“If repentance is the foundation of the spiritual life, the commandments are the entryway.”Introduction to the Spiritual Life, 160.
+JMJ+ Welcome to part 5 of our Catholic Book of the Month where we are using Brant Pitre’s book, Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, as our guide on our Quest for holiness and to become saints. Yes, SAINTS. Last week Dr. Pitre showed us that before we can begin our journey in earnest, we have to repent, but that is not enough. We also have to remove mortal sin from our lives.
“If you have broken any of the Ten Commandments and have not yet repented, then you’ve not even really begun the journey home to the Father’s house. You are either stuck on the path or (more likely) going backward.”Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, 157. (The page numbers I’m using are given in the EPUB edition of the book and probably don’t correspond to the print edition numbers. I’ve got a print copy now, so later I’ll go back and put those page numbers in the posts, too.)
By the way, there’s more in the book than I can cover in these posts. You can get a copy of your own in hardcover or Kindle ebook format using the links at the end of this post. View other parts of the series on the annotated Table of Contents page.
“But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” These are Jesus’s words to the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:17.
Dr. Pitre calls on the great saints and spiritual masters and writers of the Church’s long history to show us how to live the spiritual life. Here he calls upon three of these great writers, St. Benedict, Thomas a Kempis, and St. Francis de Sales, pointing to the necessity of observing all of the commandments, and that humility is the key to doing so.
“The first step towards humility is to keep the fear of God in mind at all times. There must be absolutely no room for forgetfulness, and one must always remember everything that God has commanded.” CITE Benedict, St., The Rule of Benedict (Penguin Classics), 7, Humility.
(Note that the commandments meant here are what we Christians generally call the Ten Commandments, not the myriad commandments of the Jewish ritual law.)
In this chapter Dr. Pitre takes a look at the Ten Commandments as a “spiritual path that leads to love rather than hatred, life rather than death.” (162, emphasis mine.)
I’ve had non-Catholic Christians tell me that Christians don’t have to follow the Commandments because we’re under the New Covenant, sometimes they call it a New Dispensation. But this is a mistake and a drastic one. We are under the New Covenant, our baptism entered us into it. But this covenant has rules for remaining in the covenant with the Lord, and these are the Ten Commandments, which keep us holy. If we keep the Commandments, they keep us in the Covenant. (See Exodus 19:5-6.)
The Ten Commandments are arranged purposefully: the first tablet shows us how to love the Lord, the second tablet shows us how to love our neighbor. Ignore these rules for relationship and you pile up a heap of troubles for yourself, troubles that may very well follow you beyond this life.
Walking in The Way
We’re used to hearing Christ referring to Himself as The Way, and Christianity was called The Way early on. But this is language with which the Jews of the Old Testament would have been very familiar, and the word for “sin” in Hebrew (chata’) means “to miss the mark” or “miss the path.” (See p. 173.) It doesn’t take much thought to see that breaking the commandments means straying from the path that leads to life. And breaking one of these Commandments was a mortal sin which carried a punishment of death.
Where does Jesus talk about the Commandments?
The Rich Young Man asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life and Jesus tells him to keep the Commandments. Jesus answers by reciting the Commandments of the second tablet. According to Jesus Himself in the Sermon on the Mount, keeping the commandments is a necessary first step on his path, they are the way to love God. So much for the argument that He freed us from following them. How can we be freed from the necessity of loving God? Why would we want to be? (I have an answer to that: in order to cling to our sins in the false notion that this way lies freedom. But, of course, the only thing that lies that way are lies, and real freedom isn’t found in lies.)
Further, Jesus calls us to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. We are to love those who do not love us. Dr. Pitre says here that the “essence of keeping the commandments…is learning to love our enemies like the heavenly Father does.” (See p. 183.)
Other New Testament Writers on the Commandments
Both Paul and John write about the necessity of keeping the Commandments.
“Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing: but the observance of the commandments of God.”1 Corinthians 7:19
“For this is the charity of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not heavy.”1 John 5:3.
We see that to the early Christians, as far back as the New Testament writers as well as to Jesus, following the way means keeping the Commandments, and straying from the way is mortal sin and leads to death, spiritual death. To break them deliberately is the opposite of the way to follow Jesus.
Video below, The First Point – The Daily Prayer of Discernment: Examen Prayer, Fr. Timothy Gallagher
Christians have for many centuries practiced the Daily (or Nightly) Examen, a way to examine one’s conscience to see if one is still walking on the path or if one has begun to stray. Above is a video about the Examen by a well-known priest who has given many spiritual retreats on Ignatian spirituality and has appeared on EWTN and the Discerning Hearts podcast many times.
Next time: The Three Temptations.
Thanks for joining me on the Quest. I pray that you and I will stay holy and virtuous during this new year, and help each other to become who the Lord intends us to be: SAINTS. God bless you and may His Peace be always with you. +JMJ+
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“The Rosary is the ‘weapon’ for these times.” — Padre Pio
Notes and Links
- The Catholic Book of the Month for January 2022 is Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre: Hardcover, Kindle. (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.)
- There are a lot of books on the spiritual life listed in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s audio course on Spiritual Theology. There are links in that post for some of those books in PDF format for free at archive.org.
- The Rule of St. Benedict, Various free formats at archive.org, public domain. Here’s the PDF with the examen that I posted, page 21.
- The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola: Various free formats at archive.org, public domain.
- The First Point – The Daily Prayer of Discernment: Examen Prayer with Fr. Timothy Gallagher, video.
Image: In the banner, same one the cover of the book uses: The Road to Emmaus (or The Way to Emmaus), by Robert Zund, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Christ and the Rich Young Man, by Heinrich Hofmann, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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