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Why Concentrate on the Decalogue

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.


It’s a misnomer. It’s preoccupation with self, let me tell you. “Holy” people, but I put the word holy in quotations marks; holy people can be selfish, in case nobody told you. The apostolate is the duty we have to bring others to heaven. I never tire repeating, nobody gets to heaven alone. Nobody. Either we help bring others there or we won’t get there ourselves.

The Decalogue describes the means necessary to do our apostolic duty. God will use us, He wants to use us as His agents in saving souls if and insofar as we are living up to our basic obligations of being faithful to the Ten Commandments elevated by Christ in His Sinai of the New Law. Only holy people sanctify others. And nobody cheats here. Nobody. God-fearing people bring others to submission to the will of God. God-loving people bring others to the love of God. Sanctity is not an end in itself. It is the divinely ordained means for saving and sanctifying others.

There’s a pragmatism in Christianity that we’re liable to overlook. The pragmatism is that God wants us to serve Him on the basic triad that we are to know, love and serve God. It is basic not only because it spells out our three principle responsibilities towards God, it also identifies how by our knowing, loving and serving God we are to bring others to know, love and serve God because we are knowing, loving and serving the Almighty.

You wonder where to begin. We know that the substratum of the Ten Commandments is the two-fold commandment already expressed in the Old Law and repeated and I keep repeating elevated by Christ in the New Testament. You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself.

Very well. What is our duty towards our neighbor? We are to love him. When you love someone you give that person what that person needs. Human beings are all in constant need. What do they most need? They most need, they most need to love God. If we are to provide them with what they most need what must we do? What’s our prior responsibility? We must first love God ourselves. Otherwise we shall not be giving others what they most need that they will love God, shall I say, also?

Our sanctity therefore is the condition for our loving others by providing them with what they most need. There’s an interdependence among human beings that I hope to make plainer than perhaps any of us, including myself have seen before. I’ve never given a lecture, I’ve never conducted a retreat, never, without sincerely believing that what was most needed either what I was teaching or in this case the retreat, no one needs it more than I. I mean it. And how I need to see that my own growth in sanctity is a condition for my sanctifying others.

Our next area of reflection: The Decalogue As Witness. Where do we begin to describe the widespread disregard of the Commandments of God in the modern world? All you have to do, that’s all, is read The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Cincinnati Inquirer. Page after page.

On the way from Detroit here, I thought I would just, well, further convince myself that our modern magazines and newspapers are a public witness to the massive disobedience to God in the modern world. One column after another describing in detail one crime after another. In case nobody told you our language is becoming more obscene, more blasphemous, it seems with every issue. God is widely ignored. God is widely rejected. God is widely disobeyed. That’s the first three commandments of the Decalogue. Human rights are denied the basic right to human life. The basic right to just plain simple livelihood.

This coming next month, January 15th, I’m going to Moscow. Ten days in Moscow then ten days in Warsaw. To help train people for the desperate need of those now liberated countries need—they need the need to rediscover God’s will as taught by Christ.

In Moscow, people are starving tens of thousands of people migrating into Moscow helpless, hungry. The Archbishop of Moscow is living in a rented apartment. Whatever else I hope to do during these eight days is to wake all of us up beginning with myself. We are living in a world of fantasy. Can you imagine, millions of people in North America watching television, seeing one crime after another vividly described and enjoying the experience? And not even bothering to walk up to the television set, just lounging in a soft couch and pressing a button. And the more blasphemous, the more obscene, the more contrary to the will of God, the more enjoyable.

Having said that, we go on. We have the privilege to witness to others that God has rights and human beings have rights from God which other human beings are mercilessly taking away. I’ve been saying it until my dying breath - I will repeat, we are living in the age of martyrs. Someone had better witness and witness under duress. Witness with pain. Witness with suffering. Witness if need be with bodily death which between you and me is easier than the emotional, psychological and social death that the modern world inflicts on the followers of Christ.

Someone must show a crime ridden world that God is still master of the human race which He created. And God is not mocked. We go on. We have two more reflections. We are to live the Decalogue as a means of expiation. You might ask yourselves who ever talks about expiation today? Any one of the precepts of the Decalogue needs to be expiated and I add as never before in human history. That’s what Christianity is all about. God became man to expiate man’s sins by His crucifixion and bloody death on Calvary. Christianity is the religion of expiation. It is the religion of reparation. Christianity is the religion of atonement. I use the word privilege again because I am speaking both to yourselves and if it is God’s will to many others who believe they’ve been called by God to do more than they absolutely have to do than just keep the Ten Commandments.

Ah, there are two ways of living the Ten Commandments. Keeping the Commandments of God minimally and I change the word living the Ten Commandments maximally. Why do more than we’re absolutely obliged to do to save our own souls, why? In order to make reparation for, atone for; expiate the global disregard of the most fundamental rights of God and man created in the image and likeness of God. Let’s be sure we know this. The redemption of the world did not stop on Calvary. Hear it. The redemption of the world began on Calvary. It is to go on. We as professed followers of Christ are like Him, with Him, to contribute our share to the redemption of a very sinful human family; our adoration of God to make reparation for the rampant idolatry of self.

The last couple of years I’ve been giving lectures on the new paganism. What’s the new paganism? Paganism by definition is idolatry. What’s new about the new paganism? Oh, very simple. It is self-idolatry. Our life of prayer to expiate for the prayerlessness of so many who when I’ve asked them never pray—as one man down in New Orleans whose wife asked me, would I please visit her husband? She is Catholic. He’s an atheist. So I went down, she drove me to his home where they lived and what I said about the man or woman lounging and watching television. There he was. He saw me. His first question. What do you want? I’d like to talk to you. Forget it. I don’t talk to people who are robbing others by preaching to them about a world that does not exist. I asked him, what do you believe? I believe in myself. What’s your religion? I’m an atheist. I’m going to pray for you, I told him. I don’t want your prayers. Oh, I’m not a Jesuit for nothing. I know you don’t want my prayers, but you need them. His wife was in another room watching through a slightly opened door. We are to expiate for the massive disobedience of the most fundamental laws of God by our obedience.

Never in my fifty years in the Society of Jesus has my obedience as a religious meant more to me than now. Somebody, somebody had better pay, and thank God, my obedience costs me. To make reparation for the widespread disobedience of the most elementary laws of God all around us. Our dedicated chastity to expiate for the cosmic lust which now in one country after another has become part of the national law. Lust has become the norm for sexual behavior especially in the Western world.

Number six. I don’t want to say too much now because we have seven days to go. Why concentrate on the Decalogue which is the question we asked ourselves for this meditation? So that we by our living up to the commandments of God; raised to sublime heights by the Incarnate Son of God; that we might become channels of grace to others. God uses people to bring grace to other people. The world desperately needs, desperately needs an outpouring of grace. No longer can we read the statement of St. Paul that where sin has abounded there grace will even more abound. Sin has abounded it is abounding, but we, and this is the emphasis, we are to provide for this communication of grace to others by our own, and I’ll use it more than once during our meditations, by our own heroic fidelity to the commandments of God so that by our being faithful to God in submitting our wills to His we might obtain for the millions who we can safely say except for our heroic generosity they will never reach their heavenly destiny.

Lord Jesus, you told us if we love you we will keep your commandments. Help us to understand that our faithful observance of the Ten Commandments as taught and lived by you is the greatest contribution we can make to the salvation of the world for which you died on your cross and you give us the opportunity of dying on our cross out of love for you. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
No reproductions shall be made without prior written permission.

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