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Love God:
The First Three Commandments

by Rev. Alfred McBride, O.Praem

The great St. Augustine once said, —We all want to live happily. How is it then that I seek you, Lord? In seeking you I seek the happy life.—

Do you agree with St. Augustine that happiness is something you want? Jesus taught the same lesson long before Augustine.

His Sermon on the Mount begins with eight guides to happiness—the Beatitudes. He follows this with other ways to be happy, all based on the Ten Commandments (see Matthew, Chapters 5—7).

You know there—s no way to escape rules. H. Jackson, Jr., in his Life—s Little Instruction Book, advises: —Praise in public. Criticize in private. Don—t rain on other people—s parades. Put the cap back on the toothpaste. Refill the ice cube trays. Do nice things for people who will never find out it was you.— Rules like these lighten the load of life.

God first entered into a love relationship with Moses and his people at Sinai. Scripture calls this a covenant. It—s like having flowers and candy and the prom and a movie and a hug and a kiss all at once.

Only after God expressed his love, did he give the Ten Commandments as a method for staying in love and being happy. You give signs of love before you issue the rules of love.

Your desire to be happy is a great motive for being moral. But you cannot do this by your willpower alone. You also need prayer, the sacraments and God—s graces to keep the commandments.

In this Youth Update, we will look at the first three commandments. Legend says that they were listed together on one of the two tablets given to Moses.

These three deal with expressing your love for God. In another issue, we deal with the other tablet, the rest of the 10, which deal with expressing your love for others.

How It's Done

Before we look at the rules, let—s look at a role model. Her name is Th—r—se of Lisieux. When she was very ill at only 24 years of age, her Carmelite sisters said, —Th—r—se will die soon. What will the prioress [the sister in charge] put in her obituary? —She entered our convent, lived and died.— There really isn—t much else to say.—

Yet within a few months of her death, such a storm of interest and affection for Th—r—se began that one cardinal declared, —We must hurry to canonize Th—r—se, otherwise the people will go ahead and do it without us.—

What accounted for this enormous interest? It was the publication of her spiritual journal, The Story of a Soul. It became an immediate international best-seller and revealed her story. You might want to read it.

Her advice was simple: What is important is not great deeds, but rather to do everyday acts with great love for God and neighbor. She wrote, —I will return to earth to teach people to love Love.— Her way found practical expression in love of people.

The story of St. Th—r—se highlights the way in which she lived the love of God. Her life expresses the ultimate meaning of the first commandments, as they are found both in the rules given to Moses and in the teaching of Jesus.

Each commandment that is given in the Old Testament is repeated and enlarged in the New. So, together with the words of Deuteronomy, you will read a verse from the New Testament, which shows us Jesus— —spin— on what Moses heard from God.

First Commandment:
I, the Lord, am your God....You shall not have other gods besides me (Deuteronomy 5:6-7).

Your love for God can begin with telling him so. St. John Vianney liked to say, —My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it as often as I draw breath.—

Another way is called adoration, which means to worship or honor God as divine. Stop by your parish church. Sit a while before the Blessed Sacrament. Your very presence can be a way of loving God.

Such love implies that you have faith in a real God. The Bible tells us that people frequently worshiped unreal gods. The Egyptians adored the sun. The Babylonians worshiped the moon. The Assyrians idolized the stars. Even the Israelites erred when they knelt before the golden calf. They worshiped a creature instead of the Creator. That would not be keeping the First Commandment.

Every commandment has a positive side and a negative one (see box on last page). On the positive side (also called virtue) are acts that express and strengthen our love for God. The negative side (which is intended to lead you away from vice) guards against acts that weaken love of God and others.

The First Commandment—s positive aspect is the call to love God. At the same time it prohibits adoring a false god, a practice called idolatry (eye DOLL uh tree). Today, few people make gods out of sun, moon, stars or statues of imaginary gods. Idolatry today is more likely making a god out of money, power, popularity or sex.

We substitute a created thing for our loving Creator. This usually happens when faith in the real God grows cold. For instance, if you totally denied that there was a God, that would be atheism, which is contrary to the First Command-ment. Agnosticism, which claims we can—t know whether there is a God or not, is also a sin against this commandment.

A wise old rabbi, or Jewish teacher, Abraham Heschel, had this to say about faith in the true God: —Faith in God presupposes an awareness of the presence of God. God—s temple is a sanctuary without walls. If the sanctuary is everywhere, then we can sense the ark or the altar somewhere.—

A healthy love relationship with God frees you from superstition, a magic mentality and idolatry. In this way of relating, God frees you from thinking of him as a super-parent or a divine policeman. Love creates closeness, not a cold distance.

God watches over you to protect you from harm and guide you to love. —If I take the wings of the dawn, if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall guide me, and your right hand hold me fast— (Psalm 139:9-10).

So God is leading us to belief and hope and love. We are keeping this First Commandment by adoration and worship and by avoiding superstition. Atheism and agnoticism are against this commandment.

Most people are more interested in their own names than anyone else—s. You probably want people to pronounce your name properly. You probably want it spelled right as well.

Second Commandment:
You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain (Deuteronomy 5:11).
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name (Matthew 6:9).

Your school may be named after some famous person, as are many colleges, museums, theaters and stadiums. Streets are named and renamed after famous people. Companies pay millions of dollars for what are called —naming rights.— You may even like to wear clothes and shoes that bear the imprint of a special name, that of a person or company that has come to symbolize prestige and value.

Now, just as humans are protective about their names, so is God. The Second Command-ment asks us to respect and reverence God—s name, to keep it sacred.

The word sacred means —set apart.— It implies a dignity and sense of worth that require setting apart in order that the value be recognized and cherished.

This feeling for the sacred may be found in many of our experiences. It is the foundation of our appreciation of the sacredness of God and his holy name. It is the reason why we are moved to honor God—s Name. It also cautions us never to use the divine name with disrespect or carelessness.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) focuses on the sacred. The sense of the sacred is part of the virtue of religion. —The second commandment prescribes respect for the Lord—s name....God calls each one by name. Everyone—s name is sacred....It demands respect as the sign of the dignity of the one who bears it— (CCC, #2142, 2158).

Would you not treat with respect those you love? Surely you speak their names with affection. Freedom of speech in America is a precious right, but that right is endangered when it is abused and exploited.

It is no secret that the entertainment world—especially movies, plays, novels and popular music—has frequently become coarse and uncivilized in expression. The sense of the sacred has vanished from many productions.

The dialogue in many films and books routinely uses the name of Jesus Christ in a casual, disrespectful and unloving way. Frequently the holy Name is tangled up in a stream of obscenity, vulgarity and raw language. Authors and filmmakers argue this is simply a reflection of the way people talk in real life.

You might suspect, however, that this is either an excuse for a lack of imagination in their creative process or, worse, a deliberate effort to insult the holiness of God. This careless and corrupt use of language pulls down and insults readers, viewers and listeners instead of lifting up their souls.

It is certainly contrary to the intent of the Second Commandment. —The second commandment forbids the abuse of God—s name, i.e., every improper use of the names of God, Jesus Christ, but also of the Virgin Mary and all the saints....Blasphemy [abusive or irreverent language] is contrary to the respect due to God and his holy name. It is also blasphemous to make use of God—s name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death— (CCC, #2146, 2148).

This happens when people use God—s name to swear that what they have said is true when it isn—t. It is against the Second Commandment to say that you are doing evil—for God—s sake.

Art critic Sister Wendy, commenting on sacrilegious art (art that is gross, irreverent, disrespectful to God or God—s saints), says that such art is shallow. It appeals to the superficial reaction of people. It leaves them just where they are—on the surface of life.

The Second Commandment says: Love God—s name. Value the sacredness of oaths. Do not blaspheme by using God—s name with disrespect.

Third Commandment:
Take care to keep holy the sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:12).
The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath (Mark 2:27-28).

—For many baby-boom-generation Catholics like Catherine Dillon, childhood memories of going to Mass are— —vivid—— . She will never forget how her mother seemed transfixed at the consecration of the bread and wine: —She didn—t even blink.— And she can hear as if it were yesterday the words of her father, when any of his children expressed doubts about getting out of bed for morning Mass: —There are people who live where they—re not allowed to worship. You should consider yourself fortunate.— They did. They still do.—

This excerpt from U.S. News & World Report continues: —For Dillon, 39, the celebration of the Mass remains the center of her spiritual life. —It gives a sense of calm to my day, to my week,— she says. —There can be ups and downs in other aspects of my life, but the Mass is one of the constants.——

Catherine Dillon, though a lot older than you are, gives voice to the attitude encouraged by the Third Commandment. This is why your parents—just like Dillon—s—work hard to get you up on Sunday mornings.

The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew word for rest. They rested on Saturday, the last day of the week. From early times the Church has celebrated the Eucharist every Sunday, the Lord—s Day. Christianity moved the sabbath observance to Sunday because this was the day Jesus rose from the dead.

The day of Christ—s resurrection is the first day of the week and also remembers the first day of the new creation. The apostles designated the celebration of the Lord—s Supper as the center of Sunday worship for the whole community of faith. Sunday Eucharist celebrates the Passover of Jesus Christ which fulfills the hopes and expectations of the original Passover. Keeping holy the sabbath involves not only sabbath rest, but also worship. On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, —the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist— (CCC, #2181).

The Third Commandment asks us to keep holy the sabbath day by worshiping God and by relaxing.

The wisdom of this is that life should be a rhythm of work and rest. Without a break from school and other responsibilities, you will be stressed out and set yourself up for tension-related diseases.

God made us and knows what is best for our human development. While God cannot grow tired and needs no rest in the strict sense of the word, even he —rested— on the seventh day to give us an example (Genesis 2:2).

Sunday worship will mean more to you when you live the Eucharist daily. Consider the prayers of the consecration at Mass, which repeat what Jesus did at the Last Supper. There Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives the apostles the bread changed into his body and the wine changed into his blood.

You could pray, —Jesus, take me, bless me, break me, give me as your love for the world.— Then, when you celebrate the Lord—s Day, you will be ready.

Top Three

God loves you. In your freedom you are asked to return that love. In your prayer, tell God you love him. Love God—s name by your reverence in speech and behavior. Love God—s Sunday by participating in the Mass and taking time to relax. Finally, love God by loving your neighbor. Live in God—s presence.

Alfred McBride is a priest whose order was founded by St. Norbert in Premontre, France. Father McBride has taught teenagers and wrote The Ten Commandments: Covenant of Love, published by St. Anthony Messenger Press, from which parts of this Youth Update are adapted.


Expressing Love:
Virtues and Vices

Every commandment is kept by both acting and refusing to act.

Yes to Love

I. Believe in God. Love God. Pray.
II. Honor God and God's name.
III. Praise God at Mass. Rest and relax.

No to Sin

I. Trust in superstition. Place faith in other powers.
II. Make false promises in God's name. Disrespect God's name by swearing or blasphemy.
III. Fail to worship God in public. Deny dependence on God.

Kristen Fike (13), Mandy Hunt (14), Alysha Lavey (14) and Megan Magoto (13) are all members of Immaculate Conception Parish in Bradford, Ohio. They met over pizza to read this issue on the commandments, suggesting some simplifications and posing the questions you see answered here. Parish youth minister Sue Vickroy gathered the teens.


I see how people dishonor God's name. Can you explain how to actually honor it?


Think of your own name. It represents you. Like everyone else, you want respect. It is the same with God's name and God himself. Would you not want your name spoken honorably? It is the same with God. Do you not require others to treat you rightly? So does God. Honor the name. Honor the person: your own and God's.


I see how to love God on Sunday. It's not so clear how to do this the rest of the week. Could you say more?


During the week, express your love for God through prayer. Talk to God. Say hello and goodnight with a prayer or a loving word. Set aside three minutes each day for a calm, quiet visit with God. Insert God reminders or bookmarks in your schoolbooks or place them on your mirror. Allow yourself the freedom to tell God how much you love him.


I don't understand the passage, "The sabbath was made for man. . . ."


Jesus makes this remark to religious leaders who have exaggerated sabbath rest to the point that a miracle of love can't be performed because it is "work." Jesus says this is making "man for the sabbath" when the sabbath is meant as a blessing. But God "made the sabbath for man," meaning it is a gift to help people have time to love God and to rest. An act of kindness doesn't go against this, because God wants us to express love to everyone.



I want to order print copies of this Youth Update.


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