You Know the Commandments

(Homily for Twenty-Eighth Ordinary Sunday, Year B)

Has anyone told you how much better off the world would be if the Catholic Church would just stop imposing guilt trips? The constant harping on the evil of abortion, homosexuality, sterilization, etc., along with the threat of hellfire, actually drives people to behaviors like alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography, and other addictions. So the argument goes. Although usually not stated so directly, this line of reasoning underpins much criticism of Catholic teaching.

The argument has great appeal. It would be wonderful to create a society free of guilt and fear. However, the problem is that it has already been tried. Small utopian groups have made the attempt, often with disastrous results. And for a little over seventy years, one massive country officially denied God and conventional morality. Far from creating a paradise, the Soviets wound up with new levels of despair.

It is a great irony that, having triumphed over Soviet communism, Western society is banishing God and the moral law from public discourse. And we see similar results in the despair and self-destructive behavior of our young people – and those not so young.

In his book What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, J. Budziszewski argues that there are certain basic moral truths that human beings just plain can’t not know. The human orientation toward good is so fundamental that even when we do evil, we inevitably seek to redefine it as good. Budziszewski insists that such efforts are self-deceptions, because human beings cannot evade the deepest voice of conscience pronouncing their deeds evil.*

Today Jesus tells a man, “You know the commandments.” (Mk 10:19) Like any good Jew, he had studied the Decalogue. Perhaps more important, he had that law written in his heart. (Rom 2:15) However, he makes a statement which causes one to wonder:

"all of these I have observed from my youth..."

If the “just man falls seven times,” (Prov 24:1) and “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God,” (Rom 3:23) this seems like an extraordinary claim.

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Sometimes you hear it stated that Jesus loved the man because of his goodness. It could also be that Jesus loved him in the deepest sense – that he wanted the man to recognize his true condition and turn completely to God.**

At any rate, Jesus makes an offer. “Sell what you have, and give to the poor…then come, follow me.” This offer unmasked the man, “his face fell and he went away sad.”

He knew the commandments, but shrank from their full implications. As do many people today – including you and me.


*In the September 2003 issue of Touchstone Budziszewski has an article which analyzes how the denial of sin affects us: The Furies of Conscience - Denial & the Wages of Sin. For an online review of his book see: What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide.

[T]here are some moral truths that we all really know--truths which a normal human being is unable not to know. They are a universal possession, an emblem of mind, an heirloom of the family of man. That doesn't mean that we know them with unfailing perfect clarity, or that we have reasoned out their remotest implications: we don't, and we haven't. Nor does it mean that we never pretend not to know them even though we do, and we do. It doesn't even mean that we are born knowing them, that we never get mixed up about them, or that we assent to them just as readily whether they are taught to us or not. That can't even be said of "two plus two is four." Yet our common moral knowledge is as real as arithmetic, and probably just as plain. Paradoxically, maddeningly, we appeal to it even to justify wrongdoing; rationalization is the homage paid by sin to guilty knowledge. (Quoted by

**Today's second reading speaks about such tough love: "The Word of God is a two-edged sword. It reveals the deepest secrets of our heart." (Heb 4:12)

Versión Castellana

From Archives (Homilies for 28th Sunday, Year B):

2006: Prudence
2003: You Know the Commandments
2000: What Must I Do to Have Everlasting Life?

Bulletin (Report on Catholic Stewarship Conference Chicago)


Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Another newspaper does an article on my brother Louis quintessential American citizen

Pope John Who? (George Weigel on Senator Kerry: "So the Pope had 'crossed the line.' But whose line?")

Seen Any Good Catholic Politicians Lately?

The Century of Aging (A Graying Europe Wonders How to Pay Its Pensioners)

Mark Shea writes: Have I mentioned lately how much I love the Sacrament of Confession?

Before I was Catholic I met ex-Catholics who would rehearse the Standard Schtik about "Catholic guilt" (a myth that ranks with Sr. Whosit and the Knuckle-rapping Ruler) and tell me all about how going to confession instilled in them this deep-seated guilt that they are only now working through, blah blah etc.

Sorry. Not buying it. I was raised in a household where I darkened the door of a church or Sunday school *maybe* ten times before I started seriously trying to understand Christianity in college (and at least one of those times was because there was a PTA meeting or something at the local Methodist church).

I can tell you *all about* deep-seated guilt. Crippling, unrelieved guilt. Endless psychic pain and confusion that deeply resonates with St. Paul's description of his Gentile readers before they came to Christ as "without hope and without God in the world". The amazing thing to me in becoming Catholic was the discovery that you could actually go somewhere and unburden your soul of all the miserable, wretched, shameful things you'd been lugging around for years and God would really take them away and not only forgive you, but give you the life and grace to be the new person you wished you could be. I get teary just thinking about it. Some of the most poignantly sweet moments of my life have come in the confessional. It's one of the rare places on the face of the earth where you get to go and be absolutely yourself and find that, so far from being rejected, God tenderly and lovingly--and mirabile dictu, *truthfully*--tells you how he sees you and teaches you to see yourself (and the world) as he does.

Next to Eucharist and marriage, confession is easily my favorite sacrament. An amazing gift, the mercy of God!

Show Truth to America
(Demonstration at Seattle University, September 27, 2003)
Warning: Contains Graphic Images