The Law has not been abolished, but rather man is
invited to rediscover it in the person of his Master who is its perfect
(Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2053)
The Ten Commandments Song (Click
here to listen)
|First, I must honor God,
|Second, honor His Name,
|Third, on His day be holy, this will be my aim.
|Fourth, I must be obedient,
|Fifth, be kind and true,
Sixth, be pure in all I say and see and hear and do.
|Seventh, I must be honest
Eighth, be truthful in all things I say
|Ninth, be pure in mind and heart and all I think and desire
|Tenth, I must be satisfied, not be jealous come what may
|These are God's Ten Commandments,
|These I must obey.
The first three commandments teach
us how to love God with our hearts, minds, and hearts.
The last seven commandments teach us
how to love our neighbors as ourselves - the Golden Rule.
God gave us the 10 commandments at Mount Sinai. Jesus fulfilled these 10
commandments, summarizing them with the instruction to love God and to love
one's neighbor as oneself. How often we seem to shrug off the commandments
these days. We constantly hear the Lord's name being spoken when there is no
prayer intended! We hear people justify murder for their own convenience.
People feel justified in taking someone else's belongings. We are often
miserable in our selfishness, captives of the sin around us.
It is so wonderful to realize that God's commandments are merely instructing us
in obtaining complete freedom - freedom from sin. The commandments allow us
to respond to God's loving call in a way that is pleasing to Him and
spiritually fulfilling for us.
The numbering of the commandments has varied over the years. The current
Catholic numbering is based on the arrangement defined by St. Augustine. For
more information on the numbering of the Ten Commandments,
First I Must Honor God
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Land of
Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 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.
(Ex 20:2-5, Deut 5:6-9)
This first commandment tells us to have faith in God, hope in God, and to
love God. Faith, hope, and love - sounds familiar!
We must continually protect and nourish our faith. Doubt, heresy, and
neglect can all lead to a spiritual blindness from which moral delinquency
naturally follows. Living our faith leads us to bear witness to God.
Hope is the confident expectation of salvation. Failure to hope is to
despair. God is always present, so despair is opposed to God's eternal love,
justice, and mercy.
Presumption is also contrary to hope. There are two kinds of presumption
- depending too much on one's own abilities instead of trusting divine
assistance, and depending too much on God's mercy without converting oneself
We need to love God at all times. Indifference, laziness, ingratitude,
lukewarmness, and hatred of God are all contrary to the first commandment.
Sins against the first commandment
Most of us freely admit we love and honor God. It's not like we're
atheists or agnostics, who flagrantly oppose this commandment. It's one of
the easier commandments to keep, right? Maybe.
Do you read your horoscope? Are you superstitious? Do you enjoy
fortune-telling? These are some of the behaviors which may show a desire for
divine power to which humans are not entitled.
Do you put any interest above God? Money and possessions are obvious
choices, but what about an inordinate pride in your own abilities? Or a
desire to be right, even at the expense of love of neighbor?
There are many subtle ways to sin against the first commandment.
Persistence in learning about our faith and rejecting what is opposed to our
faith is necessary to love God. Awareness of and attention to God is a
Second, Honor His Name
You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in
vain. For the Lord will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain.
(Ex 20:7, Deut 5:11)
The second commandment tells us to respect God's name in everything we
do. Once we truly respect God, we find ourselves more greatly respecting
each other and all God's creation.
How do we start? Try beginning each day with the
Sign of the Cross, then
making sure to be respectful every time we speak of sacred matters. Sacred
matters include any time we speak of God, Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary,
saints, other religions, etc. It is important for us to realize that God has
given us a gift, the gift of allowing us to know Him. Knowing someone's name
allows a special relationship. We have that relationship with God.
Therefore, whenever we speak of God, or anything related to God, we must
glorify and praise Him.
The second commandment specifically addresses five ways of honoring God's
name: avoiding profanity, blasphemy, swearing, and cursing, and also by
keeping promises made in God's name.
Profanity refers to using the name of God, Jesus, Mary, and the saints in
ways that are disrespectful. Unfortunately, we hear it all the time. In the
grocery store, in Disney movies, on television, and even just walking down
the street, we hear "God" and "Jesus Christ" being said in ways that are
definitely not prayerful.
If you are in the habit of being profane, i.e. using God's name when not
in prayer, it is an important habit to break. It only takes a little effort
to change, and the change can even be fun. We like to think of all kinds of
new ways to exclaim pleasure, confusion, and frustration. It makes life much
Blasphemy is speaking against God, inwardly or outwardly. This includes
trivializing, degrading, or hating sacred persons or things. Of course it is
appropriate to question and debate religious topics. It is not okay to be
mocking or defiant. It is also blasphemous to use God or religious reasons
to oppress or in any way put down another person.
Swearing, or taking an oath, in God's name means to have God as a witness
to truth. This is a matter of utmost importance, and must never be used in
trivial circumstances. Perjury is a sin against this commandment, as is
accepting a false oath.
Sometimes people wish for bad things to happen to other people. They may
even try to actually bring evil onto another person. Trying to put this type
of curse on someone also is contrary to the second commandment.
It is important to keep promises, especially those made in God's name.
The second commandment tells us to have reverence in all speech, but most
importantly in speech that refers to sacred matters. In addition to keeping
ourselves accountable for what we say, we should also hold others
accountable for their speech. Sometimes it is best to simply be a good
example of truthfulness and respect in language. Other times protest may be
more appropriate. For example, avoid watching movies or television that have
inappropriate language. Communicating to Hollywood through the pocketbook
can be an effective tool to encourage better behavior. Trying to hold many
things sacred instead of holding nothing sacred can change our worlds.
Third, Keep His Day Holy
Take care to keep holy the sabbath day as the Lord, your
God, commanded you. Six days you may labor and do all your work; but the
seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord, your God.
(Ex 20:8-10a, Deut 5:12-14a)
The third commandment tells us to set aside one day each
week to rest, relax, be joyful, and give witness to our faith. Who can say
no to that?
As Catholics we are required to go to Mass every
Sunday and holy day of obligation. This is not just some idle rule. It is an
important part of our Catholic identity. We show we belong to a special
community, we share our hope in salvation, and we strengthen each other in
Sundays are intended to be set aside for God. This means we
need to thoughtfully consider how we spend our time each week. Do we
continue to work and ignore family or community obligations? Do we go out
shopping or participate in other activities which require others to spend
their Sundays caring for our needs?
Sundays are days of
holiness. Genesis tells us that even God took a day off to evaluate His
creation, seeing that it was good. We need to consider how we spend each
Sunday, and if we can in any
way enhance the holiness that is due God. After all, it was through the
example of God that we have a day of rest in the first place!
Fourth, I must be obedient
Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a
long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you.
(Ex 20:12, Deut 5:16)
Living the fourth commandment can be a challenge. As parents we are
called to respect the human dignity of our children, guiding their moral
development, caringly correcting them when necessary, and, most important,
frequently praising their good behaviors and accomplishments. As siblings we
are called to promote family harmony, patience, charity, and love between
all generations. As children we must respect and care for our parents,
especially as they age. These responsibilities require conscientious effort
and lots of prayer!
The commandment to be obedient is intended to help us recognize that we
are indebted to our parents. They have given us life. A majority of parents
work hard to care for and support their families. They may make mistakes,
but we need to accept them and love them despite the mistakes throughout our
This commandment also reminds us that parents have duties toward their
children. A healthy society is based on healthy families. It is within the
family that children learn moral values and virtues, such as
self-discipline, compassion, honesty, loyalty, and faith. Parents need to
practice the virtues themselves in order to properly educate their children.
The fourth commandment also refers to obedience to authorities besides
parents. Of course, all obedience to authority is dependent on the morality
of the request. For example, a government that requires abortion to maintain
population size must be resisted in any possible moral way. Under normal
circumstances, however, we are expected to obey authorities in our homes,
communities, and dioceses.
The fourth commandment teaches us how to be a "domestic church." Our goal
is to be the image of love that we find with the Trinity. It may sound like
a tall order, but when we all treat each other with respect and love, it is
The US Council of Catholic Bishops developed a Bill of Rights for
to read it.
Fifth, Be Kind and True
You shall not kill.
(Exodus 20:13, Deut 5:17)
Moses received the commandment "You shall not kill." This certainly
seemed like one of the easier commandments to obey, but Jesus made it a
little more challenging. He refined that commandment so we could learn to
truly love our neighbor. Not only are we to avoid committing murder, we are also
called to avoid anger and resentment, and we're even called to love and pray
for those whom we find it difficult to love, those who have hurt us or our
loved ones, those who may make life unpleasant.
The fifth commandment calls us to respect the dignity of all life. It is
through this respect of life that the Church guides us to carefully consider
our opinions of troubling social actions, including abortion, the death
penalty, euthanasia, suicide, scientific experimentation on living beings,
kidnapping, hostage taking, just war, legitimate defense, and even the care
of non-human beings.
For example, our Church challenges us to consider the fifth commandment
when developing our opinion of the death penalty. The Church recognizes that
evil must be punished in a way that is commensurate with the crime, however,
the punishment should be consistent in each situation. Is murder worse in Missouri than Michigan? Missouri is a
state that allows the death penalty; Michigan is a state which forbids the
death penalty. A murderer could receive the death penalty in Missouri, but
not in Michigan. The Church questions the
legitimacy of the death penalty because the severity of the crime, not the location of the crime, should
determine the severity of the punishment.
God created everything, and He created everything good; He created man in
His own image. Therefore, life has an inherent dignity that must be
protected from conception to the grave. Our dealings with others must be
based in love and respect.
For a powerful commentary on respecting life,
read Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life) by Pope John Paul II. Basic
Church teachings are available in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Sixth, Be Pure in
all I Say, See, Hear, and Do
You shall not commit adultery
(Exodus 20:14, Deut 5:18)
In the late 1990s Americans had the opportunity to thoughtfully discuss
the meaning of the sixth commandment, "you shall not commit adultery."
Instead, we spent hours discussing the meaning of the word "is." What a
shame! When we thoughtfully consider this commandment, we see it requires a
conversion of heart and a commitment to self-mastery and freedom that make a
discussion of "is" completely absurd.
The sixth commandment calls us to practice the cardinal virtue of
temperance, also called moderation. Temperance in our sexuality allows us to
love each other as beings made in the image of God.
Practicing temperance leads us to chastity, the "successful integration
of sexuality within...man in his bodily and spiritual being." (Catechism
of the Catholic Church #2337) Chastity allows us to freely take control
of our passions and find peace, rather than letting our passions take over
our freedom and lead us to unhappiness. Choosing chastity is not always
easy, and it does require effort, sometimes seemingly superhuman effort,
throughout our lives. However, making that effort is a gift we give to
ourselves. Through that gift we can build friendships based on mutual love
and respect. We can be in communion with one another.
There are a number of ways to sin against the sixth commandment, and they
always involve failing to respect sexual activity as a means of unifying and
procreating within the marriage covenant. These include: fornication (sexual
activity between people who are not married), lust (self-focused desire for
sexual pleasure), masturbation (deliberate stimulation of genital organs for
sexual pleasure), pornography (the display of sexual acts to third parties),
prostitution (the selling of one's body for sex), rape (forced sex on
unwilling partners). Homosexuality, adultery, divorce, polygamy, incest, and
living together as a married couple without being married are also
considered offenses to the sixth commandment.
In support of the sixth commandment we have the words of Pope John Paul
II. In many of his Wednesday audiences from 1979 to 1984, J. P. II discussed
human sexuality and how it should be integrated in the body, mind, and soul
of each person. We now call his vision Theology of the Body, and the ideal
is becoming more and more popular..
Click here to
read these discussions.
Seventh, I must be honest
You shall not steal
(Exodus 20:15, Deut 5:19)
The seventh commandment tells us not to steal. What may seem to be a
simple directive is actually a beautiful command to consider all aspects of
God's creation and treat that creation with love and respect. We are called
not only to avoid taking what belongs to another person, but we are also
called to share generously, care for the poor, keep promises, honor
contracts, work hard, pay what we owe, and ask just repayment of what is
owed to us.
The seventh commandment does not stop with the individual. The Church
recognizes the need for groups, businesses, and governments to respect the
individual's right to own property and to assist those who are in need. All
economic activity, whether local or global, should be focused on the common
good, not simply on economic profit. Included in the common good is
protection of the worker, which is vital for a stable, honest workforce.
Sinning against the seventh commandment involves any action which fails
to respect the goods and property of others. Theft, tax evasion, not
returning borrowed items, charging increased prices during time of need,
failing to pay just wages, breaking a contract made in good faith, cheating
at games, and gambling necessities rather than surplus are all prohibited by
the command "Do not steal." Even failing to perform work to the best of
one's potential is a sin against this commandment. That is certainly a
useful point when it comes to promoting homework!
In response to the
injustices of the nineteenth century Industrial Revolution, the Church
developed Catholic Social Teaching.
These principles continue to help guide us toward living just and charitable
lives within society.
Eighth, Be Truthful
You shall not bear false
witness against your neighbor
(Exodus 20:16, Deut 5:20)
Our eight-year-old wanted to know if it was a sin for our elderly
neighbor to tell everyone she is 39 years old. We told her, "No. That is a
figure of speech. She never expected us to take her seriously, and we never
The eighth commandment instructs us to always be truthful toward our
neighbor. Therefore, we are called to be completely truthful in everything
we say and do. That involves not only the intent to be sincere, but also to
exercise discretion, which ensures that truthfulness does no harm to another
Our first duty to the truth is to live a Christian life. We must always
seek truth, be a witness to truth in our words and actions, and accept the
obligations that are inherent in being truthful. At times this may seem
difficult. Living in a way that is opposed to the expectations of society
may leave us open to mocking, derision, punishment, and hate. Yet, if we do
not live the truth of our faith in our lives, it is unlikely we can follow
through and be truthful in other aspects of life.
There are numerous ways for us to sin against the eighth commandment.
- False witness - a false statement in court
- Perjury - a false statement under oath
- Rash judgment - assuming something bad about your neighbor
without sufficient evidence
- Detraction - disclosing the faults and/or failing of a person
to someone who was unaware of the faults and failings
- Calumny - making remarks that are contrary to the truth, thus
harming a person's reputation
- Flattery, adulation, or complaisance - using words or actions
that encourage someone to perform malicious acts or engage in
- Boasting - saying something to give others a high opinion of
- Lying - speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving
Sometimes it is important to share information, sometimes it is best to
keep quiet. Respect for another's privacy and the sake of the common good
are reasons to refrain from sharing information. Professional confidences
are another reason to keep quiet. The Seal of the Confession is probably the
best known professional confidence. Catholic priests are forbidden to
divulge what was told to them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. No other
group, including physicians, lawyers, and clergy from other religious
denominations, can be completely trusted to keep information secret.
Respect for the truth should be the basis for all our communications.
Jesus said it best, "... you will know the truth, and the truth will set you
free." John 8:32
Ninth, Be Pure in Mind and Heart
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife
(Exodus 20:17, Deut 5:21)
Whereas the sixth commandment is a commandment of action, telling us to
avoid committing impure acts, the ninth commandment is a commandment of
thought and reason. It challenges us to a complete conversion of heart, so
that not even a stray impure thought distracts us from following the will of
Unfortunately, purity sometimes seems like a battle. Grace from receiving
the sacraments can give us the strength we need to fight the battle. This
strength comes from:
- The virtue of chastity - the desire to love one another as God
loves us. This does not simply mean abstinence from sex; it does mean a
healthy balance between body and spirit.
- Purity of intention - the desire to fulfill God's will in
everything we do.
- Purity of vision - by seeing what leads us away from God, both
within ourselves and from the outside world, and choosing to follow God's
- Prayer - recognizing that all things are possible with prayer,
but very little is possible without prayer.
Tenth, I must be
You shall not covet your neighbor's
house...nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass,
nor anything that belongs to him.
(Exodus 20:17, Deut 5:21)
The seventh commandment forbids the actual taking of another person's
property. The tenth commandment goes a step further. It forbids the desire to
unjustly take another's
property. It's concern is the intention of the heart and the need to
experience peace and contentment in our lives.
The great offense to the tenth commandment is envy, that inner sadness
which results in a lack of love. With envy can come:
- Greed - the desire to have unlimited possessions
- Avarice - the passion for riches and power
- Injustice - harm to someone for the sake of material goods
can be twofold, i.e. material envy and spiritual envy. Material envy
refers to resenting the money, talent, good
fortune, etc. that another person has. Even worse is spiritual envy,
the resentment of people who are live holier lives than we are
can be combated by kindness and meekness.
Our family has had the advantage of the influence of the Franciscan
Sisters of the Eucharist for several years. These women work hard, pray
faithfully, and have few possessions. Nevertheless, they are some of the
most intelligent, happy, accomplished, charitable women one could hope to meet.
They give of themselves and show us how needless earthly possessions are for
our happiness. Our community is blessed to know them.