Oh, For the Love of God!
EDITOR'S NOTE: On Jan. 1 we began a 10-week countdown to the beginning of Lent. Ten weeks? Ten Commandments? Yes. In preparation for Lent, together let's make an examination of conscience by means of this weekly series of reflections on each of the Ten Commandments. The following is the last in the series:
By Chris Sparks
You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet ... his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. — Ex 20:17
"Covet." What on earth does it mean?
It means Ebenezer Scrooge! As Charles Dickens describes him in A Christmas Carol:
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.
Now contrast that unhappy man with the much beloved figure of our present pope. Pope Francis has captured the attention and imagination of the world for many reasons: his obvious humility; his simplicity of life and speech; his love for the ordinary people of God; his willingness to both speak of the issues afflicting those on the margins and to go straight to the margins himself. But perhaps the one thing underpinning all of his notable qualities is his embrace of Gospel poverty, summed up when he chose to take the papal name "Francis" after St. Francis of Assisi, one of the best loved saints in the Church.
Francis of Assisi, after all, is also called il poverello, the little poor man. Louis de Wohl wrote a great biographical novel about him called The Joyful Beggar. The world remembers the little poor man from Assisi with love, even when other Catholic clergy are viewed with contempt or suspicion. But why is poverty willingly embraced so powerful? What do people see in Christians who are faithful to this way of life?
They see Jesus.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though He was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, He emptied Himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
He humbled Himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted Him
and bestowed on Him the Name
that is above every name,
that at the Name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. — Phil 2:3-11
We all as Christians are called to embrace poverty, but not everyone should seek to be poor in the same way. Some are called to sell all they have, give to the poor, and come follow Jesus in the religious life, like St. Anthony of Egypt, who heard the Gospel story of Jesus's words to the rich young man (see Mt 19:16-30) and heard in them his own personal vocation.
At the heart of the Gospel call to poverty is a call to generosity. As Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, puts it in The Three Ages of the Interior Life — Prelude to Eternal Life, a soul advances more or less swiftly along the road to holiness in proportion to its generous love of God and neighbor. We are to be open-handed and open-hearted, to pour ourselves out to others and for others, and gladly receive the charity of our brethren in return.
All of us are called to put people before profit, to love God first and everything else second, to be generous even to death on the cross (see Mt 16:24-26). We are called to love our neighbors, our fellow Christians, our family members, our friends, our enemies, the strangers and foreigners in our midst — our love and mercy is to be as wide as God's love and mercy. In fact, our love and mercy is supposed to be the same as God's. We are to live life in the Holy Spirit, our natural lives and selves raised up, transformed, transfigured by faith in Jesus Christ and receiving God through the sacraments of Holy Mother Church, as Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, explains so well in The 'One Thing' Is Three. We are called to be sons in the Son, inheritors of eternal life through the great gift of Jesus Christ, loving with the fire burning in His own Sacred Heart.
So why on earth would we covet our neighbors' goods? They possess created realities — we possess the Creator. They possess the shadow — we possess the ultimately real. To covet the goods of my neighbor is to make an idol out of those possessions, for we are putting stuff before the commands and the love of Jesus.
So Christians, replace covetousness with the generosity of divine love. Be greedy for good deeds secretly done, for lives quietly saved, souls subtly rescued, alms anonymously given, for the life and love of Jesus to spread throughout the world (see Lk 6:1-4, 16-18). Pile up for yourselves treasures in heaven, and let the light of the Holy Spirit shine before the world (see Lk 6:19-21). Boast of Jesus, and give Him away again and again to all who ask till fire is cast on the earth and all set aflame (see Lk 12:49). Replace that "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" within all of us with the bleeding-heart liberality of Jesus Christ (see Eph 4:17-24; Col 3:5-15).
Love. Give. And you shall receive God.
To learn more about the tenth commandment, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, articles 2534-2557.
1. I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides Me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.