Recently, our chimney was swept. This is a task that is done periodically. In our case, though, because of neglect on my part too much time had passed since the previous cleaning and we experienced a chimney fire.
It was an unnerving experience. Large pieces of burning soot were spewing out of the flue accompanied by a terrifying roar (much like the tongues of fire and the deafening roar in today’s reading about the first Pentecost). Fortunately, the Kennett Fire Department promptly and professionally brought the matter under control and we were spared a disastrous loss. With the exception of the blow to our pride, no damage was done. In fact our four-year-old grandson was treated to a tour of the fire engine and was mesmerized by the hook and ladder. As for me the Fire Marshall was gentle but clear in his reprimand about keeping my chimney clean.
What struck me was the inscription on the exterior panel of the fire truck. There in large print appeared the Decalogue! Surprised and impressed I wondered how this bold endorsement of the Ten Commandments escaped the censure of the secularists. Then it occurred to me that perhaps people find that it no longer matters since – displayed or not – these ten “Thou Shalls” and “Thou Shall Nots” appear to be generally ignored.
Maybe they are right. Think of it. How many of us put God first. How common is it to utter his name as an exclamation void of reverence? Do we keep the Sabbath holy? Do we know what that entails? Do we regard anything as holy?
As a society, do we care for the elderly? What is our reaction to talk of euthanasia for the aged? As for murder, how do we justify the apotheosis of violence on television, in video games?
Adultery? When was the last time you even heard the word? Does it even apply in a society where the concept of family is so protean it can be whatever we want it to be? On stealing, do we regard ourselves as innocent because we operate within legal expectations as opposed to moral ones? What about the less blatant thievery like the kind in environmental abuse?
Are we even aware of how we “bear false witness” when we so easily indulge in gossip or spread rumors. When was the last time you heard reference to the sin of detraction? What of our addiction to talk shows? Envy, greed, avarice – are these not the high-octane fuel for our excessive consumerism?
As a society, should we not be concerned about our casual awareness of the Ten Commandments, this biblical code of behavior that has underpinned civilization for more than three millennia? What will be the consequence of our indifference? The denizens of Sodom and Gomorrah did not have the benefit of such counsel and theirs was a fiery fate.
This is all food for thought on this Pentecost Sunday. The lesson I learned from the experience of the fire that nearly destroyed our home is to be diligent and to keep my chimney clean.
Dana Robinson is chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.