Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
THE DECALOGUE DECODED —What You Never Learned About the Ten Commandments
By Father Brian Thomas Mullady, O.P.
EWTN Publishing, 2019
123 pages; $14.95
EWTN Item: 81036
To order: ewtnrc.com or (800) 854-6316
Hopefully we know the Commandments by heart, even more hopefully try to live them as we should, yet there is so much contained in them that Father Mullady shows us layer after layer, and in the most interesting and easily understandable ways — ways that spur us on to wanting to keep them as best we can.
Right from Genesis, through the Old Testament, and into the New Testament, he not only examines the Ten Commndments but he explains the whys of them, what they entail, and why they are the laws of life for us.
Right from the start he makes it clear that law isn’t “an inhibition of freedom, but an expression of freedom. It directs our choices toward what is good and beautiful… So, if we’re going to discuss the Ten Commandments, it’s essential to recognize that the Law of God — His truth and His order — is necessary for the direction and perfection of our freedom.”
Right away, the positive, necessary understanding of the Commandments comes to the forefront. Though most are inscribed as prohibitions, especially the Fifth through Tenth, they’re all “really about this: our dignity and the relationship of love God offers us,” the author writes.
Then begins a series of surprises which can get us to ask ourselves, why didn’t we realize that before? Every section is positively enlightening and helpful in understanding and keeping the Commandments.
Take the First Commandment. Father Mullady shows that it expresses “a kind of marital love God shares with us. We have the dignity of being called to an exclusive personal, loving, intimate relationship with Him Who transcends the world! Therefore, we are called to a dignity that transcends ourselves and, indeed, everything this world has to offer. And so, when we break one of the Commandments, we deny our dignity.”
It’s not simply a series of do, do-not. The do, do-not, really have great meaning and purpose for us to live the life God intended for us from the beginning.
We find out how worshipping God developed as related to this First Commandment and why today the Mass is the only one “valid expression of our fidelity to the one God, and thus of the virtue of religion.” Naturally, the author briefly outlines idols, superstitions, and more that refer to sinning against this commandment.
This kind of positive-negative aspect appears in other places, too, helpfully showing how each aspect ties into the particular commandment. For the Sixth Commandment, for instance, Father Mullady looks at the why and how contraception and Natural Family Planning fit into it.
In an easily understandable way — a real strength in this book — Father Mullady illuminates the layers of meaning in the Commandments, such as how the Second entails more than using God’s name in vain. And how the Third relates to both interior as well as exterior worship of God, and that also includes our bodily actions.
Looking into this commandment also brings with it a beautiful explanation of why Sunday Mass is a weekly must, as is the Sabbath rest and what that means. The Mass “makes present the Sacrifice of the Cross, offered by Christ the High Priest, which is eternal in its effect,” notes Father Mullady, then detailing what active participation at Mass really means in this “most holy moment in which one mystically encounters the God-Man in contemplation.”
Love of neighbor begins with the Fourth Commandment, and that starts with loving parents, those closest to us. We learn how this commandment also stretches out to include obedience to others, forbids vices against love of neighbor, and requires deeds of kindness and mercy. Father Mullady spells out how the virtue of piety necessitated by this commandment has two aspects that really make life better when we live them out.
That goes for the virtues he connects with other Commandments, too. We’re enlightened that the Sixth Commandment “recalls man to his original innocence. It affirms the necessity of marriage as a genuine union of persons who share in the creative life of God.” The author starts with Adam and Eve and goes up to St. John Paul II and his writings, including Theology of the Body. The explanations on marriage are beautiful and concise.
Actually, this book is complete with numerous guideposts, references to, and quotes from Scripture, saints, and the Catechism, all blending seamlessly to highlight thoughts and insights.
Another insight as Father Mullady shows in lucid detail is that the “Seventh Commandment flows directly from the Fifth, which has to do with respecting human life, and the Sixth, which has to do with preserving the life of the family.”
The Eighth begins with the judge in the court, then witnesses, and continues to include everyone in our daily life where sinful speech such as backbiting, whispering, reviling someone, and derision cause injury and damage to people and reputations. Although not mentioned directly, because it applies to every area, we deduce it inevitably includes fake news.
The Ninth and Tenth appear together. The description of covetousness, easily seen permeating our society and current world such as through advertisements, for one, is rightly hard-hitting because we forget what covetousness is in the way it saturates our society.
Father Mullady brings to our attention the role of passions which humans have and support or good or bad choices because of Original Sin.
Another plus is the way Father Mullady includes welcome tips how to avoid sinning against the Ten Commandments. Simple, effective ways. One insight from the Sixth: “Married people and those who embrace celibacy need a deep personal prayer life in order to discover and to embrace the freedom of chastity — that is, proper control of the sexual life according to one’s state in life.”
As the author concludes, “The Ten Commandments offer us nothing less than the code to unlocking the full potential of our humanity by restoring the integrity of all the powers God has given us.”
This book is a master key to understanding that code.