How did Jesus live the Commandments in his life? How are his 21st-century followers called to live them? Throughout 2007, Every Day Catholic will feature a series of cover articles on the 10 Commandments by award-winning writer Kathy Coffey. 

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Celebrating Faithfulness
 
By Kathy Coffey

“You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).

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 unintended consequences adultery can provoke. David’s desire 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 child, David’s intense fasting and prayer, and then the child’s death (2 Sam 11—12). The cost of their affair is terrible.

If the story ended there, it would be a cautionary tale, 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 disintegrate.

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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 innumerable crises.

They have negotiated finances, lifestyles, household duties and parenting. They have survived a thousand strains and made a million connections. 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 less selfish.

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 know her.”

May our following of this commandment bring us all to that kind of commitment.

Kathy Coffey, the mother of four, is an editor at Living the Good News in Denver, Colorado. She has won numerous writing awards. Her newest book is The Art of Faith (Twenty-Third Publications, 2007).

Next: The Seventh Commandment

Questions for Reflection:

• 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?

 


FAMILY CORNER
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.

For Family Response:

Ask family members to talk about a time when they remained faithful to a commitment they were tempted to give up.

 


Media Watch
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 embrace ourselves?

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 (www.zeitgeistfilms.com/intogreatsilence) offers a link to a book about Carthusian life that was written concurrently and totally independently.

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.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

 


SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
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 and understanding.

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 Germaine, including stories about how the sheep under her care never strayed when she went off to daily Mass as the church bells sounded.

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 arrangements.

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.

Mary Rode

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 with behavioral, emotional, medical and educational 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 veteran administrator.

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 family settings—with 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.”

 
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