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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How Much Is Enough?
By Kathy Coffey

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods” (Exodus 20:17).

“I want a house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works.” In The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros remembers her childhood when the Sunday afternoon entertainment was riding around looking at beautiful homes.

But eventually she quits going, not telling her family, “I am ashamed—all of us staring out the window like the hungry. I am tired of looking at what we can’t have.”

How many of us waste precious time and energy ogling “what we can’t have,” or figuring out a way to get it? In doing so, we overlook the great goods we do have: the endless reservoir of God’s love, the gifts of family and friends, the beauty of creation, a warm pool of memories, individual talents, health, the support of a faith community. Each of us could create a unique litany of blessings—a far better exercise than longing for the latest iPhone or designer jeans.

We’ve all had the experience of yearning for something that we thought would bring happiness: the child’s bike, the adolescent’s car, the adult’s antique. Getting the object of our desires might thrill us temporarily, and we might even cherish it for some time. But eventually, the bike gets outgrown, the car dies, and the antique, grown dusty and dull, joins the junk pile. No thing can provide the long-term happiness for which we were created.


‘Good’ Longings

Ignatian spirituality encourages our desires—as long as they are consonant with our deepest selves. These longings are good because they are planted in us by God. We should ask, then, for more wisdom, compassion or kindness, because these will make us the fullest, best persons we can be—persons God desires and equips for his service. In contrast, the shopping list of things is simply too small for us, unworthy of God’s splendid daughter or son.

If we use the latest gizmos to shore up a weak ego or impress our friends, we’re in big trouble, caught in a long quest for more. Nothing wrong with the gadget—the problem lies within if we can’t believe we’re enough: fashioned by God, redeemed by Christ, invigorated by the Spirit, intimately loved by the Trinity and precious to some fine human beings. What else do we need?

In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton eloquently describes how tiring it can become to acquire goods, working endlessly for what fails to satisfy: “Stanch in me the rank wound of covetousness and the hungers that exhaust my nature with their bleeding. Stamp out the serpent envy that stings love with poison and kills all joy.”

Most people who accumulate (and this descriptor fits most folks in our society) find that one thing leads to another. New furniture in the living room makes the dining room table look shabby. And on it goes, until we don’t even realize we’re caught up in an unending cycle. We work hard to afford storage lockers for stuff we don’t even use. Then we wonder why we’re not at peace. The ecological footprint left by North Americans is gigantic compared to people elsewhere in the world. Even if the loftier reasons to avoid envy don’t appeal, this one should: We’re destroying the planet’s resources with our greed.

Setting Limits

As the end of life approaches, do we want to cling stubbornly to possessions which probably won’t fit into the casket? Or will we be ready to ease joyfully into God’s arms because we’ve been there all along? If we set our ultimate sights on God’s face, anything lesser seems like a temporary distraction.

As Joan Chittister writes in The Ten Commandments, “Only God is really enough. Only when we see beyond all the things in which we are immersed, only when we learn to hold them all with a relaxed grasp, can we ever discover the One in whom all of them take their being.”

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: Thou Shalt Reverence the Earth

Questions for Reflection:

• What are some of your deepest longings? How do these desires reflect God’s desire for you?

• What do you have more of than you need? How can you reduce the size of your collection and/or share it with others?

Collecting Stuff
By Jeanne Hunt

One gorgeous autumn day some years ago, my daughter Allison and I were enjoying a visit to a small town filled with shops and antique stores. After an hour of perusing the stores, I began to grow impatient. She was inspecting every little teacup and heirloom hankie. When I tried to hurry her along she became indignant and responded,“Mother, you have your stuff. I am just beginning to get mine.”

On the way home she explained her philosophy: We spend the first part of life gathering our possessions, the second part enjoying them and the third part giving them away. In other words, life is all about your stuff.

This story reminds me yet again how we pass on our values to our children. When we put emphasis on a particular way of living, we can expect our children to do the same. It is subtle and enduring. Children are sorting out what they see and hear, and deciding how they want to live. It is our role as parents to offer formation that is grounded in values that are consistent with our faith. Coveting things, whether they belong to our neighbor or simply entice us from a shop window, leads us right into the hands of our consumer society. Our society preaches that things will make us happy. Our faith teaches us quite the opposite—that happiness is found not in acquiring things but in knowing Jesus Christ.

We encourage our children to live without accumulating more and more things by choosing not to live that way ourselves. Family life should be more focused on people and times shared than on getting the next addition to our pile of stuff. My daughter taught me a valuable lesson that day. Over the years I had inadvertently preached the wrong message as she watched me collect my stuff.

For Family Response:

As a family, give or throw away three things every day for a month. Watch your house come to order and your spirits release that tight grip on material possessions.

Media Watch
By Frank Frost

The old-time movie musical is back, at least one more time. Hairspray fairly exults in life, lifting movie clichés to a new level of art through humor and unbounded energy of song and dance. It’s uplifting—both in its optimism and in its moral message.

Hairspray is set in 1962 Baltimore—before hippies, the sexual revolution, the assassinations of Kennedy and King, the civil-rights movement, the Vietnam War. It’s a time of big hairdos and rock and roll. And it tells a timeless story—the struggle of non-beautiful people to be recognized and loved. It tackles racism, in particular, with a sweet innocence that can only be celebrated in hindsight.

Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Nikki Blonsky) is a hefty teenager who dreams of dancing on the local TV rock and roll dance show, the “Corny Collins Show.” The opening dance number tells what an optimist she is—singing and dancing “give me a chance” down a street of rundown row houses in Baltimore, of all places, with rats at her feet, riding atop her chariot (a garbage truck) and arriving at school where she is an obvious target of ridicule. But as the music, lyrics and incredible energy of Nikki Blonsky tell us, she will not be put down.

When an audition opportunity for the “Corny Collins Show” arises, Tracy’s size-60 mother (John Travolta in a fat suit) discourages her to protect her from disappointment, but her dad (Christopher Walken) urges her to follow her dream. When Tracy does go for it, her nemesis in both school and the TV studio will be the perfect white girl, Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow), along with Amber’s mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is also the station manager and show producer. They will use any tactic to stop Tracy from threatening Amber’s “entitlement” to stardom.

Woven into Tracy’s tale is a parallel story of rejection based on race. Tracy is rejected at her first audition, even before she dances, because she answers a firm yes to the question, “Would you swim in an integrated pool?” The table turns when she is later chosen to join the show because of a dance routine she learns from a black boy in school. The “Corny Collins Show” has a “Negro Day” once a week, hosted by Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). When Negro Day is cancelled, Tracy inspires a protest march that leads to a series of events culminating in the live dance-off for Miss Teenage Hairspray (and a reprise of John Travolta doing the kind of dancing that helped make his career).

Directed by Adam Shankman, with music by Marc Shaiman, Hairspray is irrepressible, with seemingly nonstop song and dance numbers. In the final dance number Tracy sings, “You can’t stop my happiness because that’s just the way I am” and “You can’t stop time as it comes speeding down the track.”

We can use that sort of affirmation of human dignity and optimism in the face of change today.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

Blessed Francis X. Seelos (1819-1867)

Today, some call Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos America’s forgotten saint. But anyone who met him, knew him or benefited from his ministry was transformed simply by being in his presence. His kindness, cheerfulness and holiness were transparent.

Born in Bavaria, Germany, F.X. Seelos began studies for the diocesan priesthood. After becoming acquainted with Redemptorist missionaries’ work among the most abandoned, he entered the congregation and prepared to serve German-speaking immigrants in the U.S. He arrived in New York in 1843 and was ordained the following year.

For the next 25 years, he worked in parish ministry in the East and Midwest and served at Redemptorist seminaries. Ministering alongside him during some of those years, and also serving as his spiritual director and confessor, was a fellow Redemptorist we now know as St. John Neumann.

Though he excelled at all he did, Father Seelos was especially beloved as a confessor who could “read hearts.” He spent long hours in the confessional listening to troubled souls. His goal was to lead penitents to the merciful Jesus.

In the midst of the Civil War, while he was a seminary rector, Father Seelos pleaded with Abraham Lincoln to exempt Redemptorist seminarians of draft age from being called to service. In the end, his request was honored.

After the war, Father Seelos was transferred to serve at the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption in New Orleans. After visiting and caring for the victims of yellow fever in the city, he died of the disease himself—just shy of his 49th birthday.

Francis X. Seelos was beatified in 2000. His feast day is October 5.

Father Byron Miller, C.SS.R.

There’s a line between hope and confidence. Redemptorist Father Byron Miller crossed it some time ago. As one of two people in his congregation officially assigned to promote the canonization of Blessed F.X. Seelos, Father Miller is “thoroughly convinced that it’s not a matter of ‘if ’ but ‘when’ Seelos becomes a saint.”

F.X. Seelos and young Byron Miller first met in the pages of the monthly newsletter his mother received from the Redemptorists. He was certain to see the name Seelos somewhere in each issue. After he grew up and settled on his own future—priesthood with the Redemptorists—he read Cheerful Ascetic, a biography about Seelos. “I knew I had a friend. I’ve had devotion to him ever since,” he told Every Day Catholic.

Today, in his dual roles as vice postulator and director of the Seelos Shrine in New Orleans, Father Miller is immersed in the life and spirituality of the immigrant priest who touched so many lives in his ministry, particularly in the confessional. The appeal continues. “There is something about his personality that makes him so approachable for me and others. Once people get to know him, they are drawn to him. Each day I see people whose lives have been touched by Seelos. It’s a boost to my own faith.”

Before Hurricane Katrina, the shrine had more than 25,000 visitors each year. Still, the faithful continue to come, some seeking healing following diagnosis with a terminal illness. Meanwhile, Father Seelos moves toward sainthood. The case of a woman who recovered from esophageal cancer after seeking Blessed Seelos’s intercession is under official review.

It’s enough to move anyone from hope to confidence.

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