By: Mary Elizabeth Sperry
God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses as he was leading the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. The Israelites faced the unknown dangers and hardships of a long journey through the desert. In this uncertain time, God was their rock—the only certainty they knew. And this powerful, ever-present God made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. He offered them a relationship with him: they would be his people and he would be their God.
Each issue carries an imprimatur
from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
The Ten Commandments established the Israelites’ responsibilities in this relationship. God promised to be present to protect and care for them; they promised to live by God’s commandments.
Nearly 1,200 years later, a scholar of the Law asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment. Jesus answered by summarizing them: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39).
Fast-forward 2,000 years to today. In Jesus’ summary, we find why the commandments are still meaningful: they teach us how we should relate to God, self, others, and things. The Ten Commandments are a measuring stick for examining our priorities, choices, habits, and consciences as we prepare to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
FIRST COMMANDMENT: PRIORITIZE
You shall not have strange gods before me.
Our first priority must be our relationship with God. If we don’t put God first, we spend our time and energy pursuing things—relationships, desires, achievements, possessions—that may give us momentary pleasure but not the lasting joy and peace that we seek and that God wants for us.
- What people, things, or activities do I treat as more important than God?
- How well have I organized my life (including how I spend my time and money) to reflect that God is a priority?
- Do I consider my faith and values when I make decisions?
- How well do I practice the virtues of faith, hope, and charity?
SECOND COMMANDMENT: SEEK INTIMACY
You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
We’re called to intimacy with God. We can share our truest selves with God; we need hold nothing back. Prayer teaches us to call on God’s name, not in vain, but in honest communication, trusting that he will hear and answer. Reconciliation—examining our actions, admitting our faults and failings, and committing to change—opens our hearts in honesty before God. Awareness of God’s presence moves us to praise God’s name, an act that’s never in vain.
- How much time do I put into prayer, communicating honestly and intimately with God?
- Do I show respect for God’s holy name by not abusing it, not swearing oaths, and not committing perjury?
- Does my language reflect my heart? My values? My faith?
THIRD COMMANDMENT: SPEND TIME
Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
Through our labor, we share in God’s work of creation, but God doesn’t only love us when we’re productive. Our value is in who we are—precious creations and children of God. Deciding how we spend our time is one of the most important moral decisions we make each day. Scheduling time to spend with God in prayer and worship creates and maintains an intimate relationship with God.
- How do I keep Sunday holy? Do I make Sunday Mass and rest a priority? When have I failed to do this? Why?
- What time does God get in my daily schedule, especially on Sunday? Does he get my best time or what’s left?
- Does my appointment calendar reflect my values?
- Do I waste time on meaningless entertainment?
FOURTH COMMANDMENT: GIVE RESPECT
Honor your father and your mother.
This commandment reminds us that there will always be someone with authority over us. To follow the commandment well, we must develop the habit of respect. Giving respect to those in authority, while maintaining healthy self-respect, is the foundation for stable and harmonious relationships. True respect means accepting the other’s flaws and limitations. When we’re in positions of authority, we must take care of those in our charge and make decisions for the common good.
- How can I be a better child? parent? employee? boss?
- How do I interact with those in authority over me? Do I show respect? Do I express disagreement in appropriate ways?
- How do I treat those under my authority? Do I listen to their ideas and concerns? Do I make decisions for the good of all?
FIFTH COMMANDMENT: RECOGNIZE DIGNITY
You shall not kill.
Living this commandment requires recognizing the intrinsic dignity of every human being and thinking of others first. Anything that destroys or detracts from another person’s dignity violates it. It involves supporting all human life and thus rejecting abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and the death penalty. We must consider the impact of our attitudes, words, and actions—bullying, political and economic choices, unjust anger and sarcasm, prejudices and stereotypes, reckless behavior—on the God-given dignity of others.
- What choice of mine didn’t respect the dignity of others?
- What individuals or groups do I look down on? How have my words and actions expressed that attitude?
- When have I lost my temper or hurt others with my words?
- When have I put another person’s life or my own in danger?
- Have I shown respect for human life in all its stages?
SIXTH COMMANDMENT: MAINTAIN INTEGRITY
Ads contrary to Catholic teachings should be reported to our webmaster
. Include ad link.
You shall not commit adultery.
This commandment calls us to reflect through our bodies what we believe in our hearts. A married couple commits to an exclusive relationship that will endure through life’s ups and downs. Their sexual relationship embodies the promises at the foundation of their marriage. Any activity that takes away from the total self-gift in a marriage violates this commitment. This commandment also prohibits sexual activity in relationships that are not marriages and sexual interactions in which one person is used as an object to gratify the desires of the other.
- Do I withhold sharing part of myself with my spouse in total self-gift? My vulnerability? My trust? My fertility? My complete commitment?
- Do my actions reflect the promises underlying my most important relationship? When have my actions been less than loving?
- When have I been unfaithful in thought or action?
- Which of my activities and attitudes weaken the honesty and completeness of my self-gift in my relationships?
SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: LIVE GRATITUDE
You shall not steal.
Living this commandment requires that we treat our possessions as gift, receive them with gratitude, and recognize that all things come from God. While we may own property, we must understand ourselves as stewards of God’s gifts, measuring worth by what we are rather than what we have. Doing the right thing takes priority over owning the “right” things. We learn to treasure people rather than things.
- When have I valued possessions over God or others?
- Am I grateful for the things I have? Or am I always wanting more? Why?
- Am I a good steward of the earth and its resources? When am I wasteful? Do I litter? Recycle? Buy only what I truly need?
- Have I been respectful of other people’s property? Have I stolen? Did I return what didn’t belong to me?
- Do I work for justice?
EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: UPHOLD HONESTY
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
God is the source of all truth, and love of truth leads us to greater love of God. This commandment urges us to pursue the truth and to live in honesty. We must never fear giving voice to the truths of our faith by sharing what we believe. We must learn to avoid lies, speak with discretion and charity, and carefully assess the truth of information before we share it with others.
- Am I honest? When have I been dishonest? When have I lied? How has this hurt someone else?
- Before I share information with others, do I make sure that it is true, charitable, and appropriate to share? Do I gossip or tear down another’s reputation or good name?
- When have I shared information that violated the privacy of another?
- When have I betrayed someone who trusted me? Why?
NINTH COMMANDMENT: PROMISE FIDELITY
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
This commandment prohibits the forms of emotional infidelity that endanger relationships by damaging the trust at their base. Fidelity is an intentional decision to save and share the best of ourselves for the relationships in which we invest the highest priority. It is fostered by avoiding temptation, respecting the relationships of others, being modest, spending time together, and loving selflessly.
- Have I allowed lust or envy to make me emotionally unfaithful?
- Have I pursued emotional closeness with another instead of working on my priority relationship?
- Do my television and movie selections reflect my values? Do friends or coworkers tempt me to be unfaithful? Do I participate in “harmless” flirtation?
- Have I been immodest in dress or behavior?
TENTH COMMANDMENT: BESTOW GENEROSITY
You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
This commandment calls us to place our trust solely in God who will give us all we need. Being happy (not envious or jealous) of another’s good fortune and moving past our desire to have more to a desire to share more is a critical final step in developing right relationships. The habit of generosity requires that we develop detachment, recognizing that our value as individuals comes from the dignity with which God has gifted us, not from what we own.
A regular examination of conscience will lead you to a regular celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament is a celebration of God’s loving forgiveness, a ritual reminder that, no matter how far or how often you stray, God is always waiting, with joy, to welcome you back to the path. Celebrating this sacrament requires the deep sharing that increases your intimacy with God. Think of it as regular auto maintenance and the Ten Commandments as your GPS or roadmap.
Mary Elizabeth Sperry is the author of Ten: How the Commandments Can Change Your Life, the book from which this article is taken (Franciscan Media). She holds master’s degrees in liturgical studies and political science and works for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
NEXT: ‘Peace on Earth’: God’s Dream Is Our Task by Ken Overberg, SJ
- How do I decide how much of my time and money I’ll donate and to whom? How truly generous am I?
- When have I given because I expected something in return?
- When have I been selfish or greedy?
- When have I judged others by their possessions and wealth—or lack thereof?