The following is the text of the homily given by Deacon Pat Hessel at Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove on the weekend of March 6-7, 2021:
In today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus, God gives the Israelites the Ten Commandments. I learned the Ten Commandments in first grade. Ours was a small school in a dairy farming area. The eight grades were in three rooms with three teachers – Franciscan nuns. Sister V. taught first and second grades. When Sister V. entered the Franciscans, the military lost an excellent potential drill sergeant. You would think that they would want to introduce young minds and hearts to the world of education with someone who was warm and fuzzy. That was not Sister V.
But she taught all of us the Ten Commandments. And she did it by teaching us this song:
First, I must honour God
Second, honour his name
Third, honour his day keep holy, this will be my aim
Fourth, I must be obedient
Fifth, be kind and true
Sixth, be pure in all I say and see and hear and do
Seventh, I must be honest
Eighth, be truthful in all things I say
Ninth, be pure in mind and heart, in all I think and desire each day
Tenth, I must be satisfied, not be jealous come what may
These are God’s Ten Commandments; these I must obey.
These are God’s Ten Commandments; these I must obey.
Now parents, if you want to use that song to teach your children the Ten Commandments, just go to the parish website and watch the recording of today’s (this weekend’s) Mass. If you can’t make out the words, just drop me an email.
The Commandments reveal an timeless wisdom, and a profound understanding of human nature. The first three address our relationship with God. And that makes sense. All of our actions – good or bad – should be viewed in the context of our relationship with God. The last seven Commandments that address the ways we interact with other people, flow from the way we interact with God.
When we look at the last seven, we find that they capture the ways we fail, or succeed in loving our neighbours. So, learning the Ten Commandments is really important. Reviewing them should be part of our daily examination of conscience. So kids, learn the song.
Our attention to the Commandments is especially important during Lent. During Lent, we’re challenged to look at our spiritual lives, and try to do better. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – the three anchors of our Lenten observance – are not practiced for their own sake; we don’t go without certain foods just to experience hunger. Our Lenten disciplines are meant to bring us into a closer, loving relationship with God, with God’s people, and God’s world.
You hear so often from me, Father Paul, Father Joselito, and Deacon Wes, that we’ve got to do better at this – observing the Commandments and avoiding sin. And I think I would be correct in saying that in at least half of Deacon Hyland’s homilies, he encouraged us to go to confession. Well, it’s our job to say these things to you.
But I think there’s a danger that when we’re told over and over to do better, what we might hear is: “You’re doing really badly.” I sometimes fear that our attempts to encourage adherence to God’s teachings conveys an underlying sense that we’re deficient, inferior – that we just don’t measure up. And I’m afraid that some just give up and stop trying. I don’t know if you ever feel that way, but you can understand how people could interpret the message to improve their spiritual lives as a criticism, rather than an effort to lift them up. So, how do we get this right?
I think it’s helpful to consider bowling and golf. When you bowl, you roll a ball down an alley and try to knock over as many pins as possible. There’s five-pin bowling and ten-pin bowling. We’ll talk about five-pin. If you get all five pins down, it’s called a strike, and you get 15 points plus what you score on the next two balls. If you get a strike on the next two balls, you get a total of 45 points for the first frame. There are 10 frames, so the maximum score is 450. That’s a perfect game. You simply can’t do better than 450 – it’s perfect. And people bowl perfect games. It’s not common, but it’s not unheard-of.
Golf is different. A theoretical perfect round of golf would be a score of 18: 18 holes in one in one round. And that’s impossible – can’t be done. The lowest round of golf ever recorded on the major tours is 58, and that’s been done only three times in all the millions of rounds played.
Would a golfer stop golfing if he or she knew they could never shoot a score of 18? Of course not. No one would ever golf if that were the case. I keep playing golf, and I’m lucky if I break 100. But even though I’m a pretty miserable golfer, I keep trying to get better. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Our life with the Lord is called the spiritual journey. And each of us is at a different place on the spiritual journey. The spiritual journey is not like bowling. We can’t reach spiritual perfection. It’s more like golf. We’re at a place in our life with the Lord, and hopefully, we keep trying to get closer. But we never get there, at least on this side of the grave.
Each year, our Lenten discipline is meant to be a journey within a journey – a special time that moves our relationship with God forward. If we think about golf, Lent is like getting a lesson from a really good golf pro, or attending a golf clinic. It’s a way for us to make progress that we wouldn’t make if we just kept doing the same things we always do.
I remember once, many years ago, I bought a monthly pass at a golf driving range. I stopped almost every night on the way home from work and hit balls until I couldn’t lift my arms. I made the same mistakes over and over, and at the end of the month, I was very consistent at making the same mistakes.
Sometimes we need some outside help. On the spiritual journey, this could be a good confessor or a spiritual companion: someone who is understanding yet challenging – another set of eyes. I think most of us think about Lent as a “private exercise” – just me and God. Maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe we need to seek the wisdom and guidance of others. We all have access to the Formed website. It has lots of excellent ideas for renewing us on the spiritual journey during Lent.
The Ten Commandments are not a series of straight jackets that God cooked up to make us feel inadequate. They are ten blessings meant to lead us to a life of joy and freedom. When you receive reminders from people like me and Father to follow the Ten Commandments more closely, these reminders are not meant to belittle, but rather, to encourage our progress on the spiritual journey.
Every golfer can benefit from good practice and coaching, whether they’re a tour professional or a hacker, like me. And the same way, each of us on the spiritual journey – wherever we are on that journey – can and should take advantage of the opportunities to deepen our relationship with God by, among other things, learning to adhere more closely to the Commandments. During this special season, we are meant to make progress on our journey through the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. And we have so many other resources readily available to us.
We won’t arrive at Easter Sunday perfect – just better.