Tuesday, October 6, 2009

1st commandment, part 1

As at least a couple of people have requested, written for our parish bulletin. It will be part of a new, occasional series.
Living Our Faith in the Real World
I am the LORD your God:
you shall not have strange gods before me.

The first commandment embraces faith, hope, and charity. When we say 'God' we confess a constant, unchangeable being, always the same, faithful and just, without any evil. It follows that we must necessarily accept his words and have complete faith in him and acknowledge his authority. He is almighty, merciful, and infinitely beneficent. Who could not place all hope in him? Who could not love him when contemplating the treasures of goodness and love he has poured out on us? Hence the formula God employs in the Scripture at the beginning and end of his commandments: 'I am the LORD.
2086 Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 1

There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.

Blaise Pascal
The first commandment has implications not only for us personally but for society as a whole. If we embrace the goodness, faith, love and charity which the Catechism says are implicit in acknowledging God, then we in turn act as examples of those qualities for those around us. In worshiping those aspects of God, in a sense "copying them" through repeated contemplation and imitation of Him, we can become living examples as the saints have before us. Thus, we can see how "I am the Lord your God" is a positive statement meant for our good.

The negative counterpoint to this is the second half of the commandment, "you shall not have strange gods before me." It is when we turn away from God, when we do not love Him above all things, that we replace Him with other things in a vain attempt to find love and joy. We are then looking inward and risk falling pray to many ills, chief among them pride, which can be deadly.

In fact, if one takes the time to read through the Catechism the sins associated with this commandment read like a modern listing of much that has been wrong with our world through time, up to and including our own society. Here are just a few examples:
  • Despair.
    Man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins.

  • Presumption.
    Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God's almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).

  • Divining.
    All forms of divination are to be rejected ... all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. [The same is true for magic or spiritism.]

  • Tempting God.
    Putting God's goodness and almighty power to the test by word or deed. ... It always harbors doubt about his love, his providence, and his power.

  • Atheism.
    Often based on a false conception of human autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God.
God does not institute the commandments and especially not the first commandment for His own good. We can add nothing to God's perfection through our acknowledgment of Him. He puts these here to bring us to greater joy, to allow us to reach our full potential.

Next we will examine the first commandment in the context of our personal lives.
I'm happily haunted by Chesterton's image of the playground fence erected around the children on top of the mountain so that they could play without fear of falling off the side. That's why God gave us his law: not to make us worried but to keep us safe so that we could play the great games of life and love and joy.
Peter Kreeft

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