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Enriching Dinner Conversations with the Commandments

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | May 06, 2024

Jesus teaches, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (Jn. 15:14) The Ten Commandments, applied with God’s grace, direct us to salvation and eternal glory. Discussing the Commandments as our firm first principles can even enrich dinner conversations. Maybe.

When we say, “Thou shalt not murder,” we oppose murder by anyone. Killing combatants in a just war is not murder, but targeting civilians is. “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself.” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 80) Even if our adversaries refuse to abide by the Commandments, we must obey God.

Are just-war dinner conversations discomforting? Remind agitated friends that most of our wars are over there, not here—at least for now. Except for soldiers—over there—questions of just war are not up close and personal. (“A gin and tonic would be fine, thank you.”)

The Eighth Commandment is always up close and personal: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” A lie is a false witness, an assertion that does not conform to the truth. The Eighth Commandment also protects a limited right to a good reputation. Violations of the Eighth Commandment seldom ruin dinner parties (provided we lie to keep the peace and engage in fascinating gossip).

Gossip isn’t necessarily a lie (slander). But some types of gossip (detraction) unjustly identify disagreeable traits and distort the ensemble of truth—including a person’s right to a good reputation. We have secrets we prefer to keep under wraps. Even the evangelists do not reveal the name of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus Himself warns, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt. 12:36-37) (“Pass the butter, please.”)

The Church’s inviolable “seal of Confession” anticipates natural and usually embarrassing secrets and protects our confessional privacy. A healthy sense of shame prevents us from condoning shameless behavior. Even spouses do not have a right to intrude upon the inner sanctuary of a mate’s soul. (“How was your confession, honey?” “None of your business, dear. More coffee?”)

As we overcome sins against the Sixth Commandment—typically the sins of our youth—the Devil often finds success in tempting us to violate the Eighth Commandment. As a prodigal son returns to the family of the Church, he too may encounter the sinful gossip of devout Catholics who make every effort to discover and spread the secret faults of the newcomer.

Gossip feels nice for a time because we convince ourselves our chatter serves a good purpose—and elevates our stature above that of our neighbor. A single disparaging remark can ruin a man’s reputation for years. Gossip can be more destructive than the sins of weakness violating the Sixth Commandment. “A worthless person digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire. A perverse person spreads strife, and a slanderer separates close friends.” (Prov. 16:27-28) Gossip wounds family, friends, and coworkers.

Like the woman caught in adultery, a person sometimes develops a bad reputation because of a sinful past. It may be true that a man is a drunkard—or was a drunkard. But unless justice demands the revelation, we do not have a right to spread the news. Gossip discourages repentance, affixes permanent stigmas, and disrupts peaceful living.

As respect for the Ten Commandments disappears from the culture, we have an ever-expanding pattern of dysfunctional families, broken homes, absent fathers, and serial adultery. Like the loving father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we must open our hearts to our returning wayward brethren, respecting their privacy.

Everyone needs a peaceful home. In our unique and peculiar sinful ways, we are also wayward sons who need the Heavenly Father’s mercy. We honor the Eighth Commandment—and the dignity of others—when we reject the temptation to gossip.

But silence may also violate the Eighth Commandment. Although sinful curiosity may lead to gossip, we often need to know the facts for reasons of prudence or safety. We need adequate information to form the foundation of correct judgments and the wisdom to know the threshold of gossip. Facts presented with fairness allow us to make accurate conclusions and serve justice.

Those living egregious, in-your-face, sinful lifestyles often label those who object as “judgmental.” But judge we must. God created us in His image. He hard-wired us to draw logical conclusions when presented with sufficient evidence. When the traffic light turns green, we accelerate.

Our judgments are “rash” when we rush to judgment without the facts. Juries are not “judgmental” when they convict criminals on the basis of evidence that establishes guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” We may loosely use the term “judgmental” to describe sinful hypercritical behavior. But as with “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the shapers of our culture have hijacked the meaning of the term to confuse and silence critics.

Many government officials, religious leaders, public school authorities, and others have histories of crimes and cover-ups. We have a right to information that protects us from various forms of exploitation and even violence. With God as our judge, we must reject sin and claim the right to defend ourselves from injustice.

Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you… This I command you, to love one another.” (Jn. 15:—17)

Protesters carry signs that read: “I stand with [fill in the blank].” A sign for every decent person could read: “I stand with the Ten Commandments.” Use the slogan as a dinner conversation ice-breaker. Hesitant? Then, practice during the Penitential Rite of the Mass and in the confessional.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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