"Number One," he began. "I am the Lord your God, you shall not have other gods before me."
"Number Two: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain."
"Number Three: Remember to keep holy the sabbath."
At this point, I began to think to myself, what exactly is the point of this homily? Father went on:
"Number Four: Honor your Father and your Mother."
"Number Five: You shall not kill."
"Number Six: You shall not commit adultery."
Was it me or was Father's voice getting louder and stronger? This no longer sounded like a homily, it sounded, well....like commands.....
"Number Seven: You shall not steal"
"Number Eight: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
"Number Nine: You shall not covet your neighbor's wife."
"Number Ten: You shall not covet your neighbor's goods."
I sat in my pew in a stunned sort of silence. The whole church seemed to be sitting on the edge of their seats. Growing up Catholic I learned the Ten Commandments in school and could rattle them off, sometimes mixing up the order of "you shall not kill" with "you shall not steal" but generally getting the whole thing right. I refer to the Ten Commandments in doing an Examination of Conscience, but in an offhand way - yeah, yeah, yeah, no killing or adultery or coveting going on here - I'm good.
But this, this was something I had never experienced before. I felt, as Father "recited" the Commandments, the weight of their words. I felt their imperative quality. It became very clear to me, perhaps for the first time, that these are truly God's commands. Nothing about them sounded optional. Even more than that, I somehow sensed the depths of each individual command. I knew in my heart as I sat there and listened, that my casual glossing over of the Ten Commandments would no longer suffice.
I sensed something else too, as Father proclaimed the Commandments. I could feel their protective quality. As I listened I did not feel restricted or oppressed by these commands, even though I could clearly feel their weight. Instead, what I experienced was the love behind the commands. The love of God the Father providing his children with a way to thrive. As Father's voice plainly stated the Commandments, I heard God the Father whisper in my heart: "My child, I want you to be safe. Stay within these bounds. Listen to me."
Our journey to the heights of holiness is often one of deepening insights into the Lord and his wisdom. I had heard the Ten Commandments countless of times in my life. However, at Mass on Sunday, I heard them in a different way. It was an unexpected gift from the Lord and one that I am grateful for.
Thank you Abba, Father for the gift of your Commandments.
Thank you for sending your son Jesus to die for all my failures in living out these Commandments. Thank you Holy Spirit for dwelling within me and giving me the strength I need to live out these Commandments in an ever deepening way.