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The Fifth Commandment – Sanctity of Human Life

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.


The present meditation is on the fifth commandment, the first of seven meditations. The present is on the sanctity of human life. Never in the history of the world has there been more need to believe in the fifth commandment of God than today. The simple imperative, "Thou shall not kill" was already broken at the dawn of human history. Cain murdered his brother Abel out of envy. So the story of the human race goes on. One book of the Old Testament after another, and often one chapter within each book after another, describes sometimes in vivid detail the animosity, the jealousy, the ambition, pride and the hatred that resulted in the killing of innocent people. Absolutely speaking, the unjust killing of an innocent person is knowable by the unaided reason alone. I repeat, absolutely speaking.

Murder is contrary to the natural law if by natural law we mean something by which the unaided human mind, reflecting on human nature, can logically conclude that something that is either proscribed or, in this case, forbidden. We don't want anyone, I dare say, to kill us, but not even injure us. Consequently, reason tells us we shouldn't kill injure or maim anyone else. However, and how this needs to be said today, how sin blinds the human mind, beginning with the primordial sin of our first parents. And, over the centuries, the reason was blinded so that by the time of Moses, God, having chosen His chosen people, decided to reveal to them beyond what they could know and should have known by reason alone. To reveal in what we call the Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue, that to take another person's life is contrary to the will of GOD.

Therefore, and this is a crucial, therefore, we need — and if we needed it then we need it now — we need faith in God's revealed word and here in God's commandments that, what rationally we should know without God having revealed it. Consequently, as we will see before this meditation is over, the darkening of the human mind of even accepting, not to say following, God.

So, teaching on the prohibitions of taking innocent human life by that darkening is so deep that nothing, all the reasoning in the world, cannot convince a blinded world that murder is a grave crime. Only faith can bring back a blinded world to some semblance of sanity. If there is one towering proof of the loss of faith in God and even denying God authority in our lives, it is the spectacle of willful homicide that characterizes our age. Oh, it's a New Age all right; it's new indeed. It is in so many parts of the world a godless age. After awhile we can become mentally paralyzed by the witness of sin and blind to the most obvious commandments of the Most High. In my estimation, nothing in the history of humanity so proves how blinding sin can be than what is going on in our century today. The twentieth century is the most homicidal in the history of mankind. My sincere hope is that it will go down in future history as the most homicidal century ever. It is certainly the most homicidal so far. There have been more abortions, as I have told by now scores of audiences, since nineteen hundred than in all the previous centuries in human history put together. Indeed, there are more murders by abortion in one year than in all the previous centuries put together. There have been more killings of innocent people in our century of which the Nazi Holocaust of some ten million is only one tragic example. Again in our century there have been more persons who have been martyred for their faith in Christ. Five million in one country of Africa in 1950 because the Christians would not deny that Mary is the Mother of Allah the Mother of God, murdered by the Muslim rulers in that country. We don't read that in the Chicago Tribune or the New York Times. Nor is that all. In one civilized nation after another, murder has been through hundreds of statutes, like legalized. The murder of unborn children is the law of our land. And as Mother Teresa says, “the hypocrisy of those same countries to still jailing and even executing condemned criminals.” Of course they should condemn and execute convicted criminals. But the hypocrisy of those who make the laws to defend, legalize and as it has now become, legislate murder. The murder of unwanted persons is practiced and approved by the civilized in once civilized nations. Euthanasia has become a euphemism and assisted suicide now in the Detroit papers make big laudatory headlines. It is also the normal way for putting people to death by the government assisting them. Paying for their suicides and removing from the statutes of all the laws of these nations, suicide as an obstacle to receiving, should we say, life insurance. All of this, by the way, is introduction.

In the present conference we ask ourselves only one question: why is innocent human life sacred? So that it may not be deliberately terminated by any human authority. In other words, why does God alone have the right to take innocent human beings when and how He, and not we, decide.

Our answer comes in three parts.

  1. Human Life is sacred because it comes from God.

  2. The crucial preposition is Human Life is sacred because it is intended in this life to Know, Love and Serve God. The preposition here is because it exists for God.

and finally

  1. Human life is Sacred because it is destined to be united in eternity with God, and again the preposition is in eternity with God. From, For and With God.

Our theological definition of the Sacred is that which belongs to God. The obverse of sacred is the profane.

First then, human life is sacred because it comes from God. Among the publications that I would recommend to every one who is concerned with the sacredness of human life, Human Life Review, a quarterly, is published by my good friend in New York, James McFadden, a staunch believing Catholic. Issue after issue and written for a learned reading audience. The bottom line in the desecration of human life is that human life is not believed by millions as coming from God. As we know, ultimately everything in the universe comes from God. But human life is uniquely from God; it is directly, individually, personally, immediately and distinctively produced by God. When a child is conceived, the parents continued the bodily preconditions (and how crucial is this adversative) that God must Himself, right then, create the human soul. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in the foundational meditation called the Principal and Foundation -- Ignatius does not say that man was created. Thanks, St. Ignatius, man is created. Every conception is an act of divine creation in other words. As I tell people, all of these are simultaneous: the fertilization of the ovum, the creation of the immortal soul and the infusion of that soul into the fertilized ovum. These three put together are in Catholic terms. That is conception. That is why the media among others, protesting the quality of a newly conceived child, is inhumanly unjust. Who decides who is to judge on the quality of human life? Who else but the creator. It is as I am telling people, madness masking as eugenics or quality reproduction. No matter how a child was conceived. No matter what the condition of the unborn child may be. No matter [how] humanly speaking, unwanted a pregnancy [is] or how undesirable the prospective birth, that newly conceived being is human, a child of God directly produced by His divine power and totally outside the authority of any human. How I wish I could say that the madness behind this wanton wide spread murder is limited to those who have never had the faith. Those we casually call pagans. Or even among professed believers only among those in the medical or legal profession. How it pains me to say this, but say it I must. The worst agents behind this are members of the Roman Catholic Church in positions of power, great power. I asked Our Lord to enlighten me, should I say it? Power not only in the State but also, may God forgive them, in the Church.

So much for part one.

Why Is Human Life Sacred. Because It Comes From God and He intends us to live it for Him.

God creates human souls and then infuses these souls into the bodies of human beings so that they may come into the world in order to know, love and serve their God.

Why then is the taking of human life a sacrilege? It is a sacrilege because human beings are to glorify God during their stay on earth. That's why God made human being! That's why He gave human beings a mind to know Him and a will to love Him. We speak correctly, but incompletely, about murder being terribly wrong because it deprives a person unjustly of his human rights. True, but it takes faith to see it and more faith to live it. The most sublime rights that are sinned against are the rights of God.

God has a right to have children to be born. Notice He determines whether the children are going to be conceived and He has the right to have those children to be born. If they die before birth that's up to Him. But no human being can interfere with that right of God already nine months in the womb. Then being born. God has the right to have the children reach the age of reason and discretion. Do even the unborn children already glorify God? Yes, by anticipation. As I have been teaching over the years, it is almost a platitude in philosophy. There is nothing in the mind that has not first been in the senses. (Latin phrase now)

Already in the womb the mind is being enlightened by the sense experiences of that unborn child. More over, God is glorified not only by the human beings as individuals, He is also glorified by the loving care, the solicitude, the generous self-sacrifice of other people. God alone has the right to have people to grow to maturity. God alone has the right to have people, no matter what their age or condition may be, God alone has the right to call a person from this life to the life to come. It is His life. Let us repeat what is God's right in our present reflection: it is the right to be glorified by human beings and, I repeat, by themselves and by those who may care for them, live with them and endure them. Not only caring for them before they are born, but caring for them in, let's say, in their old age. Care for them by carrying them. No matter what state of body or mind those people may be.

Listen, the body changes, but the soul never does. Recently Mother Teresa was asked by an inquisitive person, "Mother how old are you?" She laughed. "Eighty on the outside; eighteen on the inside." I like that. In the Church's Martyrology is all the saints that have, before formal canonization was instituted or since, thousands of people, one saint after another, and this is the standard phrase and so and so, was born into eternal life. I like that.

We are still here on earth, pardon me, in our pregnancy.

Finally Why is Human life Sacred?

Over which only He has a right, because this life is destined to be with God. The purpose of human beings is their final destiny. That, just to remind ourselves, that is what the retreat is all about. Unlike the irrational creation of sun, moon and stars, the mountains and the seas, our goal is not in this world; our goal is in the world to come to be with God. There is only one ambition every rational human being should have, so that when his body dies, his soul may be with God by God's grace, so that it may be with God in heavenly glory for all eternity. God alone then has a right to determine who will be conceived and who will be born. Only He has a right to determine how long a person is to live in this life. Because, hear it, our lives on earth are a precondition many times over for that eternal life with God for which we were made.

We believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, and though we may also believe in God and His mercy—may, watch the verb —may provide for those who die without baptism, say the aborted children, can God provide for a heavenly destiny? Can He? Yes. Will He? We are not sure. In other words, as my good friend Father DeMargery, a French Jesuit has been writing extensively, one of the worst sins committed by abortion is that it deprives that unborn child the certitude of the Beatific Vision. Of course we're not talking of suffering, we're not talking about unhappiness. But what a difference between happiness, even though eternal, and the glory of heaven which, I repeat, we are absolutely sure is guaranteed only by baptism or if the person has reached the age of reason, by the baptism of desire.

Only God then has a right to determine when each person has the right to enter eternity, because God is glorified not only in our knowledge, love and service of Him in this life but God is also glorified by our love and praise of Him in eternity. And other things being equal, if a person is serving God, the longer that person serves God, the greater glory that person will give God through all eternity. In many ways the worst evil of willful homicide is the crime of blasphemy, denying God the glory as the creator to the human race He has the right to. I am almost but not quite finished. I have four words by the way of conclusion. Responsibility, witness, expiation and mercy.

In light of all we have seen, let's remind ourselves, and I mean it when I say it, I believe only God knows for certain that the single gravest responsibility for the global homicide in our century rests with those who are either professed Catholics or have abandoned their Catholic faith.

In the early Church Christians were identified as the Anima Mundi, the soul of the world. The morality and sanity, the sanctity of the human race, depends on the followers of Christ. First is responsibility. Secondly, witness, we who have the true faith against the background of this massive denial that God has rights over human life. Somebody somewhere had better still witness to these rights of God.

I was thrilled to read that just yesterday that a bishop was put in jail for involving himself in Operation Rescue. That is music to, shall I say, my ears. Witness, outspoken witness and the more influential our position the graver our duty is to witness to what we believe.

Third, expiation. The crimes against human life, which are crimes against God, demand correspondingly global expiation. If you want a reason for enduring what you don't like, if you want a motive for being patient under duress, if you want a reason for suffering and loving the pain, and I mean every syllable of that sentence, here is why. Somebody, somebody had better make reparation for these massive crimes in order to restore that grace from God which so many have lost by their openly defying the Creator of human life.

Finally, Mercy. The Holy Father, I know, is especially zealous to promoting devotion to the divine Mercy in the Catholic world. And with reason. Because he knows—how well he knows —how deeply millions are sinning against the divine Majesty, and sinning no more criminally, no more notoriously, than in the destroying of millions of innocent human beings to their right to life and of God's right of the glory from these human beings. Beg plea for the Mercy of God.

Lord Jesus, You are not only the author of life but as You have told us, You are life itself. Except for You, there would be no life in existence. We beg You, Lord, to show us what we can do to restore the glory of which You have been deprived by so many, where in their madness, defied You and deprived You of the glory for which You have a right from the human beings; except for You would not be conceived, except for You would not be born. And You alone have a right to determine when, where and how these human beings are to enter eternity. Amen

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Copyright © 1999 Inter Mirifica

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