"The Ten Commandments are the basis of the Christian moral life and present the basic condition for living it. They protect the singular dignity of the human person and advance each person’s good" (No. 13).

There is no way to escape rules, whether those of God or the culture. Just look at H. Jackson Brown’s Life’s Little Instruction Book, a collection of fatherly advice for his son. "Praise in public. Criticize in private. Don’t rain on other people’s parades. Put the cap back on the toothpaste. Refill the ice cube trays. Do nice things for people who will never find out." Rules like these appeal to people because they teach consideration for others. Far from being burdens, they lighten the load of daily life.

The same is true of the Ten Commandments. When the rich young man asked Jesus what good he should do to obtain eternal life, he heard this reply from Jesus: "Keep the commandments" (Mt 19:17). This text forms the second point of the pope’s meditation on this passage. (The first was covenant.) The commandments show us how to live the covenant.

Jesus quoted five of the commandments and one of his own - to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Each one forbids a given behavior and each one upholds a specific virtue. For example: The Fifth Commandment forbids murder and advocates the sacredness of life; the Sixth Commandment bans adultery and all other forms of sex outside of marriage, while at the same time enshrining marital fidelity, chastity, and the sacredness of the person.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave a new and definitive meaning to the commandments, emphasizing the inner attitudes associated with them. Murder is evil, but so also is malicious anger. Adultery is wrong, but lust is too (see Mt 5:21-22, 27-28). While Jesus cites only the commandments dealing with love of neighbor, he is not slighting the commandment to love God. Love of God and neighbor are absolutely connected. This certainly does not mean that Christ wishes to put the love of neighbor higher than . . . the love of God. This is evident from his conversation with the teacher of the Law who asked him a question very much like the one asked by the rich young man. Jesus refers him to the two commandments of love of God and love of neighbor (cf Lk 10:22-27) ... only by observing them will he have eternal life" (No. 14).

The Ten Commandments are not burdens but invitations to freedom and liberation. If we do not have the virtues implied by the commandments, we will have obsessions. Either we control sex or it enslaves us. Either we stop lying or lies will subjugate us.

Either we fight for family values or cultural chaos will engulf us. It’s not the commandment that’s a millstone, it’s the obsessions we reap because we ignore the commandments. Only virtue makes us happy. The viciousness of vice destroys us. "The commandments ... are meant to safeguard the good of the person" (No. 13). "The commandments are linked to a promise. In the Old Covenant the object of the promise was the possession of a land where the people could live in freedom (cf. Dt 6:20-25).... In the New Covenant the object of the promise is the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ (No. 12). Christ’s kingdom of salvation, love, justice, freedom, and mercy exists here on earth in a partial way but fully in eternal life. Hence, morally good acts - those that follow Christ’s two commandments of love and the Ten Commandments of Sinai - win for us the very things all of us long for: freedom, happiness, forgiveness, and love.

The Holy Father clearly establishes an essential link between his first two meditation points—covenant and commandments—as paths to eternal life. It’s like saying we need religion (covenant) to have morality (commandments). Our culture argues that we do not need religion to be moral. The result is we have neither religion nor morality in the public square— no covenant, no commandments.

Think of all the talk about dysfunctional families and institutions. Observe all the support groups for those afflicted by obsessions and bless those who help with this healing. While all human history has known some dysfunction and some obsession, is there not an explosion of it today? Is it too much to say that religion and morality are the preventive medicine that could have saved so many from these sorrows? Sin is self-destructive. Virtue is self-enhancing. The second choice is better.

Fr.Alfred McBride, O. Praem. writes for Our Sunday Visitor. All quoted matter is from the encyclical, unless otherwise indicated. 1997 Our Sunday Visitor. Used by permission.

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