Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time B
A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments
with her very young class.
with her very young class.
After explaining, “Honor thy father and thy mother,”
she asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us
how to treat our brothers and sisters?”
Which is when a little boy from a big family immediately answered,
“Thou shall not kill.”
If Jesus were taking questions today,
chances are he wouldn’t be asked,
“Which commandment is the most important?”
Much more likely would be,
Why are there so many commandments?
Why are there commandments at all?
Couldn’t we drop just a few? (And I’ve got suggestions!) (cf. G. Rutler)
The scribe who approaches Jesus in the gospel
is someone who clearly
knows and loves the commandments.
He already knows the answer to his own question.
Every Jew did—and still does—
because it is repeated daily:
Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad;
“Hear, O Israel:
the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”
Twice each day—at its beginning and its end—
this statement of faith
is dutifully recited from memory.
So…why did the scribe ask?
Maybe he recognized in Jesus
someone who knew and loved the commandments
even more than he did;
maybe the scribe recognized an opportunity
to keep these from being just another string of well-worn words,
but to find in them a message
with the power to change his life—
even to change the world.
I am the product of 22 years of Catholic education—
for which I’ll be forever grateful.
I’ve earned three separate degrees in religious fields.
And yet—I’m embarrassed to admit—
I can’t list the Ten Commandments in order—
never could, actually.
You see, I grew up in an era
(one which I don’t believe is quite over yet)
when religious education spent a lot more time
on creative craft projects than teaching creeds.
Memorizing things—like the sacraments or the commandments,
like works of mercy or gifts of the Holy Spirit—
simply wasn’t a priority.
And I—along with a few generations of Catholics—
suffer for it still.
The Catholic faith, of course, is much, much more
than a series of memorized prayers and lists.
But—like the alphabet or multiplication tables
when it comes to general knowledge—
such carefully studied religious knowledge is absolutely foundational
to a truly adult and flourishing faith. (cf. D. Impasto)
Take the Lord’s Prayer, for example.
It’s certainly not the only way in which I pray.
But it does set a pattern;
it has taught me how—like Jesus—to approach my heavenly Father.
And in those moments when words escape me—
times when prayer is generally needed most—
it provides me with a sure and comforting way to speak to God.
One of the reasons we need a new evangelization—
why our Pope has called for the current Year of Faith—
is that so many Catholics these days know so very little
when it comes to the fundamentals of our tradition.
In the greatest of his commands God has asked for our all…
…and yet part of us wonders, “What’s the least it’ll take to get by?”
We human beings tend to look for shortcuts;
we try to jump ahead to the happy ending.
And so we’ve attempted to hand on the faith
without all that much serious study or disciplined practice.
The result? A fast-growing religious illiteracy.
Studies show that U.S. Catholic youth
now rank lower in religious knowledge
than any other group—including nonbelievers. (cf. Gallup, Pew, CARA)
It’s little wonder so many wander away!
The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way!
We can change this!
As individual Catholics, as a Church,
we must be well-grounded in the basics
before we can make any real progress;
souls must first have firm footing
if we truly want to see them soar. (cf. N. Goldstein)
As famous convert G. K. Chesterton once put it,
“The point of having an open mind, like having an open mouth,
is to close it on something solid.”
When was the last time you made a personal effort
to learn something new about the faith?
When was the last time you went out of your way
to help a young Catholic do the same?
And why shouldn’t that be a regular part of our lives?
We should never settle for a purely “rote religion”—
one of rituals and repetition without any real depth.
But there’s a good reason we call it “learning by heart.”
Like the scribe in the gospel,
let us never tire of asking questions,
of looking for answers, of digging ever-deeper.
It’s evidence that we long to love God
with all our heart and soul and strength…
…and with all our mind as well.