Homily no. 36 – ‘The Fifth Commandment’ (CCC 2258–2330)

English: Four people from the '40 Days for Lif...

English: Four people from the ’40 Days for Life’ campaign protesting outside the Bedford Square offices of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), a provider of abortion services. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Well, I haven’t killed anybody!” — so might begin a Confession … the sort of Confession that is not exactly an examination of one’s conscience before God, but a protestation of innocence.  “Well, I haven’t killed anyone” might indeed, hopefully, be the case …  “Thou shalt not kill” is the 5th Commandment, a clear statement by our Creator that we are not to take innocent life.  It is based on the sacredness of every human life that God Himself has created — the soul of each human person from the moment of their conception.  This must be protected and defended by every believer, and is the very reason for the illegality of murder in our system of law.  We would, of course, hope that killing is a far cry from the life of each of us, that we partake in no practices that deliberately eliminate a human life ever.  But of course, in our society, that has in many ways turned its back on Christian morality, this is no longer so easy to be sure of.

The Catechism, recognising this, immediately treats the topic of abortion, since tragically it is so prevalent in many countries.  Performing an abortion, having an abortion, assisting a mother have an abortion, threatening a woman to have an abortion — all these are grave offences against the 5th Commandment.  It may be that the mother feels threatened by another person, or pressured by her circumstances, to be forced to have an abortion, and God alone knows what is in her heart, but we cannot say other than, that abortion is always wrong: unless, truly, she needs some other surgical intervention that is not intended primarily to get rid of the child.

The prevalence of abortion in our country makes gut-wrenching reading: each year here there are almost 800,000 babies born; but at the same time there are almost 200,000 babies aborted.  A fifth of our nation’s children are being killed in the womb!  In total we have destroyed some 8 million of our people since 1967 … this is a holocaust, and we must never be blind to this tragedy that unfolds in our midst every day.  550 children killed every day.

It is not the whole story … and I want to quote to you a story from this week in the Washington Times.  A Catholic priest in Virginia, U.S., learnt from a couple that they were expecting a baby, who was almost 6 months old in the womb already.  The child was determined as having Down’s Syndrome, and the couple were tempted to abort their baby.  The priest pleaded with them to let him have a chance at finding a couple to adopt the baby, but the couple said that he had just 24 hours to do so, or they would proceed with ending the baby’s life.  The priest put out an urgent message via his parish website, and social networking sites, and the message went far and wide, very quickly.  The next morning he turned on his computer to find 900 e-mails, and then fielded non-stop phone calls, from families willing and able to receive the child into their home after birth.  As Mother Teresa said, “there is no such thing as an unwanted child.”  Even if the mother and father are ill-equipped to cope with the baby they have conceived, they have no right to kill him or her.  They still have a right to life, as God has given them their life.

It’s important to read this section in the Catechism, as it is vital to be reminded of our duty before God to defend human life, and to protect innocent life.  We shall be judged on this!  And if we have co-operated in any way in an abortion — whether as the mother, as the father, as a relative who has not done his/her best to prevent the abortion — then it is vital to go to Confession without delay, to place it before the Lord and to receive His forgiveness for this grave sin, the deliberate killing of a baby.  Each of us is duty-bound by this 5th Commandment to do our very best in each and every situation, to counsel and encourage anyone tempted to abortion to have their baby; and to make practical arrangements for them to keep their child.  I support often the work of a Good Counsel Network charity office in London that does this sort of thing every day, saving babies, and giving desperate mothers the lifeline they need, the friendship, love and support to keep their unborn child.

Euthanasia too is always a hot topic — time and again campaigners are bringing this back to Parliament attempts to overturn our country’s protection for the sick and vulnerable.  Thankfully, until now at least, our Parliament has rejected assisted suicide and euthanasia, the deliberate ending of a life.  We are spiritual beings, who not only owe our life to God, but also who are duty bound to obey Him and live the life He has sent us.  We are not the creators of our own soul; we are not the inventors of morality; we are here to love and serve God who wills that we wait for Him to call us to Himself.  A deliberate choice to end our life, or to end another’s life — even in sickness — is gravely against God’s law.  What in fact we are called to do is to accompany the sick and elderly person, with love and care, and with good practices of medicine too, so as to provide adequate pain relief.  The putting-down of the sick and frail as if they were animals, is inhuman, and is a grave sin.  It goes totally against the demand of Our Lord that we “love our neighbour” — we cannot love our neighbour by killing them; it is a false mercy to think that we are putting them out of their misery — in fact, to take life is to act as if we were God … and we are not.  We do not know how He can work in someone’s life, bring them to seek His Will and turn to Him … sometimes it may be through a sickness that someone’s heart is changed to love and adore God who made them.  The timetable of our life and death is not ours for the making; we must leave that to Him, to our Maker.

There are some exceptions to this ban on the taking of life: (i) legitimate self-defence, as long as everything is done to prevent the other’s death, even an attacker’s; (ii) engagement in war, as long as it is a just war, fought not in aggression, but only in defence; (iii) the death penalty, but whilst in past history this may have been seen as a necessity in some cases, it is generally now resisted by the Church.

Let’s be sure that in our life, in our families, we teach and practise without compromise, the defence of life from conception to natural death.  Despite our society’s awful record on human life, let’s teach our children without any compromise the right to life of the unborn child.  Life is sacred and killing is wrong.  Mother Teresa again: “The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion because if a mother can kill her own child, what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me? There is nothing in between.”


About Fr Philip Miller

I'm the Catholic Parish Priest at St Augustine's, Hoddesdon, Herts, UK, in the diocese of Westminster. This cycle of homilies is one of my contributions to this parish's life in the 'Year of Faith' (Oct 2012 - Nov 2013) called for by Pope Benedict XVI to renew the Church's understanding of the faith.
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