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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Welcome to Basic Training

Robert Barron - Welcome to Basic Training

Robert Barron - Welcome to Basic Training
TOPICS: Ten Commandments

Peace be with you. Friends, we come now to the third Sunday of Lent. We continue this journey through the holy season of Lent. I've often said that Lent is a bit like basic training for the military, or it's like two-a-day workouts before the football season begins. It's a getting back to fundamentals. I think here of the greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus. When Jack Nicklaus was at the height of his powers, he was the best player in the world, he would go during the off-season to his teacher, the man that taught him when he was just a kid, a guy named Jack Grout, and he would say, "Jack, treat me as though I'm a beginner". He was the greatest golfer in the world, but he wanted his teacher to treat him like a beginner, so that he'd go back again to the fundamentals.

Well, I think of all this because our first reading for today is the Ten Commandments. We all know, roughly, "Oh, the Ten Commandments". How many of us could recite them? How thoroughly have we internalized the Ten Commandments? I think they function, in a way, as the fundamentals of the moral and spiritual life. Before I go on some mystical flight of fancy, I better be grounded in the fundamentals, and the Ten Commandments, I think, lay those out. Now, there's no way in this brief sermon I can give a thorough treatment of the Ten Commandments. One of the best places, though, by the way, to look for that is the "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Go look it up. They have a very good, thorough treatment of each of the Ten Commandments. What I'm going to do is just spend maybe a minute and a half on each of the ten, just to give us some orientation.

By the way, it's in Exodus chapter 20. Spend some time today, get your Bibles out, Exodus chapter 20, and read these famous Commandments. Here's the first one: "I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods besides me". Now, you might recall from last week when I talked about the ordering of love: we love God first, and then everything else for the sake of God. We must not worship anything else. That's the point. If I am making anything else the highest love of my life, then my spiritual life is off-kilter.

This is why this first commandment is the most important. It's the most basic of all of them. What or whom do you worship? There's no more fundamental spiritual question. And the commandment here is: God alone; no competition, no gods beside him. I love the little corollary: "For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God". Don't read that, please, as God falling into some kind of snit. God doesn't have feelings and doesn't go in and out of emotional states. What's being communicated there is God, for our good, brooks no opposition. He won't allow us. He doesn't want us to fall into the worship of anything less than what is actually the highest good. He's a jealous God.

Okay, second commandment: "You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain". Now, probably everyone who reads that thinks, "Well, then don't swear. Don't use God's name in an irreverent way". And fine. I think that's true, and I would strongly recommend that we not do that. But within the ancient context, it probably had this sense of not using God's name in an incantatory way, or as a spell, the point being, we are not in a position, ever, to manipulate God. Don't think that God is there to take care of our little needs and hangups. No, no; it works the other way. We exist for God. We owe our lives to God. Our lives aren't about us. They're about God, and what God wants to do for us and through us. "Don't use the name of the Lord, your God, in vain" is a way of saying, "Don't think you're ever in a position to manipulate God". No, no; you become God's servant.

Third commandment, derived from the first two, of course: "Remember to keep holy the sabbath day". It's one thing, everyone, to say, "Oh yeah. God, center of my life. Oh yeah. God's the highest love of my life, absolutely". Show it. Do you instantiate that in your life and your behavior? Does that show up? Does it look like something? Well, this commandment: make holy the sabbath, set aside a day when you are going to worship God, not as an abstraction but through a concrete set of behaviors. I think often about this, everybody. I'm old enough to remember when the sabbath day in our country really was a distinctive day. It wasn't just another day of the weekend, like just another Saturday. No, no; Sunday had its own unique texture.

Almost everything, I remember these days clearly, was closed on Sunday. The idea was because you're meant to go to church. You're meant to set aside your ordinary concerns and devote yourself to God on that day. The very fact that that's faded away, that this commandment is not being honored. The very fact, when I was a kid, 97% of our country claimed belief in God or some affiliation with religion; now, as high as 26% of our country says, "I have no religion". Not honoring this commandment is a very serious business because it means we're not instantiating, concretizing our commitment to God. Okay, those first three commandments belong in what they call "the first table" of the Law. Think of Moses coming down the mountain with the two tablets, right? On the first tablet, you've got the three commandments dealing with God, and appropriately, they come first. They're the most important. Then on the second tablet, the remaining seven commandments have to do with our relations with each other. Okay.

So the first of the second tablet, the fourth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother". Now, does it have to do with these very particular people that gave rise to us? Yeah. We are indeed meant to honor our father and mother, those who gave us life. Yes, we owe them, in a sense, everything. So this great loyalty and devotion to our parents, yes, that's a basic command. But the Church has always taken this in a somewhat broader sense too: the honor that we owe to any authority figure in our life. Think of the honor that a student owes to a teacher, the honor that a player owes to a coach, the honor that a citizen owes to a judge or a political leader, and then even more broadly, the honor that we all owe to the great traditions that gave rise to us. See, what would happen if suddenly all this honoring of authority and tradition evanesced? Our society would collapse.

May I suggest, in our society, where "My rights," and "My prerogatives," and "I decide what's true," and "Don't tell me what to do", that's moving into rather dangerous waters. No, honor your mother and father. Honor those in authority. Honor the great traditions that gave rise to you. Now, I don't mean worship them. All of these things can be flawed, of course. But the basic attitude of respect is appropriately one of the commands of God.

Fifth commandment: "You shall not kill". Our God's a God of life. That's affirmed over and over again, Old Testament and New. Life belongs to God. God gives life. It's God's prerogative alone to take life away. He's the Lord of life. We do not have that prerogative. It's not up to us to decide to end someone's life or end one's own life.

Think again, today: "Sure, it's my prerogative. If I want to practice euthanasia... Help me commit suicide, because I'm the lord of my life". No, no; neither in life or death do we belong to ourselves. We belong to the Lord. And so you shall not kill. Now, has the Church from time immemorial always recognized the legitimacy of self-defense? Yes, it has. So it's not an absolute command. In defense of one's own life, one can take the life of another. But shy of that, it does not belong to us, this prerogative. Now, again, this is a sermon for another day, of course, but all the ways in our culture and society that we have arrogated to ourselves a lordship over life. I mentioned euthanasia. Dare I mention abortion? 800,000 abortions, roughly, a year in our country, something like 63 million since Roe v. Wade was passed. "You shall not kill". You are not in command of life and death. God is. Worth thinking about, everybody.

The famous sixth commandment: "You shall not commit adultery". Of course, adultery means the violation of marriage vows, but the Church has often taken this command in a broader sense to mean any violation of chastity. Now, what's chastity? It means sexual uprightness. It means right ordering, right behavior in the sexual area. Well, what's sex for? "Well, it's just for my pleasure". No, no, no; the Church has always said sex is for unity and for procreation, and therefore it belongs within the context of a committed marriage between a man and a woman. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" the Church then takes broadly as any violation of that normativity. Again, do we tend to think, "Oh, no, sex belongs to us"? "It's up to us to define it. I define it according to my personal whim". Well, no, sex has an objective ordering, and that should be honored.

Seventh commandment: "You shall not steal". I bet a lot of us, in small ways, in great ways, have often violated this commandment. I mean, yes, that we take things from others, but construed more broadly, this commandment has to do with justice. Plato said eons ago, a long time ago, "Justice is rendering to each his due". It's giving to other people what is due to them; therefore, it's honoring their own identity, it's honoring their own property, honoring what belongs to them. When I violate this, I'm committing a deep injustice. This is a really good point of meditation, everybody. Do I always give to each person around me what is his or her due, or am I often taking from them for my purposes what is due to them? That's what stealing involves, in big ways and in small.

Eighth commandment: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor". I think this commandment has extraordinary relevance today. So it has to do with speech, with truthful speech, but especially about other people, that I tell the truth about others. Social media, anybody? How often on social media we engage in the worst sort of calumny. I mean attacking people, I mean tearing down their reputations. How about the whole cancel culture, which has to do often with just destroying someone's life? Bearing false witness. Just ask yourself in the course of the day: How often have I really told the truth about other people? Or have I manipulated things to make them look bad, to tear them down, to cancel them? This ancient commandment, it's got extraordinary relevance today. Ask yourself some real honest questions about your speech. That's commandment eight.

Can I bring together, as I come to a close, commandments nine and ten, namely, "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife," and "You shall not covet your neighbor's goods". I've spoken before about the great philosopher René Girard. Girard noticed what he called the mimetic quality of our desire. Mimesis just means imitation. His point was, very often, we desire things not because they're so great in themselves, but we desire them because someone else desires them. Right? Watch little toddlers. There's a pile of toys, and one toddler has no interest in a toy until another toddler comes in and shows interest in it.

Now, suddenly, I'm really interested in that one. Think of the way much of advertising works. Here's a pair of shoes. Maybe I'm not at all interested, until I find out that some famous person likes those shoes. Well, then I start wanting them too. This is the mimetic, or imitative quality of desire. Now, Girard's point is this: a lot of our conflict comes from this fact. Because if I desire something because you want it, you desire something because I want it, soon we will come into conflict with each other. The thing that we're both desiring might be even not that interesting. But we come into conflict because of the mimetic quality of our desire.

Well, now, look again at this language: "Don't covet your neighbor's wife. Don't covet your neighbor's goods". Yes, you want a wife for yourself? Great. You want goods for yourself? Great. But stop desiring these things that other people have. Stop desiring what other people are desiring. That's what leads to so much of our conflict. Nothing wrong with desiring things, but stay out of these mimetic forms of desire that lead to conflict. Okay, I was pretty close, about a minute and a half for each commandment. Let me close with this. Can I recommend, so as to make this stuff really concrete: don't just take in these words, but rather write down on a piece of paper the Ten Commandments, and then use it as an examination of conscience to prepare yourself for your Lenten confession. One of the best things we can do during Lent, everybody, is to go to confession. One of the best ways to prepare is to walk carefully through these Ten Commandments and see, "How am I doing"? And God bless you.
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