Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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The Question Box
by Father I.J. Mikulski
(From the June 9, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
Q. Why do Catholics and Protestants disagree on such basic Bible texts as God’s Ten Commandments? We shouldn’t be concerned about putting the Ten Commandments on court house lawns or in buildings until both sides agree on what those Commandments say. Right?
A. Which set of commandments do you mean? Exodus (Chapter 20) has 17 entries. Deuteronomy (Chapter 5) has 21 entries. Apparently someone has been tampering with the original list of laws Moses brought from the mountain top. Right?
Most scholars agree that all the original commandments were as brief as those prohibiting murder, adultery, stealing and false witnesses. Those are direct “Thou shalt not....” The others may have been padded a little when they were used as homily material.
Besides that, other legal codes pre-date that neat list of commandments Moses received from God. The Code of Hammurabi, for instance, was prominent during the golden age of the Babylonian empire (a little south of modern Baghdad) about 1700 BC and shows some parallels in the list of commandments we find in Exodus and Deuteronomy about 1000 BC.
Please don’t stir up a Catholic-Protestant squabble over who has the “right” list in the “right” order. Different lists may have different sequences, but it’s more important to observe them than to debate them. We should add one more. “Thou shalt not be a nitpicker in the law of the Lord.”
Q. How are the readings at Mass are selected? We cover the Bible in a cycle every three years. Who makes those choices? I have been an assigned reader, usually for the first reading, for many years. I don’t understand the connection.
A. Consider the odds of matching a single theme for each of three readings every week for 156 Sundays. We’re on a three-year cycle. There aren’t enough topics in the Bible to line up 156 selections from the Old Testament with 156 matching themes from the New Testament and yet another 156 related ideas from the Gospels and fit them all together into a single theme composite. That’s asking for 468 excerpts fitted into a puzzle. It’s like trying to march samples of prints, stripes and paisleys with solids, plaids and checkers to fill 468 patterns and still look good.
However, you will find a common theme topic with the first Reading from the Old T., that’s yours, and the third Reading, the Gospel, that’s the priest’s. Those two usually match. However, it’s a stretch getting the second Reading, often an excerpt from one of Paul’s letters, to fit the main theme of the other two.
Q. Do you think we are losing our sense of sin? Some people, like professional psychologists, say we’re falling out of touch regarding the difference between right and wrong.
A. If we’re in a downward spiral it’s been coming for a long time and still has an indeterminate way to go.
The late granddaddy of American psychiatry, Dr. Karl Menninger, made the same observation about 30 years ago. His classic book, Whatever Became Of Sin, defined it: “The wrongfulness of a sinful act lies ... in an implicitly aggressive quality ... breaking away from God and the rest of humanity, a partial alienation or act of rebellion.”
He said it’s the direct opposite of being in love. Grace and sin cannot co-exist in the same person at the same time. Sin is a deliberate act of infidelity to God’s grace that is love. Sin is not just breaking a commandment, like a traffic violation, for which we get ticketed. Sin has an element of defiance about it, fracturing love, the greatest human emotion. “The greatest of these is love,” wrote St. Paul.
Sin is not wrong because it’s forbidden. Sin is forbidden because it always causes damage. Sin is not good for us.
Reconciliation is possible, of course, like two lovers making up. We have been assured that the grace of God is always ready and willing to make the first move. Catholics have a huge advantage with the sacrament of reconciliation and even the first desire to use it is itself a grace from a loving God. Good solid theology is also good solid psychology.