The Rules of God’s House
For Catholic Christians, the rules of God's house are the Ten Commandments. That sounds easy enough. We are tempted to leave it at that saying: 'I'm basically a good person. I believe in God, I don't worship other gods, I rarely take His name in vain, I go to Mass, I rarely disobey my parents, hurt others, lie, cheat, steal, kill, or commit adultery.' But still we don't have peace of mind or spirit. Why not?
Most of us don't want to look at the Ten Commandments at a deeper level. We have a tendency to make excuses for sin or to pretend that something is not a sin when we know in our heart that it is. We also develop a certain blindness to sin when we are deeply immersed in it. When facing imminent death or a severe crisis, our hearts seem to return to the truth. We know we can’t fool God. And we know in the depths of our hearts what we have done to offend Him, what we must “get off our chest” to make things right. This is similar to what husbands and wives face when they know there is something in their relationship that is causing tension, something that must be addressed no matter how painful it is to face if the relationship is to continue. These tensions, these sins, won't give us peace until they are addressed. We know and God knows what needs repentance (what is causing the tension). All God expects is sincerity of heart to seek out these tensions (sins), to repent of them and to promise a renewed relation with Him.
So, what is at a deeper level in the Ten Commandments that might be destroying my relationship with God? The best list I have seen is an "examination of conscience" developed within the tradition of the Catholic Church. What I offer below is a list taken from several lists which will offer a guide from a long tradition of trying to discern rules for our moral life. Hopefully, it will help see how we have broken God's rules, lead us to repentance, and help us improve our relationship with God.
How have I violated the Ten Commandments?
Why the Ten Commandments?
EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE
The First Commandment
I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods beside me.
Have I replaced God with other gods, like money, sex, power, superstition, possessions? Have I performed my duties toward God reluctantly or grudgingly? Have I neglected my prayer life? Have I received Holy Communion or any sacrament in the state of mortal sin or without the necessary preparation? Have I violated the one-hour Eucharistic fast? Have I failed to mention some grave sin in my previous confessions? Have I seriously believed in something superstitious or engaged in a superstitious practice (palm-reading or fortune-telling for instance)? Have I seriously doubted a matter of faith? Have I put my faith in danger—without a good reason—by reading a book, pamphlet, or magazine that contains material contrary to Catholic faith or morals? Have I endangered my faith by joining or attending meetings of organizations opposed to the Catholic faith (non-Catholic services, freemasonry, New Age cults, or other religions)? Have I taken part in one of its activities? Have I received communion at a non-Catholic service? Have I spoken against the Faith? Have I denied or seriously doubted the existence of God? Have I despaired of God’s mercy? Have I been lukewarm in the practice of my faith? Have I tempted God by putting His goodness to the test? Have I committed the sin of sacrilege (profanation of a sacred person, place, or thing)?
The Second Commandment
You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
Have I failed to try my best to fulfill the promises and resolution that I made to God? Have I irreverently sworn or taken an oath in God’s name? Have I taken the name of God in vain? Have I made use of God’s name mockingly, jokingly, angrily, or in any other irreverent manner? Have I made use of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s name or another saint’s name mockingly, jokingly, angrily, or in any other irreverent manner? Have I been a sponsor in baptism or participated actively in other ceremonies outside the Catholic Church? Have I lied under oath? Have I broken (private or public) vows? Have I attended films or listened to music that is blasphemous? Have I been disrespectful at Mass?
The Third Commandment
Keep holy the Sabbath day.
Have I missed Mass on a Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation through my own fault? Have I failed to dress appropriately for Mass? Have I, without sufficient reason, arrived at Mass so late that I failed to fulfill the Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation? Have I allowed myself to be distracted during Mass, by not paying attention, by looking around out of curiosity, etc.? Have I caused another to be distracted at Mass? Have I performed any work or business activity that would inhibit the worship due to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the appropriate relaxation of mind and body, on a Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation? Have I failed to generously help the Church in her necessities to the extent that I am able? Have I failed to fast or abstain on a day prescribed by the Church? Have I made unnecessary demands of others that hindered them from observing the Lord’s Day?
The Fourth Commandment
Honor your father and mother.
For Parents: Have I neglected to teach my children their prayers, send them to church, or give them a Christian education? Have I given them a bad example? Have I neglected to watch over my children; to monitor their companions, the books they read, the movies and TV shows they watch? Have I failed to see to it that my child has been baptized, made his/her first confession and first Communion? Have I failed to see to it that my children have received the sacrament of Confirmation?
For Children: Have I been disobedient toward my parents or other lawful superiors? Have I neglected to help my parents when my help was needed? Have I treated my parents with little affection or respect? Have I reacted proudly when I was corrected by my parents? Do I have a disordered desire for independence? Have I done my chores? Have I neglected to show proper concern for family members in need? Have I failed in my duties as a citizen (paying taxes, voting, defending my country)? Have I failed to respect the rights and freedoms of others? Have I failed to visit and care for my aging parent(s).
The Fifth Commandment
You shall not kill
Have I easily gotten angry or lost my temper? Have I been envious or jealous of others? Have I injured or taken the life of anyone? Have I been reckless in driving? Have I risked my life and the lives of others by driving under the influence? Have I been an occasion of sin for others by way of conversation; the telling of jokes religiously, racially, or sexually offensive; dressing immodestly; inviting somebody to attend certain shows; lending harmful books or magazines; helping someone to steal, etc.: Have I tried to repair the scandal done? How many persons have I led to sin? What sin or sins were involved: Have I neglected my health? Have I attempted to take my life? Have I mutilated myself or another? Have I been drunk or used prohibited drugs? Have I eaten or drank more than a sufficient amount, allowing myself to be carried away by gluttony? Have I participated in any form of physical violence? Have I considered euthanasia, or suicide? Have I consented to or actively taken part in direct sterilization (tubal ligation, vasectomy, etc.)? Have I consented to, advised someone about, or actively taken part in an abortion? Have I caused harm to anyone with my words or actions? Have I desired revenge or harbored enmity, hatred, or ill feelings when someone offended me? Have I asked pardon whenever I offended anyone? Have I insulted or offensively teased others? Have I quarreled with one of my brothers or sisters? Have I been brutal towards animals? Have I been a racist in thoughts, word, or action? Have I discriminated against others because of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion? Have I, in anger, desired the injury or death of another? Have I hated anyone? Have I used rude, abusive language toward others?
The Sixth and Ninth Commandments
You shall not commit adultery. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
Have I willfully entertained impure thoughts? Have I dwelled on impure desires even though I may not have carried them out? Were there any circumstances that aggravated the sin: affinity (relationship by marriage), consanguinity (blood relationship), either the married state or the consecration to God of a person involved? Have I engaged in impure conversations? Have I started them? Have I looked for fun in forms of entertainment that placed me in proximate occasions of sin, such as certain dances, movies, shows, or books with immoral content? Have I immersed myself in pornography? Have I been involved with prostitutes or kept bad company? Have I placed myself in a proximate occasion of sin, such as sharing a room with a person I find sexually attractive, or being alone with such a person in circumstances that could lead to sin? Have I failed to take care of those details of modesty and decency that are the safeguards of purity? Have I failed, before going to a show or reading a book, to find out its moral implications, so as not to put myself in immediate danger of sinning and in order to avoid distorting my conscience? Have I willfully looked at an indecent picture or cast an immodest look upon myself or another? Have I led other to sins of impurity or immodesty? What sins? Have I committed an impure act? By myself, through masturbation? With someone else? How many times? With someone of the same or opposite sex? Were there any circumstances of relationship (such as affinity) that could have given the sin special gravity? Has this illicit relationship result in pregnancy? Have I done anything to prevent or end that pregnancy? Do I have friendships that are habitual occasions of sexual sins? Am I prepared to end them? In courtship, is true love my fundamental reason for wanting to be with the other person? Have I put the person I love in danger of sinning? Have I engaged in acts such as “petting,” “necking,” passionate kisses, or prolonged embraces? Have I committed homosexual acts? Have I sexually abused someone?
Married People Have I, without serious reason, deprived my spouse of the marital right? Have I claimed my own rights in a way that showed no concern for my spouse’s state of mind or health? Have I betrayed conjugal fidelity in desire or in deed? Have I taken “the pill” or used any other artificial birth-control device before or after new life had already been conceived? Have I, without grave reason, with the intention of avoiding conception, made use of marriage on only those days when offspring would not likely be engendered? Have I suggested to another person the use of birth-control pills or another artificial method of preventing pregnancy (like condoms)? Have I contributed to the contraceptive mentality by my advice, jokes, or attitudes? (On abortion, contraception, sterilization, etc.) Have I exposed children to indecent movies or television programs?
The Seventh and Tenth Commandments
You shall not steal. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
Have I stolen from an individual or from the workplace? How much money? Or how much was the object worth? Have I given it back or a least have the intention of doing so? Have I done or caused damage to another person’s property? To what extent? Have I harmed anyone by deception, fraud, or coercion in business contracts or transactions? Have I unnecessarily spent beyond my means? Have I spent too much money because of vanity or caprice? Have I given alms according to my capacity? Have I been envious of my neighbor’s goods? Have I neglected to pay my debts? Have I knowingly accepted stolen goods? Have I desired to steal? Have I given into laziness or love of comfort rather than diligently to work or study? Have I been greedy? Do I have an excessively materialistic view of life? Have I wasted or damaged the goods of others; wasted time? Have I cheated others? Have I exploited those who work for me? Have I damaged private or public property or defaced it with vandalism? Have I gambled with funds necessary to pay my obligations to family, my own welfare, or for providing for the poor? Have I engaged in business fraud? Have I shared my wealth (time, talent, treasure) with the poor?
The Eighth Commandment
You shall not bear dishonest witness against your neighbor.
Have I told lies? Have I repaired any damage that may have resulted as a consequence of this? Have I unjustly or rashly accused others? Have I sinned by detraction, that is, by telling the faults of another person without necessity? Have I sinned by calumny, that is, by telling derogatory lies about another person? Have I engaged in gossip, backbiting, or tale-telling? Have I revealed a secret without due cause? Have I willingly listened to the defaming of another? Have I judged others rashly? Have I boasted or bragged to elevate myself at the expense of others? Have I kept professional secrets?
Reading a detailed view of the Ten Commandments can be overwhelming. In our culture it is so easy to become calloused to His rules. We easily make excuses for our behavior or drown out the voice of our consciences with noise, drugs, or continually breaking the rules. Soon we lose a sense of offending God and become insensitive to His rules.
Working on our relationship with God is like working on our relationship with our spouse. We need to continually work on reconciling conflicts, disagreements, hurts, etc. to maintain a happy marriage. So, in our relationship with God we need to do the same. If we look over the list of God’s rules we can develop a sensitivity to how we might offend Him. Then, when we realize that we have offended Him, we can repent to maintain a good relationship. I suggest a quick apology and saying the Prayer of Repentance (Act of Contrition). Following this, if a serious sin (mortal) is involved, we need to confess our sins to a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving the Eucharist. If the sin is in not as serious (venial), we need to confess our sin at our next confession. I recommend at least a monthly Reconciliation.
The problem is, like in any relationship, saying we’re sorry over and over (whether by an act of contrition or Reconciliation) becomes meaningless unless we are taking some action to stop offending the other person. We are fortunate that God is patient and loves us with a patience far beyond that of any spouse. Still, we need guidance to help us stop breaking the same rules. Carefully choosing a spiritual director or regular confessor who has demonstrated success in helping others to avoid breaking the rules will help. We need to seek guidance on a regular basis to make progress. This will have two benefits: (1) We will have a plan to develop a better relationship with God; (2) We will be taking a spiritual shower by repenting on a regular basis washing away the dirt of sin and learning how to stay cleaner before our next shower. This process will lead to true conversion, a change of heart, a radical reorientation of our entire life away from sin and evil, and toward God. There will be no doubt in God’s mind that we love Him and are trying to make our relationship with Him better all the time.