Our Love of God Is Central To These Overlooked Commandments
The Ninth Commandment proscribes against concupiscence, that is, carnal desires, and any intense form of human desire that places a pleasure above the love of God, or that moves the sensual appetites to operate contrary to human reason. The Tenth Commandment forbids the coveting of our neighbor’s goods, or properties.
As human beings we have both a physical body and a spiritual soul. In our daily experiences, we are often aware of the tension that exists between these two realities. This “tension” is, of course, a consequence of sin. The Ninth Commandment warns us against allowing ourselves to be driven by our sensualities, by lust and excessive desires of the flesh. As Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication…” (Mt. 15:19) But it is also with the heart, in faith, that we struggle against these desires as well. We are able to do this through prayer and practice. It is through prayer, that is, the habit of regularly focusing our minds on God and recognizing our dependence on him, giving him thanks for all of his generous gifts, and asking him for forgiveness when we have failed in our obedience to his commands, that we are given the insights and the graces we need to, “Go and sin no more.” This commandment challenges us, in all our sensual, and sexual desires, to practice moderation in all things, in accord with their proper use and balance. It calls us to the practice of patience and decency and discretion. In doing this we protect the sacred integrity of our person and that of the other. In doing this we honor God who has made each of us in his own image and likeness. This practice of virtue keeps our desires focused on seeing God in all things, especially our fellow human beings, and on seeing all things as God sees them.
Jesus gives us the perfect perspective on the Tenth Commandment when he says: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt. 6:21) This commandment extends and completes the Ninth Commandment by developing a broader understanding of covetousness toward, not only our neighbor’s wife, but also our neighbor’s goods. It forbids greed and avarice in all of its forms. It forbids our desire to do harm, to commit a crime in order to unjustly take our neighbor’s goods. The root of all evil is greed. The Tenth Commandment also challenges us to turn away from envy, for this too can lead to the worst of crimes. Jesus gives us the way to rid ourselves of these inordinate desires. He tells us to prefer him over everything and everyone, to “renounce all they possess” for his sake and that of the Gospel. (Lk. 14:33, Mt. 8:35) Indeed, in his Sermon on the Mount he tells us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Mt. 5:3) What is this poverty of spirit Jesus challenges us to adopt? It is humility. Humility is the remedy for greed and envy. Indeed, it is the remedy for all sins, for it is the opposite of pride. It is the chief virtue a Christian is to aspire to in his or her everyday life.
In reflecting on the Ten Commandments, we come to the realization that our greatest desire is to see God. The Commandments show us how sin, in all of its forms, separates us from this desire to see God. We are challenged to see the Commandments not as negative threats, but as positive prescriptions for our ultimate liberation from the slavery to sin. If we learn to love God with all our heart, with all of our mind, with all of our strength, and with all of our soul, and; if we practice the humility of loving our neighbors as we ought to love ourselves, in other words, in the manner that Jesus loved us, we will be fulfilling the all of the Commandments. We will no longer see them as a burden, but as the very source of our liberation, and our ultimate happiness.
Lord, give us the graces we need to live our days in accord with the great wisdoms you have revealed to us in the Ten Commandments. We are weak, but we have faith in your tender mercy and great love. As Augustine said so powerfully, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Help us to keep our eyes on you above all else. Give us the grace of humility, for it is in this that we will come to know the holy and proper ordering of our lives. We pray these things in the power of the holy name of Jesus. Amen!
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