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Thank God for Commandments

A Reflection for the First Monday of Lent

“You shall not steal. You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name” (Lv 19:11-12).

Commandments! How refreshing, how lovely, how clear! How cold-water-bracing is a commandment! Especially in a day and age of suggestions, of invitations, of insinuations. What might it look like if you did…. You may want to consider…. There could be a different way of going about…

But commands? Who commands anymore? Very few. Battalion leaders. Defensive line coaches. Your 9-year-old if you try to take away his Nintendo Switch. Stand down, father. Stand down. Immediately. Now hand over the console…

And the God of the Israelites. You shall not steal. You shall not defraud. You shall not curse the deaf. You shall fear the Lord. Crisp certainty emanates from the punchy cadence itself.

Not everything needs a tormented decision, not everything needs discernment.

Not everything needs a tormented decision, not everything needs discernment. The blunt and sublime axis of all Jesuit spirituality, known as the Principle and Foundation, invites us to be open and free for nearly every decision we make (all of which are ultimately about how to best serve God); to not be shackled, attached, to unthinkingly choosing one way or the other… except for those decisions that cannot be left to our free will but are forbidden.

In other words, God has not left it to our gleaming liberated will to decide whether or not to put a stumbling block in front of the blind; whether or not we should withhold wages; whether or not we should spread slander among our kin. God has forbidden those things. They are not up for discussion.

They unburden the mind, these kinds of commands. They provide a framework of clarity within a world where so many other things are not so clear. At least some dilemmas in life do not need to be dilemmas at all. There is a bit of order in the universe, a plan, something self-evident to the God-centered mind.

The greatest of these commands, as Christ said, is to love your neighbor as yourself. Love that covers a multitude of sins; that breaks our fall when we break the commands.

And, even when there arises a contradiction to this sentiment above; even when some of these crystal-clear commands are, in fact, up to free will (the classic example being lying to a Nazi about the dissident hiding in the barn); even then, readings like this from Leviticus remind us that in God’s world, there is a right and wrong. Good and evil. Virtue and sin.

The greatest of these commands, as Christ said, is to love your neighbor as yourself. Love that covers a multitude of sins; that breaks our fall when we break the commands; that picks us up, dusts us off and sends us back out to try again.

Get to know Br. Joe Hoover, S.J., poetry editor.

What are you giving up for Lent?

Sugar. And I’m doing something also, taking a weekly sabbath.

Do you cheat on Sundays?

I tried doing that one year, it did not feel right. I am of midwestern stock. Such things do not cut it in Omaha.

Favorite non-meat recipe

Kraft mac and cheese (does anything else really come close? Let’s not kid ourselves…)

Favorite Lenten song and Easter artwork

1. Holy week: Taize, “Wait for the Lord.” It is just too much—it is haunting and sublime.

2. Easter artwork: “Resurrection,” by Cecco del Caravaggio. A stunner, the angel breaking open the tomb, the look on his face, he is done with this death, it is over, we are taking the Lord back.

 “Resurrection,” by Cecco del Caravaggio
 “Resurrection,” by Cecco del Caravaggio (Wikimedia)

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