Wednesday, February 3, 2010

5th Commandment: part 1

Requested by some folks here, my ongoing series written for our parish bulletin, part of our occasional series covering the Ten Commandments. We now begin one that is a tough subject in our modern times. It will be a multi-part look at "you shall not kill" as you might expect. Here is part 1.
Living our faith in the real world
The Fifth Commandment:
You shall not kill.*

You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.
Matthew 5:21-22
2258 “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church
“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.” [said Granny Weatherwax]

“It’s a lot more complicated than that…” [said Brother Oats]

“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.” [said Granny Weatherwax]

“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes…” [said Brother Oats]

“But they starts with thinking about people as things.” [said Granny Weatherwax]

Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum
The Hebrew word used in this commandment is ratsach (murder). St. Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew into Latin also used the word “murder” instead of the translation “kill” which we see in the headline above.

This distinction of “you shall not murder” instead of “you shall not kill” is a crucial one. It is what establishes the Catholic Church’s prohibition of taking innocent life. So important is this teaching that mere prohibition is not enough. We are called upon to protect, defend, and nurture life from conception to natural end. Jesus both simplified and expanded upon this teaching when giving the Sermon on the Mount as we see above in the quote from Matthew.

As straightforward as the idea of “not murdering” seems, our society is such that moral and political quagmires are opened every time it arises. Without very careful consideration of the Church’s teachings, the issues this commandment covers are likely to raise modern hackles against what are perceived to be insensitive dictates about just war, euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment, assisted suicide, stem cell research, and more.

In practically every case where someone objects to Church teachings it is through a laudable desire to express compassion and mercy. Those objections generally are concerned with the “quality-of-life.” However, the great danger of trying to judge the “quality” of another’s life is that when a life is judged to be “not worth living” then action must be taken to solve the problem. The only alternative to life is death. This is especially true as governments and institutions become involved in “life issues.”

Bureaucracies have a great tendency to group and categorize situations without taking the time to look closely at each human being involved. People become equivalent to “things.” Things are easy to dispose of.

The Church, on the other hand, has established her teachings with an eye to “sanctity-of-life.” That is to say, the Church knows life is sacred because God created and maintains it. We come from God, we live in relationship with God, and we return to Him when we die. He alone knows us well enough for judgment.

From the knowledge that life is sacred comes teachings which consistently protect all life and which have been called the “seamless garment” of the Church. The seamless garment of life is a reference from John 19:23 to the seamless robe of Jesus, which his executioners did not tear apart. This is the basis for the fact that Catholics cannot protect any life at the expense of other lives.

Clearly, we will be delving into complicated issues as we explore the Fifth Commandment and how we live our faith as modern Catholics. Different issues relating to this commandment will be examined individually in upcoming bulletin inserts
*Ex 20:13; Cf. Deut 5:17.
Source Materials
• Catechism of the Catholic Church
• Evangelium Vitae (1995 encyclical) by Pope John Paul II
• Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft


  1. Maybe you could touch on ectopic pregnancies (those that implant outside of the womb)...this is tragically something I have experienced first hand, and did not understand the church's position as my OBGYN rushed me immediately into surgery to remove the 7 week old baby from my ovary, but saving my ovary. I have since come to understand this issue and have been to confession, but it is something most people would never think about. Thank you for your post!

  2. Angela, thanks for the pointer. I do not have much room for each "subject" but will definitely keep that in mind when tackling related issues. It would never have occurred to me to think of it so thank you! :-)

  3. The Catholic Church: the death penalty and abortion are very different topics, morally and theologically.
    Dudley Sharp, contact info below

    Catholics in good standing can support the death penalty and even an increase in executions, if their own prudential judgement calls for it.

    The Catholic teaching is that abortion is always an intrinsic evil.

    1) Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger)

    "stated succinctly, emphatically and unambiguously as follows": "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia." (1)

    2) "Catholics in Political Life", Statement of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops(2):

    It is the teaching of the Catholic Church from the very beginning, founded on her understanding of her Lord’s own witness to the sacredness of human life, that the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified. If those who perform an abortion and those who cooperate willingly in the action are fully aware of the objective evil of what they do, they are guilty of grave sin and thereby separate themselves from God’s grace. This is the constant and received teaching of the Church. It is, as well, the conviction of many other people of good will.

    To make such intrinsically evil actions legal is itself wrong. This is the point most recently highlighted in official Catholic teaching. The legal system as such can be said to cooperate in evil when it fails to protect the lives of those who have no protection except the law. In the United States of America, abortion on demand has been made a constitutional right by a decision of the Supreme Court. Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good.

    3) Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ

    "Pope John Paul II spoke for the whole Catholic tradition when he proclaimed, in Evangelium Vitae, that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral (EV 57). But he wisely included in that statement the word innocent. He has never said that every criminal has a right to live nor has he denied that the State has the right in some cases to execute the guilty. " "No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty." (3)

    4) Fr. John De Celles, "What Ardent Practicing Catholics Do" (4)

    "Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is … a grave and clear obligation to oppose them … [I]t is therefore never licit to … "take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it." "In other words: it is always a grave or mortal sin for a politician to support abortion."


  4. contd

    "Now, some will want to say that these bishops-and I- are crossing the line from Religion into to politics. But it was the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) who started this. The bishops, and I, are not crossing into politics; she, and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians, regularly cross over into teaching theology and doctrine, And it's our job to try clean up their mess."

    "Some would say, well Father, what about those people who support the war in Iraq, or the death penalty, or oppose undocumented aliens? Aren’t those just as important, and aren’t Catholic politicians who support those “bad Catholics” too?

    "Simple answer: no. Not one of those issues, or any other similar issues, except for the attack on traditional marriage is a matter of absolute intrinsic evil in itself. Not all wars are unjust — and good Catholics can disagree on facts and judgments. Same thing with the other issues: facts are debatable, as are solutions to problems."

    "Imagine if someone came in here and said "I'm a mafia hit man and I'm proud of it." Or "I deal drugs to little children." Or "I think black people are animals and it's okay to make them slaves, or at least keep them out of my children's school."

    "Are these 'ardent practicing Catholics'? No, they are not."

    "And neither is a person who ardently supports and votes to fund killing 1 to 1.5 million unborn babies every single year. Especially if that person is in a position of great power trying to get others to follow her. Someone, for example, like a Catholic Speaker of the House, or a Catholic candidate for Vice President of the United States, or a Catholic senior Senator who is stands as the leading icon his political party. Like the proud and unrepentant murderer or drug dealer, they are not ardent Catholics. They are, in very plain terms, very bad Catholics."

    "But the reason I say all this is not because I want to embarrass them or even correct them — they’re not even here. It’s because of you. Because back in the 1850’s when Catholic bishops, priests, and politicians were either silent or on the wrong side of the slavery debate, they risked not only their souls, but the souls of every other Catholic they influenced. I cannot do that, and I won’t do that."

    (1) "More Concerned with 'Comfort' than Christ?", Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick: Catholic Online, 7/11/2004 NOTE: Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II and delivered this with guidance to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    (2) "Catholics in Political Life", United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,
    to review the Bishops comments since 1974

    (3) "The Death Penalty: A Right to Life Issue?" at

    (4) "What Ardent Practicing Catholics Do: Correcting Pelosi", National Review Online, 9/1/2008 6:00AM


    Cardinals, Bishops and Congressmen Slam Pelosi on Abortion

    New York Cardinal - Pelosi Not Worthy of "Providing Leadership in a Civilized Democracy"