It is such a moving moment that we have heard of there in the Gospel today (Lk 7:36–50). It’s a scene that I’ve often shown to parents’ groups before reflecting on the Sacrament of Confession, since it shows the exact nature of God’s forgiving love. To the woman who sought Him out, Jesus shows that her deep love has flowed from her being forgiven and her leaving her sinful life. Just this one episode ties together elements of our belief, worship and moral life. Jesus is the Son of God, the only God, who can forgive sins; He exercises that mercy on a woman who had repented and come to Him freely to seek forgiveness; her repentance helps others be taught by Jesus what it means to be loved by God and to love in return; and she is able to leave, forgiven, and set on a new path of moral goodness.
Just as Jesus is this compassionate teacher, giving this woman the chance for a new life of holiness, so the Church which Jesus inhabits, by His Spirit, acts in the same way, to bring us each to moral goodness. The Church is that community of faith that encourages the moral life, helping one another, and evangelizing at the same time. Together, as the Church, we can encourage one another to keep striving for holiness, to keep the commandments in full, and to witness to the fact that it is possible to live up to God’s ideal. A holy life spreads the Gospel! — if we live holy lives, then others will be helped to live a holy life too.
So, the Church, especially in the teaching office of Pope and bishops (which we call “the Magisterium”), must teach as Christ did, explaining what it means to keep the commandments. The Church is both ‘Mother and Teacher’ to us, setting us on the right path in life. We should in all ways live the life set before us by the Church’s teaching. We should not deliberately dissent from any Church teaching, but see that it is truly set before us for our goodness and holiness. Just as a Mother and Teacher has sometimes to exercise restraint and discipline on her children, for their good, so also does the Church with us, pointing out our mistakes, setting us on our feet again, showing us the right way. This is because, as Mother and Teacher, she loves us: she wants us to be good, and not stray from the path to eternal life. In Catholic tradition we are taught the ‘Precepts of the Church,’ — these are the “indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer, the sacramental life, moral commitment and growth in love of God and neighbour”: (i) Sunday Mass and Sunday rest from work; (ii) “our Easter duties”: that is, Confession once a year and Holy Communion once a year during Eastertide; (iv) to keep the times of penance, and to abstain from meat on Ash Wed, Good Friday, and every Friday that is not a solemn feast; and (v) provide materially, according to our means, to the support of the Church.
The central teaching of the Church on the moral life is based on the Ten Commandments. The Catechism begins its treatment of the Commandments by quoting the account that St Matthew gives in his Gospel (ch. 19):
2052 “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” To the young man who asked this question, Jesus answers first by invoking the necessity to recognize God as the “One there is who is good,” as the supreme Good and the source of all good. Then Jesus tells him: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” and He cites for his questioner the precepts that concern love of neighbour: “You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. Honour your father and mother.” Finally Jesus sums up these commandments positively: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
As we touched on last week, Jesus does not do away with the Old Law — the Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments etc. — but cites them and shows their centrality. We cannot, and do not, as Christians, discard all that was given by God prior to Jesus; but we treasure it and hear it, and honour it as interpreted by the Son of God Himself. So, we have to hear and keep the Ten Commandments in accordance with Jesus’s will. We do not keep the Commandments out of fear, or simply because that’s what’s written down. We keep the commandments because we love God and would really want to do only what He wishes. In this sense, we keep the Spirit of the Law, that is, the Holy Spirit, who guides us by grace to keep the ‘letter’ of the Law, the Commandments.
2062 The Commandments properly so-called come in the second place: they express the implications of belonging to God through the establishment of the covenant. Moral existence is a response to the Lord’s loving initiative. It is the acknowledgement and homage given to God and a worship of thanksgiving. It is cooperation with the plan God pursues in history.
Here we see that same attitude that we saw in the Gospel. The sinful woman desired to live a good life in free response to the love shown by Jesus in His merciful call to her soul. We too, when our faith is deep enough actually to believe and sense the love of Our Lord for us, will try ever more fervently to learn the Commandments as taught us by the Church, and live that new, moral Christian life, for Him … for His sake … out of love for Him.