Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Commandments, Consequences—And Confession

(Third Sunday of Lent (B): This homily was given on March 19, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Exodus 20: 1-17.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Lent 2006]

One day a man was being tailgated by a stressed-out woman as he drove down a busy city street. Suddenly, the traffic light just ahead of him turned yellow. Realizing that it would be red by the time he actually got into the intersection, he stopped. He made the right decision. (I can’t say I always have in similar circumstances!—but he did.)

Well the tailgating woman, who was obviously in a big hurry, wasn’t very happy. She began honking her horn, screaming obscenities, and making obscene gestures (you can use your imagination to fill in the details there!).

All of a sudden, she heard a tap on her car window. It was a policeman. He told her to get out of the car and to put her hands up.

Then he took her to the local police station, where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and put into a holding cell.

Two hours later, the policeman came to get her. He took her to the booking desk and gave her back her personal effects. Then he said, “I’m very sorry for the inconvenience, Mrs. Jones. But let me explain what happened. I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, cursing and swearing uncontrollably, and making some not-so-nice gestures with your hands toward the man in the car in front of you. At the same time, I noticed the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder on your vehicle, as well as the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, and the Christian fish emblem on the trunk.

“Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car!”

That’s an old story, but it illustrates a timeless truth. It shows that there is a close connection between COMMANDMENTS and CONSEQUENCES—a connection that many people today fail to recognize.

Mrs. Jones violated the 2nd and the 5th commandments (since anger is at the root of killing), and she suffered several negative consequences in her experience with the local policeman.

In today’s first reading, Moses delivers to the people of Israel the Ten Commandments that he had received from God on Mt. Sinai. Now it’s very important for us to understand what these ten directives are: they are the moral laws that God has built into the very framework of reality. In that sense, they’re a lot like the physical laws of the universe: if you honor them, many good consequences will follow; if, on the other hand, you disobey them, you court disaster.

For example, if you decide to walk to the edge of a 1,000 foot cliff, and then take one giant step off the edge, you will not be able at that moment to determine the consequences of what you’ve done! Reality will dictate the consequences to you. You made the choice to do something foolish—you made the decision to violate one of the laws of nature—and now that law (the law of gravity) will take over and you will fall. It’s a simple as that.

You can’t drive your car into a brick wall going 70 miles an hour and then expect your car to be in showroom shape afterward. It will be broken into a million pieces! (And so, in all likelihood, will you!)

You can’t drink lethal poison and expect to be in perfect physical health an hour later. (You’ll be lucky to still be alive!)

If you violate the laws of the material universe, you can be sure that there will be negative consequences you’ll be forced to deal with.

So why do some people expect things to be entirely different in the moral and spiritual dimensions of reality? Why do they think they can violate God’s moral laws with impunity? Why do they think they can disobey his commandments without suffering any negative consequences in the process?

It’s impossible.

This, incidentally, is a not a complicated idea. It’s a basic concept that even a small child can understand if he wants to (or if he’s forced to!). Here’s a little story that illustrates the point. Several years ago a woman from the parish went to visit her great nephew, who was then about 5 years-old. The little boy spotted his aunt coming up the front walk toward the house. He stuck his head out a window on the second floor and yelled to her, “I can’t come out of my room today. I’ve got consequences.”

He understood—at 5 years-old! He had done something wrong, and his parents were teaching him a very valuable lesson.

It’s the same lesson, incidentally, that C.S. Lewis taught the world in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.” As most of us know, in that story Edmund betrayed his 3 siblings, and violated the “Deep Magic”. And what exactly was the Deep Magic? Very simply, it was the moral law that Aslan and his Father (the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea) had built into the magical world of Narnia. Edmund violated one of the principles of that law, and the White Witch was well aware of the necessary consequence of that act: Edmund had to die! So she demanded his blood. And even Aslan had to agree that she was right in her demand. As St. Paul said in Romans 6: 23, “The wages of sin is death.”

What really disturbs and worries me (and this is why I bring it up this morning) is the fact that so many people nowadays don’t seem to take this truth very seriously.

They scoff at the idea that there’s any intrinsic connection whatever between commandments and consequences.

Perhaps, in some places, that’s because those who have this attitude don’t know the Ten Commandments. They couldn’t distinguish commandment 1 from commandment 8 or 9. But I know that can’t be the case here! We have a brand new Ten Commandments monument sitting right out there on our front lawn! Most of you walk by it every time you come into church.

So obviously all of you know them by heart.


But the question still remains, even if we know what they are: Do we really think that we can violate them without suffering any negative consequences in the process?

Do we really think that we can put other things before God, use his name as a curse word, miss Mass without good reason, disrespect our parents and others in authority, murder someone’s reputation, support evils like abortion and euthanasia, commit sins of impurity (like the kind that have been committed recently at the high school before the school day begins—“Ah yes, Father has heard about these things!”); do we really think that we can take what doesn’t belong to us, and covet and lie, and not have it affect us (and those around us) in a negative way?

Are we living in a dreamworld?

If we haven’t done so already, it is time for us to wake up to reality!

Commandments and consequences—those two “c-words” and what they represent—cannot be separated.

Which brings us to another important “c-word”: confession!

In fact, to end my homily today I’ll put the 3 of them in one sentence (and if you forget everything else I’ve said this morning, make sure you remember this one line):

Confession helps to undo the consequences of violating the commandments.

Confession undoes the consequences (especially the ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES) of disobeying the commandments.

And that’s why we should go—frequently.

Do you?