Homily no. 33 – ‘First Commandment’ (CCC 2083–2141)

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We launch ourselves today into an exploration of the Ten Commandments, those ancient commands that God gave to our Jewish forebears long ago, at the time of Moses, over 3000 years ago.  Yet, despite their antiquity, they are as relevant today as ever.  Pretty much most of our nation’s laws are (or were, traditionally) built on the commandments: laws regarding stealing, honesty, killing, keeping Sunday special, protecting faithful marriage etc.

The Commandments begin with the great statement of Jewish faith, the absolute commandment that precedes all the others, that the God who has revealed Himself to Israel is the One True God, and that there is not God besides Him.  This was the defining faith of Israel, that unlike the thought of the pagans around them, who all believed in a proliferation of gods and goddesses — think of all the gods the Greeks and Romans worshipped — Israel had come to know, from God Himself, that there was and could only be One God.  “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD” (Deut 6:4) forms the central faith statement of the Old Testament, around which is built all the rest.  Therefore, we as Christians too keep this 1st Commandment as implying that we must live for the one true God, and have no other make-believe gods to rival Him.  “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” 

So, we are forbidden in this first commandment to place anything else in our lives on a par with God; and we are duty bound to worship Him as our God and Creator.  This is only right and proper, since we are His creatures, the crowning glory of His Creation.  We only exist because He wishes us to.  Our whole lives and devotion should be turned towards Him.  Nothing else, and no-one else, is worthy of the absolute love and adoration that we give to Christ our Lord.  We pray to Him; we offer Him our sacrifices; we give Him the very offering of our lives; we make Him promises when are Baptized, Confirmed, when we marry, when a priest is ordained.  This we cannot ever do to anyone else.  Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of our total dedication to Him, above even our family members: “Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me.  Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me.  Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me.  Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:37–39).  And there are indeed times in life when, sadly, we might have to make that choice, that hard choice to prefer absolutely nothing else to our love for God.  If a family member is encouraging us to abandon or weaken the practice of our faith, or our children’s faith, then we need to hold firm; with kindness but with constancy, to stay faithful, to keep the faith.

More than this, of course, the 1st Commandment rules for religious freedom.  Every person on earth should have the freedom to worship God.  Even if a country enshrines within its constitution the following of one particular religion; yet its citizens should have the liberty to practise their religion.  Sadly in many countries, Catholics are restricted in their ability to meet and worship, or are even forbidden to practise their faith.  Yet even in those countries, bravely, the Church meets ‘underground’: even at danger to their lives, sometimes, priests and lay-people gather to worship God … keeping the 1st Commandment against all the odds.  Do we keep the 1st Commandment as fully, as courageously, as they?

Finally, some practices which are consequently forbidden by the 1st Commandment: the consulting of horoscopes, tarot cards, Ouija boards, mediums; or the use of astrology, crystals, Reiki, magic or witchcraft in any form.  All these things are opposed to our trust in the real, one, true God; they are not from Him.  All we need from Him is found here in our faith — the faith, hope and love that exist in our keeping devoutly the Catholic Faith is enough for us.  God in His wisdom has given us, from our Jewish beginnings

through to Christ and His Church, all that we need to live well.  “The Lord our God is the One Lord … You shall have no other gods but Him.”  


About Fr Philip Miller

I'm the Catholic Parish Priest at St Augustine's, Hoddesdon, Herts, UK, in the diocese of Westminster. This cycle of homilies is one of my contributions to this parish's life in the 'Year of Faith' (Oct 2012 - Nov 2013) called for by Pope Benedict XVI to renew the Church's understanding of the faith.
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