You Shall Not Kill

“Blessed are the meek… You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:5,21). Our Lord, who is meek and humble of heart, teaches us the way to “find rest for our souls” (Matthew 11:29). Meekness helps us avoid harming others by anger and verbal abuse, increasing peace here on this earth so that all can inherit the Promise Land of heaven. As Pope Francis writes:

[“Blessed are the meek”] are strong words in a world that from the beginning has been a place of conflict, disputes and enmity on all sides, where we constantly pigeonhole others on the basis of their ideas, their customs and even their way of speaking or dressing… where each person thinks he or she has the right to dominate others… Jesus proposes a different way of doing things: the way of meekness… Inner strength, as the work of grace, prevents us from becoming carried away by the violence that is so much a part of life today, because grace defuses vanity and makes possible meekness of heart. The saints do not waste energy complaining about the failings of others; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and sisters, and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others. (Gaudete et Exsultate 71, 116).

Dominating others and verbal abuse kills relationships—killing social and spiritual life—just as murder kills innocent human life; both offend God who made that person in his own image and likeness. Thus life—physical and spiritual—is sacred and inalienable:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence).

The 5th Commandment not only condemns murder, manslaughter, suicide, abortion, and euthanasia, it teaches that all life is sacred as a gift from God, calling us to respect and protect our own life as well as that of others.

“Why must human life be respected?” Human life must be respected because it is sacred. From its beginning human life involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. It is not lawful for anyone directly to destroy an innocent human being. This is gravely contrary to the dignity of the person and the holiness of the Creator. “Do not slay the innocent and the righteous” (Exodus 23:7) (CCCC 466, see CCC 2258).

Directly killing an innocent person is a mortal sin (see CCC 2268), rejecting God who created that life for himself. So does subjecting ourselves or others to unnecessary mortal danger, or refusing to help someone in such danger. God is pained by the loss of the life he loved and created, even if that person was a great sinner. David—a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22)—wept over the loss of his son Absalom, who had killed his brother and died trying to kill David (see 2 Samuel 19:1-2). God does the same for every sinner who dies unrepented.

Suicide is a painful reality: to God and to loved ones. While one may desire death—as did St. Paul (see Philippians 1:21-24) and Elijah (see 1Kings 19:2-4), and even our Lord (see Matthew 26:37-38)—it is gravely wrong to reject God’s gift of life to us. Yet only God knows the soul and its psychological torment when taking its own life. This is why the Catechism says:

We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives (CCC 2283).

Our Lord also tells us: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Let us deepen our respect for God’s gift of physical, social, and spiritual life, and then protect it—being truly meek we will inherit the Promise Land of heaven.

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Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.