“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” (Jn14:23-24) It’s a simple instructive; our obedience to our Heavenly Father is a sign of our love for Him. Our love for Him will be
reciprocated by love on His part for us; it’s not, however, that we’re earning God’s love, but as St. John reminds us elsewhere: He first loved us (1John4:19). Our love is a response to His and our response, according to God’s design, prompts a further response on God’s part. This continual reciprocity, give-and-receive, leads mysteriously into a deep union between lovers; in this case, between Creator and creature. We see it, however, on a more evident level between husband and wife. Their mutual giving and receiving leads to a continually deeper union between the two. Spouses begin to understand one another at a deeper level, know how the other things, anticipate one another in so many ways. The union of the two, “one soul in two bodies” as St. Gregory Nazianzen describes it, forged by the exchange of vows, is realized over time by the continual exchange of love.
What is perhaps horrifying is that, conversely, there’s a way in which we can choose not respond to the love of the Father and not keep His words. Our Lord is clear: if we don’t keep the Father’s words, we don’t really love Him. He loves us, but we don’t respond to the invitation, and the circle of giving and receiving which God desires us to enter into is stopped, and only because of our free choice, not God’s. The Father wishes that we would enter into this mysterious exchange, leading ultimately to our greatest happiness, but we refuse. This is the surprising reality of our existence: God has created us with the option to reject Him, our Creator! Should this decision be made permanent by death, this rejection of God’s freely-offered, perfectly-fulfilling love for us becomes eternal. Dante’s Divine Comedy and C.S. Lewis Screwtape Letters both show explicitly and creatively how God becomes the enemy, but the damned refuse to accept the reality which is obvious to everyone else; namely, they’ve done this to themselves.
There’s a clear conditional in the expression of our love for God: if you keep my word. But what does it mean to “keep God’s word”? What is “God’s word”? The obvious answer would be Sacred Scripture, but how do we “keep” Sacred Scripture? It’s obviously not about just making sure you’ve got a Bible around the house, so that, should the Lord ask us at our judgment, we can say, “Yes, Lord, I kept a copy of the Bible on the shelf.” The Lord will certainly respond, “I didn’t just want to make sure you had a copy on your shelf, but that you had it in your heart as something that influenced you from within.”
It’s not a popular thing to say nowadays, but the 10 Commandments, given by God to the Israelites through the service of Moses, was known as the Decalogue, literally, the “10 words.” This is the core of the “words” which God expects us to keep. Our Lord, the Word-made-flesh, said, “I came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it”(Mt5:17); Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt5:19)
If we want to respond to the love of the Father with our own expression of love, it involves an acceptance and living out of the 10 Commandments; this is the explicit testimony and teaching of God-made-man. As we consider the “10 Words”, which have served as a constant framework for the Church’s moral teaching, it’s clear that our service of God is to take priority above all things. In reflecting upon my path to the priesthood, I often recall that it wasn’t until high school that I realized certain Catholics didn’t go to Mass on Sundays because, growing up, my parents never gave us the choice; thanks be to God for the habit which they instilled in us! We were at Mass every Sunday without exception, no matter what was happening…no options, no alternatives, no debating! Sadly, such a habit is not always instilled in our young people. So many things stand in the way of our presence at Sunday Mass. The Church’s teaching on attendance at Sunday Mass, however, is clear and unchanging:
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.(CIC, 1247) …The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation…Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin. (CCC, 2180-2181)
Yet, how often so many can find an excuse for why we “cannot” attend Sunday Mass. Further, the 3rd Commandment is directly attached to the 1st Commandment of having no other gods besides the one true God. God, as our Creator, has given us – for our own good – the command to not put other things above or in place of Him. One way to concretely express this is in our giving Him adoration and worship on the one day every week He has selected and in the manner which He has asked of us. Yet, when we don’t give Him that, we aren’t just ignoring Him; we’re putting other things in His place and thus violating 2 Commandments. In the words of today’s Gospel, we’re not keeping His words. Following our Lord’s logic, we, therefore, do not really love God; no matter how we protest, it’s unquestionably true.
A friend and I were recently discussing the current cultural challenges which the Church faces; among these challenges is the simple practice of Sunday worship, which the culture is actively seeking to destroy in the collective Christian mentality. How many events have been placed on Sundays – sports, shopping, parties, etc. – and how many Christians sadly use such excuses for not attending Sunday Mass because they “have to” do something else. We seem to have let the culture take away that which should be most important to us: the worship of God on His day! Even worse, we Christians even sometimes promote it or at least encourage it in our lives and in the lives of others. Even the rearranging of our schedules to “fit Mass in” around other things on a Sunday seems to be the slippery slope by which we fall into an accommodation to that anti-Christian mentality.
While, there are admittedly 8 other “words” which the Lord gave to Moses, the constant refrain of Sacred Scripture makes clear that love of God is first, and should be exercised with all our heart, our mind, and our soul (see Matthew 22:37). In order to be those who truly love God, true followers of Jesus Christ, we must take His words seriously, because we know the standards by which we will be judged, and there’s no excuses for us Christians “not knowing” the questions on the final exam.