Human life is sacred
Few commandments are as concise and at the same time extensive in its implications as the fifth commandment: You shall not kill.
By Archbishop Jose H. Gomez / La vida humana es sagrada
The essence of this commandment lies in a principle that is easy to understand, but at the same time easy to forget: human life must be respected because it is sacred.
This was not only recognized by the Old Testament, but also by the most ancient pagan laws known to humanity, such as the so-called Code of Hammurabi of the Babylonians.
It is not licit for anyone to directly destroy an innocent human being, because God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end, and it is gravely contrary to his will, to the dignity of the person and the holiness of the creator.
And this principle extends not only to respect for the right to life, but also to the rights of the human person. That is why we Catholics believe that kidnappings, hostage-taking, terrorism, torture and violence as a means of solving problems, the desire for vengeance and hatred toward one’s neighbor also constitute attacks on life.
The respect for the right to life is the first right of the human person, and it is a non-negotiable issue for the church or for any person. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “society must protect every embryo, (because) the inalienable right of every human individual from the first moment of conception is a constitutive element of civil society and its legislation.” (472)
The Compendium also reminds us that the commandment “You shall not kill” prohibits “direct abortion, willed as an end or as means, as well as cooperation in it. Attached to this sin is the penalty of excommunication because, from the moment of his or her conception, the human being must be absolutely respected and protected in his or her integrity.”
Sins committed against the fifth commandment are grave sins, and we have to take them seriously. At the same time, however, we cannot forget that God is merciful, and in his divine mercy he has given us the sacrament of reconciliation, where he receives us with open arms, to forgive and redeem us from our sins. Jesus through his own church, also a merciful mother, gives the priests the faculty to forgive sins in his name and to remove the penalty of excommunication, in the case of abortion, if there is sincere repentance.
There are many other aspects related to the fifth commandment — some about the respect for human life, such as the death penalty, intentional homicide, suicide, euthanasia — others related to the dignity of the human person: scandal, personal health and bodily integrity, abuse of alcohol and drugs, respect for the dead. Finally, there are issues that have to do with safeguarding peace: avoiding war, illegal traffic of arms, treatment of prisoners of war, excessive social or economic inequalities, domestic violence and abuse of children, anger, envy, mistrust, pride, etc.
“You shall not kill” then is a broader challenge than what we usually imagine. It not only refers to avoid committing murder but to defending life, the human rights of the person, the protection of the family, the promotion of peace and practicing charity toward our neighbors.
We can see that the fifth commandment has social and worldwide implications; Jesus’ words in the Gospel of St. Matthew “blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9), are a call to all of us to strive for peace in our families and communities, reaching out to the whole world.
For Catholics, peace is the search for the respect and the development of human life, and it is not only the absence of war or the balance of opposing forces. Social peace, in our community and in the world, can only be accomplished if we, personally and as a society, respect all human life, from the moment of conception to natural death.
Let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn, to grant us the grace to live the fifth commandment faithfully, not only by not killing, but especially by defending, protecting and loving life as his gift to us.
Search: Courtesy of Today’s Catholic Newspaper, 2004