As we die with Christ, and rise with Christ, we encounter the reference we need to live the game of life

The article, “These are the things we need to consider in the Reno Diocesan Synod,” makes an interesting point about the Ten Commandments, as translated directly from the Hebrew. The Prologue to the Ten Commandments states:

Lancaster_County_Amish_03Moses summoned all Israel and told them, Hear, You who struggle with God, the customs, חֻקִּים and correct judicial precedents,מִּשְׁפָּטִים I proclaim in your hearing, this day, to learn them and guard to do them. The Personal Name cut a Social Contract with us at Horeb; not with our fathers did the Personal Name cut this Social Contract, but with us, all of us, alive, here, this day.

Seder plate smallThe interesting thing about customs חֻקִּים and judicial precedents מִּשְׁפָּטִים is that they develop over time. By definition, they could not have come directly to Moses at Horeb. How does Torah say this? All the customs חֻקִּים and judicial precedents מִּשְׁפָּטִים, which came over time, came at Horeb. This is because, as the Jewish people relive their salvation at Passover, and we relive ours in the Eucharist, we relive the Passover, the Passion event, again, for the first time, each time.

“These are the things we need to consider in the Reno Diocesan Synod,” makes the interesting case that customs, חֻקִּים, come from below. Judicial precedents, מִּשְׁפָּטִים, come from above.

“Called Together: An introduction to Ecclesiology” discusses a ‘60s dispute between Stanley Hauerwas and John Courtney Murray, S. J. We note how Hauerwas is a Mennonite. Those of us from Easter Pennsylvania note that the Mennonites are a group much like the Amish. They represent the emphasis on customs, חֻקִּים. They focus upon living their lives and letting their lives be examples to all people.

On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages and shot ten girls (aged 6–13), killing five, at West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Nickel Mines, a village in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Forgiveness and reconciliation in the response of the Amish community was the Amish norm practiced, even in this brazen case. The community did not establish rules for the grander community; it practiced them and in the process gave an example for the larger community to follow. This is the teaching of Stanley Hauerwas.

The Amish have a problem, the same problem of the Spartans of later ancient Greece. Very people desire to be Amish, and the National Geographic program, “Out of Order,” reveals the very real temptation to leave the community for the earthly temptations of life. Like the Spartans, Americans view the Amish as a quaint sect, and not the prime example for all to follow. This leaves us with John Courtney Murray, S. J. Murray speaks of three principles:


The first principle is the distinction between the sacred and the secular orders of human life. The whole of man’s existence is not absorbed in his temporal and terrestrial existence. The power of government does not reach into this higher sacred order of human existence.

The second principle is the distinction between society and state. Historically, this distinction developed out of the medieval distinction between the ecclesia (christianitas) and the imperium.

The third principle is the distinction between the common good and public order. It follows from the distinction between society and state. The common good includes all the social goods, spiritual and moral as well as material, which man pursues here on earth in accord with the demands of his personal and social nature.

The pursuit of the common good devolves upon society as a whole, on all its members and on all its institutions, in accord with the principles of subsidiarity, legal justice, and distributive justice.

Public order includes three goods, which can and should be achieved by the power, which is proper to the state. The first is the public peace, which is the highest political good. The second is public morality, as determined by moral standards commonly accepted among the people. The third is justice, which secures for the people what is due to them.

UntitledOf course, how does one define what is due to any other person? The article, “Aristotle and the NFL point our way to distributive justice,” correctly points out how vague the concepts of distributive justice and what one is due really are. Further, what subsidiarity, means in practical terms is also a matter of dispute.

The Capitalist, the Communist, and the Anarchist all believe that subsidiarity means no government at all, at least as it relates to economics. For the socialist, “He who governs least, governs best,” “Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience” means government control of all. To argue for more control than is necessary, is to argue for waste. To argue for less is irresponsible. The problem with John Courtney Murray’s theory, and most Social Contract theory, is that it does not define “subsidiarity” in practical terms, or “The least.”

Judicial precedents, מִּשְׁפָּטִים, morality from above suffers precisely because it is not able to define its terms. What we need is what the Ten Commandments call for, a healthy mix of custom, חֻקִּים and judicial precedent, מִּשְׁפָּטִים, with a referent that helps to define the terms. The Ten Commandments define that reference.

“Remember, “I am the Personal Name your Almighty Judge, who brought you out of the land of Egypt/Oppression, out of the house of menial labor.” When your son asks you, “What do these witnesses and customs and judicial precedents mean,” which the Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, has enjoined on you, you shall say to your son, “We were once servants of Pharaoh the oppressor in Egypt, the land of oppression, but the Personal Name brought us out of there with a strong hand and wrought before our eyes signs and wonders, great and dire, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and his whole house.

Remember what it was like to be there, and remember your rescue. That is the reference. That is the reference for both the customs, what comes from below, and that is the reference for the judicial precedents, what comes from above. “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.” This may not have the certainty of judicial precedent judges might like.

We realize that what we have is Picasso in our lives. We present our Picasso, knowing that others have Van Gogh in their lives. We show our Picasso and allow them to show their Van Gogh. We do not get into the first View of John Courtney Murray, presuming that our world view is the correct one. We believe that with faith; we do not know it as fact.

Myrtle point baseballSociety is much like a baseball game. We all know what the rules are, what constitutes a strike, a ball, a hit, or a run, but when we stop to apply the rules, we do just that; we stop. The game ends, at least for a moment. The goal is for the game to continue. For that, we need custom, חֻקִּים. We need to look to the Amish, with all of their quaintness, to see how they play the game.

As the article, “These are the things we need to consider in the Reno Diocesan Synod,” points out, we very much need the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist. This is how we bring Mt. Sinai, and the cross into present time. As we relive our escape from Egypt and as we die with Christ, and rise with Christ, we encounter the reference we need to live the game of life, as individuals, and as a society.

We need both, to be the social ethic, the sample to others, and to teach the social ethic. We become the social ethic through what happens at Mass, reliving in present time the escape from Egypt and our escape, by dying with Christ and rising with him in the Eucharist.

New_Colossus_manuscript_LazarusNot like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As Americans and as people of the Judea-Christian faith, we remember what it was like to be oppressed, and we remember our rescue. We remember slavery in Egypt, the Great Potato Famine, the Great Revolutions of 1828 in Europe, the slavery of the Deep South, Jim Crow, the Trail of Tears of the Cherokee, the 1200 who died in Bangladesh over the course of the past year, and more. We then remember our rescue and when we see others suffering we do something.

Reliving all of this in present time, remembering who our rescuer is, Love itself, and then doing something is the essence of all morality and all there is to the great mystery of our faith. There really is no more. When we do this we become like Stanley Hauerwas and become church. We become the example with our customs all want to follow. As a society we participate in the great marketplace of ideas John Courtney Murray, talks about, showing our Picasso. We speak both with our actions and with our words.

We view justice and the role of government as St. Augustine did, City of God, Book II, Chapter 21, along with Cicero and Scipio, as an orchestra. We strive to create concord. We promote life for all people, pre-born, and post born, where life is life lived in the image of God,for all people. This is where judicial precedent comes into the formula. This is what we need to emphasis during our diocesan synod.

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