The Last Word - November 2015

The Law for Believers

Every now and again, we read about some city or state in our country where a Christian group is fighting to post the Ten Commandments in the statehouse or at the state supreme court or someplace similar, on public land.  I always find that odd.

Now, I know that the Ten Commandments mark a significant stage in the evolution of law in human history.  They obviously play a role in the moral development of the Hebrew people.  And they have been a tool for catechesis for Christians as well.

But, for Christians, it seems to me, the Ten Commandments, in the final analysis, are not the law; they are not the standard by which we are to live our lives; they are not the measure of our lives.  Please do not misunderstand me.  The Ten Commandments are surely obligatory for Christians, and we are bound to keep them.  But, as The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:  "The Commandments properly so-called come in the second place (#2062)."

We must take seriously the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount where He reflects on the Commandments.  "You have heard it said ... 'You shall not murder. ...'  But I say to you. ... You have heard it said, 'You shall not commit adultery....'  But I say to you. ... You have heard it said, 'You shall not swear falsely....'  But I say to you...."

Jesus cites the commandments only to tell us we must do much more than what the commandment actually says.  And, in another place, Jesus tells us, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom heaven."  Now, the scribes and Pharisees, whatever else may be said about them, appear to have been scrupulously observant of the Ten Commandments.

So, for us, there is a further law.  And that law is Jesus himself.  He is the measure of our lives.  He is the standard against we examine our consciences.  He is the fulfillment of the law.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:  "Man is invited to rediscover [the law] in the person of his Master who is [the law's] perfect fulfillment (2053)."

So, if we want to erect a monument on state property to bear witness to the true law for humankind then I would suggest that, instead of the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, we ought to erect a crucifix.  "If any want to become my followers, let them... take up their cross and follow me."  Not that any constitutional court in the land would allow it, of course.

- Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal