The Ten Commandments forming our Conscience

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Do you have a dog? If you, do I’m sure your dog knows the following rules must be obeyed. The refuse-collector is not stealing our belongings. I must not stand straight up when I am lying under the coffee table. My head does not belong in the refrigerator. What do you think of the following rules for eating chocolate? We should eat more fruit; Chocolate-coated raisins, cherries, and orange slices all count as fruit, so eat as many as you want. We are supposed to eat a balanced diet so eating equal amounts of white and dark chocolate is a balanced diet.

The dog learned rules from the family. On the other hand, the rules for chocolate were twisting reason in order to allow one’s desires/feelings to be satisfied. What about our journey through life? How do we know how to live? Do we follow any twisted rules allowing us merely to indulge our desires/feelings? If we grew up on a desert island where the faith had never arrived we would still know some basic rights from wrongs. We call this Natural Law. Natural Law would help us to make decisions about right and wrong, even if we had no faith, e.g. not to take the life of another. Even if we grew up in a desert island where the faith had not arrived, we would have a conscience though not fully developed, and Natural Law would help us make decisions about living.

We did not grow up in a desert island where there is no faith; we were privileged to grow up as sons and daughters of God since we were baptized. Being a son or daughter of God is so great a grace, we cannot find words to express thanks to God for his generosity in making us part of his family. Being a son or daughter of God is who we are every moment of every day. It is not just who we are for one hour in the week. It is a privilege we enjoy every hour of every day. If you know who you are you will know how to act. If we really know we are sons and daughters of God we will know how to act. If we really knew in our heart of hearts how much God loves and desires our love how differently we would live. But we can sometimes be so superficial, hurrying through life without thinking very much about how we are, how we got here or where we are going.

How does a son or daughter of God live? The Natural Law and partly formed conscience are not enough to give us guidance to live as sons and daughters of God. It is possible for our conscience to be mistaken. The money changers and animal sellers in the Gospel made an error of judgment about what they could do in the temple but Jesus corrected that situation (John 2:13-25). Our conscience can be influenced by society around us, by what we read and see on TV. Our conscience can become polluted. With a mistaken conscience we might make up rules for living that are twisted, like those rules for eating chocolate that enable one to follow their desires/feelings. We might be changing money and selling animals in the temple of our lives thinking to ourselves that everything is fine but in fact we need Jesus to show us what is right from wrong (John 2:13-25). In the second reading Paul told the Corinthians that some people did not realize who Jesus really was; the Jews thought a crucified Messiah was an obstacle and the Greek thought it was madness but Paul assures the Corinthians that Jesus was the answer to their longing for power and wisdom (1 Cor 1:22-25). It is God who shows us who we really are, his beloved, and God also shows us how to live as his below. To help us know how a son or daughter of God lives, to form our conscience, God has given us the Commandments as we heard in our first reading (Ex 20:1-17).

  1. A son or daughter of God is one who worships God alone and does not worship other things such as pop idols, sports stars, money, possessions, sex, flashy cars as # 1 in their lives. God comes first, and not only first, we worship only God.

  2. A son or daughter of God does not take the name of God in vain because a son or daughter of God loves God so much that he or she would not want to hurt God and disrespect God by disrespecting God’s name.

  3. A son or daughter of God would keep Sunday as God’s day, by attending the celebration of the Eucharist and refraining from working unnecessarily and not using Sunday as a day for catching up on work not done during the week.

  4. A son or daughter of God would honor his/her parents and those in authority over him/her such as teachers and the police force; and those in authority show respect to and treat those under their authority kindly. In his 1994 Letter to Families Pope John Paul II stated that the fourth commandment indirectly asks parents to honor their children. Parents should act in such a way that they deserve to be honored. (Letter to Families §15)

  5. A son or daughter of God would respect all life as from God and would not harm or kill life anywhere in or outside the womb.

  6. A son or daughter of God would not commit adultery but show respect for the vows that the married couple made to one another and to God on the sanctuary.

  7. A son or daughter of God would not steal, or cheat or defraud.

  8. A son or daughter of God would not tell lies, because Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44; Acts 5:3). A son or daughter of God lives in the truth because God is truth (John 3:33).

  9. A son or daughter of God would not be jealous of the success or good fortune or possessions of others because he or she would realize that he/she has also been lavishly blessed by God and has much to be grateful for. A son or daughter of God would thank God for the success and blessings of others.

  10. A son of daughter of God would not covet his neighbor’s wife or her husband because what God has joined we must not separate. A son or daughter of God, a mother-in-law or father-in-law, would not interfere negatively in their son’s or daughter’s marriage but would do everything possible to help the married couple.

We are truly blessed. God has welcomed us as his sons and daughters on the day we were baptized. To help us live as his sons and daughters, God has blessed us with many ways of enlightening our conscience so that we do not suffer from a mistaken conscience and follow twisted rules for living like those rules about chocolate.  God gave us the Ten Commandments to teach our conscience how to live as his sons and daughters. Jesus came to give our conscience further enlightenment on how blessed we are as sons and daughters of God and how a son or daughter of God lives. Not only that, but God has even further blessed us by calling us to be members of his Church so that we can grow together as a family, his sons and daughters. To help us grow together as a family, his sons and daughters, God further helps our conscience to grow by speaking to us through the teaching of the Church so that we are never short of enlightenment as to how a son or daughter of God lives. The Ten Commandments, the teaching of Jesus, and the teaching of the Church, all help us form our conscience so that we can truly live as sons and daughters of God. As we journey through Lent let us allow the Lord to form our conscience so that we truly live as sons and daughters of God. As we form our conscience we may become aware of something inappropriate in our lives. If so, Lent is a time to remove whatever it is by making use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus removed the money changers and animal sellers from the temple (John 2:13-25) and he can remove anything inappropriate from our lives also this Lent. As we allow the Lord’s teaching to form our conscience, the response to today’s Psalm is indeed our response, “You, Lord have the message of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More related material for the Third Sunday of Lent Year B

Related Homilies: The Commandments - God’s Indicator Panel

stories about the Commandments

on Jesus’ justified anger, excerpt of Enjoying the Bible