from the Latin word oboedire, which means to give ear or to listen to something or someone. This season of Lent is a good time for us to examine our consciences and reflect on how well we are listening to God by following his Commandments or whether we are letting satanic or pagan voices steer us away from our Lord. Obeying God’s Commandments will guide our way to live with each other in peace and harmony and lead us to happiness here on earth and in God’s kingdom forever.
May God give us this grace. Amen.