By Kathy Coffey
“You shall not commit adultery”
Of all the commandments,
this is one of the most
ignored in the Old
Testament. The understanding of
marriage in the Hebrew Scriptures
is quite different from ours. Just
consider Solomon’s 700 wives!
One Old Testament story most
clearly shows the web of deceit and
the chain of
for Bathsheba is
so intense that it
forces him to
arrange the murder of her husband,
Uriah. The union of the king
with the beautiful woman (before
Uriah’s death) leads to the illness
of their first
and prayer, and
then the child’s
death (2 Sam
cost of their
affair is terrible.
If the story
ended there, it
would be a cautionary
sending a loud message about the
evils of adultery. But the plot twist
comes through the surprising
mercy of God. The second child
this couple conceives is Solomon,
Israel’s revered king and the great-great-grandfather of Jesus. When
the crowd waved palm branches
and hailed Jesus’ entry into
Jerusalem, they called him “Son of
David”—David the adulterer.
Jesus as Son of God and Son of
Man blends two natures: the
divine, which is splendid beyond
understanding, and the human,
which can get us snarled in lies,
infidelity and murder. Because Jesus is our brother, we too carry the same tension: At
times we’re lofty and transcendent, at other times,
low and deceitful.
The Sixth Commandment calls us to the best we
can be: loyal, committed, full of integrity.
We have been criticized as a “Kleenex culture,” in
which everything, including a spouse, gets easily
tossed away. We work harder at our careers than at
our marriages, then wonder why, after time elapses,
couples become strangers, easily disposable. Adultery
usually occurs only after the marriage has begun to
Shelter for Each Other
Remaining faithful and loving throughout a long
marriage is one of a human being’s finest accomplishments.
We can get dewy-eyed and romantic
about a wedding. The bride and groom—young, slim and attractive—represent
hope and potential. We want their happiness,
gift them lavishly and pray for
abundant blessings on them.
We should celebrate a silver or golden
anniversary with the same vigor. The
couple may be bent and pudgy, but they
have woven a life together, composed of
countless stresses, joys, failures, delights, arguments,
illnesses, laughter and achievements. They
have talked through many issues and survived
They have negotiated
They have survived
strains and made a
The tie that binds
them is a strong fabric made of tiny threads. They
know—daily and directly—the role named in the
Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” As the Irish
say, they become “the shelter for each other.” In a
world of constant change and often chaos, people
need such permanent anchors.
Adultery short-circuits this learning
curve. People who flee at the first serious
argument don’t learn that there is more
to their union than one disagreement.
A fresh face may at first seem to carry
less baggage than the spouse, but
adultery misses the chance to grow
old with the same person who knows
and accepts our baggage intimately.
A long marriage is a school where
human beings apprentice, gradually becoming
Models of God’s Presence
Experts on marriage say that when we make a vow,
we offer ourselves the way we cup water in our hands.
Adultery not only harms the other person, but also
undermines the best we are: When the vow is broken,
the water spills out of our hands. Remaining faithful
enables us to be like God, whose compassion never
wavers and whose presence weathers all storms.
A story about an Alzheimer’s patient in a care center
ties the bow to complete this consideration of
fidelity. A nurse said compassionately to a husband
who traveled a great distance to visit his wife, the
patient: “You really don’t need to come every day. She
doesn’t know you.” “Ah,” replied the husband. “But I
May our following of this commandment bring us
all to that kind of commitment.
Next: The Seventh Commandment
What do you think are the factors that contribute to the lack of respect for the vows taken in marriage?
How can a person or family build up immunity to those factors?
Early Marriage Preparation
By Judith Dunlap
In my Baltimore Catechism I learned that the Sixth
Commandment forbids “all impurities and immodesties in
words, looks and actions.” So, when I was 10 years old I went
to Confession and confessed to committing adultery twice. After
a couple of muffled guffaws, the priest asked me to explain.
Blushing to the core, I told him I had looked at some postcards
with women in skimpy swimsuits.
Our religious education programs do a much better job of
preparing youngsters for Confession today. Words are given their
proper meaning with fuller explanations, and definitions are
given that are age-appropriate. However, it is
important to remember that while our Catholic
schools and parish religious education programs
can teach children what the commandments
mean, it is up to their parents to teach them how
to live them.
We prepare our children to be faithful in marriage
by helping them understand three things:
commitment, sacrifice and the meaning of love.
They learn commitment by following through on
the promises they make in their earliest years. If
they sign up for soccer, they play until the end of
the season. If they take up the tuba, they remain
part of the band for the entire school year.
We teach our children about sacrifice when we
encourage them to let someone else go first or to give the bigger
piece of chocolate to a friend. We teach them about love when
we help them understand that love is more than a feeling. Even
when they don’t particularly like their siblings, there is still a
bond of love that unites them.
Of course the best way to teach our children about being
faithful is to be faithful to them in our everyday commitments
and sacrifices as parents—and by making sure they know we still
love them, even when they are least likable.
Ask family members to talk about a time when they remained faithful to a commitment they were tempted to give up.
Into Great Silence
By Frank Frost
Contemplative life holds a
mysterious fascination for us.
What is it about quiet, sheltered
cloister walks and hooded
monks that attracts us to an existence
we would never attempt to
A new documentary offers a partial
answer. Into Great Silence provides
an experience of a Carthusian
monastery founded in the 13th century
by St. Bruno high in the French
Alps. This film is remarkable
because it tells no story, is almost
three hours long and has still made
it to American and European theaters,
all the while receiving a growing
number of awards.
The first shot of the film sets the
tone. It is a sustained profile of a
monk in a heavy white habit—at
prayer in his cell—shot from a
discreet distance without movement,
accompanied only by the silence of
the room and the rustle of his
movement. When we hear no narration,
no explanation, we soon come
to realize that we are here only to
experience this life as it must be for
the men we observe.
For long minutes we listen
intently to the silence and the
sounds of nature, broken only by
the occasional ringing of bells that
mark the angelus or prayer times.
Philip Groning, a German filmmaker,
lived with the monks of the Great Chartreuse Monastery for six
months while shooting the film, without
an assistant, and using only available
light. His images are like living paintings—patient, often luminous, leading the
viewer to a sense of contemplation. In
the course of the film we observe the lives
of men whose days are filled with long
periods of private prayer, private study
and work. Time is measured by the passing
of seasons, from the deep snows of
winter to the spring melts to the summer
crops, and back to winter.
Carthusians—communities of hermits
who take their simple meals alone in their
cells, served through a small metal door,
evoking the atmosphere of solitary confinement—live the most rigorous contemplative
life in the Church. On occasion
they share communal recreation,
walking in conversation outdoors.
Groning’s photography makes the life so
picturesque that from the outside it
looks attractive and normal. And yet we
cannot help but wonder: What leads
these men to live this way?
The only hints we are given are occasional
sayings from Scripture that
appear on the screen, like “Whoever
does not leave father, mother, and all
that they have cannot be my disciple” and
“You have seduced me, I was seduced.”
But, for the curious, the film’s Web site
offers a link to a book about Carthusian
life that was written concurrently and
This book, An Infinity of Little Hours,
takes us inside the heads of monks like
those we see in the film. The film and
the book provide complementary
glimpses into the profound mystery
of contemplative life.
What values do you find in this film?
By Judy Ball
St. Germaine Cousin (c. 1579-1601)
A poor, sickly peasant girl, Germaine Cousin never
learned to read and write. But she did learn to love.
Her life was one unending lesson in kindness, forgiveness
Born near Toulouse, France, Germaine lost her mother
at an early age and was raised by her father, a farmer, and a
stepmother who despised the young girl with a paralyzed
right arm and other maladies. Germaine, who was kept
away from her stepbrothers and stepsisters, was forced to
live on leftover food and table scraps and to sleep in a stable
or under the stairs. She was often beaten and regularly
ridiculed. Life at home was devoid of any joy, but she quietly
accepted the mistreatment.
At an early age, Germaine was sent to tend to the sheep
in the fields. It was there that she found great comfort in
talking to God in prayer. It was there she could let go of the
hurt and isolation she felt and find solace in the beauty of
nature. Young children began gathering around her, drawn
to her innate goodness. Stories began circulating about
how the sheep
under her care
when she went off
to daily Mass as
the church bells
Slowly, as word
of Germaine’s holiness
spread among her neighbors, her stepmother offered
her a bed at home, but she declined, preferring her humble
Some say Germaine died after a severe beating. Others
say she was found dead on her bed of straw. Whatever the
truth, the people of her village of Pibrac knew that a saint
had been living among them. Germaine was canonized in
1867. Her feast day is June 15.
Healing and hope: Those may
not be the first words that
come to mind when the subject
is child abuse, but they guide
Mary Rode and her staff at St.
Vincent’s Center, an agency under
the umbrella of Catholic
Charities, in suburban
Baltimore. The children
who arrive at
the facility come
problems. When they
leave 12 to 18 months
later, they are on the way to
healing and hope.
“The children we see are ‘difficult,’
but they are children,” stressed the
They are youngsters who have
experienced the underside of life—ranging from physical and/or sexual
abuse to dire poverty to appalling
neglect. The most challenging
children are placed at St. Vincent’s.
By the time the youngsters arrive at
the 70-bed facility, they have been
removed from their birth families
and, often, have lived in multiple
foster care homes.
“We can serve an average of 160
children in a year ages three to 14,
but that’s just a fraction of those
actually abused,” Mary told
Every Day Catholic. After
their time there, 80%
are able to be placed
in less restrictive
their birth parents or
other family members,
in foster care or
adoptive homes. Mary
gives credit to her staff of
185 as well as volunteers.
Though she sees overwhelming
pain in the children, Mary shuns
simplistic thinking about the roots of
abuse. “It’s not a matter of ‘We don’t
abuse, they do; we’re not poor, they
are.’ People don’t do what they do
because they are ‘bad’ people. That’s
simplistic thinking, and this is a
complex health issue. Abuse is present
across economic, racial, ethnic,
religious and educational lines.”