RCIA CLASS 22
– THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT AND THE RIGHT TO LIFE
I. The overall premise of the Catholic (and in fact generally Judeo-Christian) teaching on the right to life is that human life is a gift from God, given for a time, so that we may become able to enter eternal life.
A. The Old Testament, although not fully developing moral theology, does emphasize this point.
1. The first
crime recounted after the Fall is the murder of Abel by Cain.
But even after that murder, God cared for the life of Cain, for he wanted
to bring him to repentance.
- Moses likewise
prayed for the people when God threatened to destroy them, indicating
the call to redemption, even if destruction is deserves. See Ex.
32:7-14; Num 14:11-25.
- In addition,
the animal sacrifices of the ancient Jews were partially meant to deflect
the desire for such sacrifices away from human sacrifices common in
the ancient world.
1. In expanding
the second of the greatest commandments to all people, Christ indicated
that there must be a concern for all. Matt. 5:42-48; Luke 6:27-36,
1. This life
is like the five talents or gold coins that Jesus spoke of in His parables.
We are meant to use them well, that we may enter into everlasting joy.
It is for God to decide when this time of development, this story of
our earthly life ends, not us. See Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28.
If one has lived well, death can be accepted as the end of a successful
contest. See, e.g., 2 Tim. 4:6-8. But this conclusion must
not be rushed.
1. There are several good images for the relationship between the body and soul. The implication of all of them is that we become more fully the person God wants us to be (or draw away from Him) through how we treat our physical life.
a. St. Paul
compares the body to a tent that will be folded up, but then made into
a Temple. See 2 Cor. 5:1-5.
b. St. James
compares the body to a horse that is controlled by a bridle (namely
pure speech). See James 3:3. Later St. Gregory the Great
and St. Francis, compare the body to a donkey, difficult to control,
but necessary. The donkey will one day be taken away, but made
into a glorious horse.
c. St. Gregory
the Great also compares the human body to an instrument upon which we
learn to play music to God. The very imperfect harp now will be
transformed so that we can play wonderful music to God.
compares the body to a city whose inhabitants (the passions, emotions,
desires) we must control to make it a glorious kingdom.
a. For example,
physical needs allow us to serve each other more perfect, an opportunity
or working together is a common form of companionship, building family
and friendships. Team-building exercises, or struggling together
on a project, brings people together.
A. Positively, we are called to provide for the needs of others, whether physically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually. We see in the service of others, not only a good in itself, but also a way of serving God and being a witness to the world.
1. This vision
gives us a more positive sense of those most in need. They are
not primarily burdens, but means of serving Jesus Christ most perfectly,
gaining rewards from Him most purely. There is a grave obligation
to care for others, especially those closest to oneself. See,
e.g., Catechism 2269; Matt. 25: 31-46; 1 Tim. 5:8.
3. There is also
the concern to take care of one's health without worshipping the body.
While health is in itself not a spiritual good, and graces can come
from illness, as long as one can maintain good health and thus contribute
more to the kingdom of God, one should use reasonable means of doing
so. See Catechism 2288-89. Gluttony (the excessive desire for
food, drink, and other things) tends both to make earthly things an
idol and to diminish one's ability to serve God and others.
See, e.g., Phil 3:19; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa
Theologica II-II q. 15, art. 3 q. 148, art. 1-2.
4. We are also meant to take care of our minds, for reason is a gift given to us to develop our ability to understand God, each other and His creation. Thus, while a person of limited intellect can be holy, neglecting the intellect is an offense against the God who gave it. See, e.g., Vatican II Council, Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration on Christian Education) (1965) 1, 6; Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberties) (1965) 2.
- Thus, deliberate
drunkenness or drug use, which involves the forfeiture of reason to
their influence, is gravely wrong. See 1 Cor. 6:10; Gal. 5:19-21;
Catechism 2290-91; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa
Theologica II-II. q. 150, art. 2.
1. Thus, abortion, the intended killing of an unborn child (whether directly by violence or by "terminating" the pregnancy is always and everywhere a grave wrong. Such actions not only take the most vulnerable of lives, but also contradict the deepest of human loves, that of a mother for her child.
a. The Pharaoh
who tried to kill all of the infant boys among the Hebrews at the time
of Moses, and King Herod, who tried to kill all the young boys of Bethlehem
at the time of Christ, are the images of all who would kill the unborn
to eliminate a "burden." See Ex. 1:15-16; Matt. 1:16-18.
is, of course, an obligation of society to support pregnant women, and
especially those in need. The Catholic Church runs numerous centers,
including the Tepyac Center in Fairfax, Hope of Northern Virginia in
Falls Church, and The Gabriel Project in this area, for helping pregnant
while people do rightfully have a certain autonomy over their lives,
this right does not extend to the killing of other innocent people.
Furthermore, if the law does not support the right to life of an unborn
child, it is failing in its fundamental duty of protecting its citizens.
See, e.g., Catechism 2373; Gaudium et
d. It is
true that, in the history of the Church, there has been some debate
about whether "ensoulment" takes place at conception or later.
For example, St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, thought that ensoulment
occurs 40-80 days after conception. However, Church theology has
unanimously agreed in classifying abortion as gravely wrong and, at
a minimum, "akin to homicide." See Tertullian, Apologia
chapter 9, St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Sentences, book
4, distinction 1, article 3.
e. In any
case, modern genetics indicates that the full genetic code of a human
is present from conception onwards, and that there is no sudden change
later that could justify classifying anyone before that age as not human.
Furthermore, as Pope John Paul II argued in Evengelium Vitae
60, even if there were doubt, one should surely not gamble with the
possibility of murder.
f. It should
be noted that a procedure, such as chemotherapy that is needed to preserve
a pregnant woman's life, but that would endanger or even kill the
unborn child, is still permissible. For such procedures are not
meant to kill the child, and are needed to prevent a grave evil.
It is heroic, but not required, for a pregnant woman to forgo such a
procedure for the sake of her unborn child, as St. Gianna Molla did.
g. For women
who have had an abortion, or others involved in this crime, the Church
always offers forgiveness. (St. Longinus, who presided at the
crucifixion of Christ, is now honored as a saint.) The ability
of God to forgive sins is greater than any human guilt. Project
Rachel helps women who have had abortions or suffered from miscarriages.
- Such things
as "undercover operations" or probably even "sting"
operations can be done as long as the person is simply investigating
a person already determined to commit a crime, and is not causing a
sin that would not otherwise occur.
3. Euthanasia, or any form of suicide, is also gravely wrong, for it rejects the life that God gave us to develop our soul and the souls of others. No person is without value, and thus no life should be taken. See Catechism 2276-77l John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 65.The struggles of illness or old age give a unique opportunity to witness to the faith and charity. See Pope John Paul II, On The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (1983)
should thus care for their lives. However, if "extraordinary
means" are needed to preserve a life (e.g., artificial respirators,
major surgery, chemotherapy), they can be rejected if the benefit is
less than the burden. See Catechism 2278.
- The Church
encourages advanced medical directives to ensure that a trusted person
makes ethical moral decisions when an individual cannot do so for himself.
We generally avoid using the term "living will" because that
tends to imply a direction toward death.
4. In addition,
recklessness, i.e. creating the potential for great injury to oneself
or another without justifiable reason (e.g., driving under the influence)
is a grave sin. See Catechism 2269; St Thomas Aquinas,
Summa Theologica II-II q. 64, art. 8.
5. There can be a justifiable use of force against an aggressor if necessary to prevent a greater harm to an innocent person. See Rom. 13:4; Catechism 2265. However, non lethal force should always be used if possible, for even the aggressor's life is sacred in God's eyes, in large part to leave time for repentance. See Romans 12:18-21.
C. The emotion of
anger is usually excessive, but can sometimes be justified. See,
e.g., Eph. 4:26. However, even when there is justifiable
anger, there should not be hatred of another person, for God loves each
person and want the good for them. See Catechism 2203-04.
And we should, always and everywhere, try to see the goodness God has
for other people. That vision is central in the highest Christian
virtue, i.e., love.
D. We can honor God, both in life and in death.
1. Martyrs who
offer their lives to God for the faith, and other people who sacrifice
for loved one's country, etc. are not rejecting God's gift of life.
Rather, they are willing to let the gift they have received by taken
by another so that a greater goal may be achieved. See, e.g.,
2 Macc. 7; Catechism 2373-74.