About 160 years ago or so there lived in Suabia, Germany, a splendid young man by the name of Meinrad. He sought quiet for prayer and meditation in the great Benedictine Order, which gave him permission to live alone on a mountain top, first in Germany and then in Switzerland, where he spent many prayerful days, days which were cruelly cut short when two robbers whom he befriended turned on him and put him to death. Instead of money they found only a hairshirt and books.
Although no one had seen the murder, the murderers were soon caught, because two tame crows that St. Meinrad had kept, followed the murderers wherever they went-into the cities, into their homes, into the taverns, everywhere cawing and fluttering, until suspicion was aroused and the two men were arrested and punished.
In memory of this divine punishment of murder, the Abbey of Reichenau, of which St. Meinrad had been a member, placed the figure of two crows on its coat of arms and seal.
Both sacred and human history are filled with such proofs of God's displeasure with those who deal in death. Killing has various forms:
1. Murder, or the deliberate taking of another's life on one's own authority, is a most serious sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. It may be:
A. Planned and intended. as poisoning another to collect insurance.Our daily papers are splattered with the blood of those unjustly put to death through revenge, desire to remove a rival, for money or out of fear. That murder is sinful is clear from Sacred Scripture. "No murderer has eternal life abiding in him." I John, 3:15. "The voice of thy brother's blood cries to Me from the earth." Gen. 9:6.
B. Not planned, but directly done, as when a robber kills a policeman who suddenly appears on the scene.
C. Due to criminal negligence, as when a doctor's neglect causes the death of a patient.
The murderer takes to himself the right of God over human life. He robs man of his most precious possession-life. He often sends a soul into eternity without any preparation. He disrupts society, causes bitter grief and sets the stage for other murders.
2. Suicide, or taking one's own life, is also a serious sin, never permitted for any reason. It is for God to relieve you of the post of life in His way and in His time. Killing yourself doesn't help anything or anybody. Usually suicide is committed by the insane or those so emotionally unbalanced that they are not responsible. Some of the common causes of suicide are brooding over bad health or bad luck, heavy financial losses, incurable disease, the facing of punishment, or personal and family disgrace. Put your trust in God. He will see you through.
3. Mercy-killing, that is, putting to death one who is dying or suffering from an incurable disease, in order to put him out of his misery, is murder. It is never permitted - even when the patient freely and calmly gives his consent.
4. Willful and direct abortion is also a mortal sin. Doctors, nurses, parents, and all who cooperate to bring about the death of an infant either before or after its birth are guilty of murder.
Are we never allowed to take the life of another?
There are three kinds of justifiable killing, namely: self-defense, capital punishment, and a just war:
1. A man may kill another in self-defense in order to save his own life, the life of another, or to protect property of great value. You are not allowed to kill another just to preserve your reputation or good name, to prevent someone from trespassing on your property, or to protect property of little value.
2. The State has the right to punish with death if the crime is serious and the good of society requires a serious punishment. Such serious crimes are murder, treason, kidnapping. Capital punishment is permitted to prevent the criminal from doing further damage, to prevent others from crime through fear of execution. All the forms of law must be observed and a just and fair trial is absolutely necessary.
3. It is murder to kill if a war is unjust. If the war is just, soldiers are allowed and even obliged to kill in defense of their country, or in righting a wrong to their country. For a war to be just:
A. Every other means of settlement must have been tried first.If an individual Catholic knew positively that the war was unjust he could not fight in it. However, that is almost impossible to know. In general the State bears the responsibility. We Catholics are loyal; we follow the State; we obey the State, unless there are grave moral issues which would prevent us from doing so.
B. There must be a just cause in conscience.
C. The cause must be serious, that is, the good resulting from the war must completely outweigh the evils of war. Modern warfare has so many terrible evils, that there seems to be scarcely any evil or evils great enough to justify it.
D. The war must be waged in a just way.
Today we will ask the heavenly Father, who has given us life, to help us to respect all human life in every way. We will ask the heavenly Father to give all men a respect for the life of others. We will realize, with God's help, the wickedness of all forms of killing. May all men keep this law of God. Amen.
Adapted from Talks on the Commandments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1948)