In his 1991 book, “Turning Point for Europe?” Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, compared the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt 1400 years before Christ to the secular and uncertain path that Europe had embarked on.
He noted the how God, immediately after having liberated his people from the oppression of the Egyptian pharaoh, Ramses II, gave the Ten Commandments to them. This was to demonstrate that God’s law and liberation go hand in hand. Indeed, the former occasions the latter. He writes, “(T)he decisive action in Moses’ activity as mediator is not the act of leading the people out of Egypt but the act of handing on the Law of Mt. Sinai.”
This point, too often, is missed in our public institutions. “Lack of freedom,” he continues, “is the condition of being without law. This is why the gift of the Law is the real establishment of liberation- and of a Law that is truly justice, namely, right order in the relationship to one another, in relationship to creation and in relationship to the Creator. Man’s freedom can exist only in the correct mutual allocation of these freedoms …”
A bit wordy and elevated, but I think you get the point. The Lord was trying to show the world through the nation of Israel that freedom is best preserved within observance of God’s commandments. They used to be publicly acknowledged as pillars of society. To tear down these sacred walls, as the secularism is wont to do, is to usher in slavery to sin and despots. Without wanting to exaggerate, I think it is safe to say that liberty has become a national discussion because God’s moral law has been suppressed and even derided.
For the Third Sunday of Lent, the Ten Commandments were featured in the first Scripture readings. They can be summoned up in the following commands: Do it! Don’t do it! And don’t even think about! Below, is the longer version:
1. I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
4. Honor 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 neighbor.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.
The Catholic Church calls the Ten Commandments God’s “divine” law; this refers to God’s law as revealed to man. Catholic theology also teaches that there is the “eternal” law; this refers to the nature of God, that he is life, love and truth. Then there is natural law; this refers to the moral law in human nature. These are principles of good and evil that can come to know through reason.
Also notice the order of the Ten Commandments. The first three have to do with honoring God and the fourth commandment addresses the need to honor one’s parents. The reason for this arrangement is that if the first four commandments are observed with a sincere heart, chances are the others will fall into place quite naturally. Teach a child in his early years to love God above all, to speak his name with reverence and to set one day aside each week to worship him, in all likelihood, he will not kill, steal, lie etc. in his adulthood years.
However, as you read through the Old Testament or if you are familiar with what the world was life before Christ, you will notice that the moral law was difficult to keep. Even among the Jews, the Ten Commandments were compromised or ignored time and time again. There is a reason for this. The Holy Spirit had not yet descended into man’s hearts. The Third Person of the Holy Trinity is both the Law and the Love of God. Through him, not only are the Father and the Son bound to together, but also husband and wife, brother and sister, citizens and nations are bound together.
The Ten Commandments is just the blue print of good behavior on paper (or in stone). But the Holy Spirit is God’s law personified. When infused into the human heart, he awakens our minds to what is right and what is wrong. Furthermore, he impresses upon our minds incentives to act charitably and justly. He breathes moral vigor into our human will so that we can carry out the moral law. But even more important still, we are not only to observe God’s law or even to imitate Christ, what the Holy Spirit enables us to do is to live the very life of Christ.
The same Holy Spirit that dwelt in Jesus Christ as he walked the earth is the same Spirit that dwells in us. And what is even more compelling is that the life of glory in heaven where total freedom is to be had is but a continuation of the life of grace here on earth. God’s Spirit within us makes it possible for us to fulfill his law. And it is only by fulfilling his law that moral, spiritual and civil freedom is made possible. Indeed, God’s law liberates!
But the question that must be asked is this: How long can America remain free if the Ten Commandments cannot be taught or displayed in our public schools and institutions?
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.