As we continue to consider the Ten Commandments, the road map given to us by God to help us to get to Heaven, Jesus teaches that these commandments can be understood as two expressions of love – for God and our neighbor. In Matthew’s Gospel, He teaches the following:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul,
and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
The first three commandments are directed toward the love of God and the following seven commandments are directed toward the love of neighbor. I would like to focus on the Fourth Commandment in particular this week. In beginning to address this commandment, the Catechism says the following:
The fourth commandment opens the second table of the Decalogue. It shows us the order of charity. God has willed that, after him, we should honor our parents to whom we owe life and who have handed on to us the knowledge of God. We are obliged to honor and respect all those whom God, for our good, has vested with his authority. (CCC 2197)
The Catechism explains how observance of this commandment extends beyond honoring and respecting our physical parents, but touches on the many and various types of relationships that exist in society and how they should be lived out according to our faith. One such relationship is that of “citizens to their country, and to those who administer or govern it.” (CCC 2199) In that regard, the Church reminds us of the obligation that exists on both sides. On the part of the government, care must always be taken so that no laws are established which are “contrary to the dignity of persons and the natural law.” (CCC 2235) Assuming that is the case, then citizens have the obligation to obey and collaborate with the government in securing the common good. However, the Catechism also makes it clear that as citizens, our “loyal collaboration includes the right, and at times the duty, to voice [our] just criticisms of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community.” (CCC 2238) Furthermore, the Catechism teaches us that “the citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospels.” (CCC 2242)
There is a lot to ponder here, and it is well worth our prayerful consideration of this important teaching. On the one hand, our general posture should be one of submission to authority, not always assuming that it is contrary to the common good. But we must not be naïve either, for there are indeed many laws which do threaten the fundamental rights of the human person, which then require our response, not simply to oppose those in authority as an end in itself, but to work for securing the common good and the respect of humanity.
This coming Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade which cleared the way to easier access to abortion in our country. The Catholic Church continues to remind us of our right and duty to decry this violation against human dignity of our most vulnerable, the children in the womb. Our efforts to address this sad situation is more than just changing laws, which is necessary. More fundamentally, it is about changing hearts so that our love of neighbor is shown in concrete ways to those who struggle with a pregnancy for which they do not feel prepared. When these women can experience a society that shows genuine love for them, they will have the courage to choose the great gift of life that has been given to them by God. In comparison, changing laws is much easier than changing the hearts in a society that has, in many ways, grown cold toward one another. Either way, much is asked of us as Catholics to ensure that our love of neighbor is something we actually live, not just simply profess.