The 5th Commandment

Latin Mass: 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Beloved in Christ Jesus, in the year 350AD, a slave in Egypt was dismissed for theft and murder, and he became the leader of a gang of bandits who roamed about spreading terror and violence. His name was Moses the Black. Having gotten into more trouble, he fled to the desert and took shelter with some monks in the desert. But he became very much captivated by their monastic life, and remarkably, he joined the community.
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Eventually he would become the spiritual leader, the Abbott. And this former criminal became known for his mercy. When a brother committed a fault and Moses was summoned to discuss what to do with the monk, he took a basket filled with sand, with a hole in it, the sand pouring out. ‘What is that for?, they asked. He replied, ‘My sins run out behind me, and so how can I judge the sins of another?’
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When he was 75 years old, word came that a group of renegades planned to attack the monastery. The brothers wanted to defend it, but Moses said no; he had them all retreat, while he and 7 others remained and greeted the invaders with open arms. All 8 were martyred; the final action of SAINT Moses the Black, a killer who became a saint.
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Friends in Christ, the 5th Commandment is: ‘Thou shall not kill,’ and this is our subject today.
Killing was the first sin to occur after our expulsion from the Garden of Eden; it was the first prohibition God gave after the Flood. One person asked, ‘why do you Catholics still talk about the 10 commandments? That was the old law.’ Well, the commandments in fact, have not been discarded, but rather, amplified by Jesus Christ. In his Sermon on the Mount, the Lord makes clear, that the Christian is to live an entirely elevated spirit of the commandments.
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– ‘Thou shall not kill.’ I recently asked our students, what is the most common sin of killing in our country? One girl knew: abortion. And this we can say, is the saddest violation of this Law of God, because this is the killing of, not guilty or sinful people, but the killing of innocents. A million per year. It hardly need be said, that Catholics must be Pro-Life.
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But living the 5th commandment means more than not killing. As Jesus told us: ‘You have heard it said by the ancients, ‘you shall not kill, but I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.’ And so, anger, hatred, fighting, bullying – these are against God’s law. The catechism of the Council of Trent says: [This precept] commands us to cherish sentiments of charity and friendship towards our enemies, to have peace with all men, and to endure with patience every inconvenience.
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This is an echo of St. Paul’s admonition today in the Epistle: He tells us that we should do good to our enemies, and heap hot coals of charity upon his head.’ ‘Revenge not yourselves,’ he says. Enemies are most easily converted by love, not revenge. Revenge should be no part of a Catholic heart. I remember how my mother used to get upset when everyone started to become ‘sue-happy,’ suing everyone. ‘This is not how a Christian lives,’ she used to say. Nothing is more disgusting than to hear a Catholic person demanding their rights, like some pagan. ‘I demand to be compensated for my injury. I will sue!’ Holy Scripture says: ‘The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves is a defeat for you. Why not rather just accept the wrong? Why not rather be cheated?’[i]
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Yes, maybe in some cases, if we are impoverished by medical bills, and the other party can afford to pay them, maybe we go to court. But not to get even, or to win 6 million dollars. In most cases, we offer up our troubles. ‘I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.’
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The 5th commandment requires us to safeguard the lives of others, but also, within reason, we must take care of ourself. Of course suicide is against this Commandment, but we also must not abuse our body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit: gluttony, drunkenness, cutting, abuse of drugs – these are ways that we are not caring for our own body. But obsession with the body can become un-Christian as well; the Catechism warns against today’s ‘cult of the body;’ this fixation on physical perfection or obsession with diet and health.
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Extreme sports in which one’s life is needlessly put at risk is against the 5th commandment.[ii] There must be a good reason to put our life at risk, such as caring for a person with a contagious disease, rescuing a person in danger, or a job that involves danger. But risking our life for love of speed[iii] or frivolous reasons is hardly Christian.
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Self-defense is certainly not against the 5th Commandment, and it is possible that someone might die in our defending ourself, although we are not required to defend ourself. In the case of innocent persons, we are obliged to defend them, and this may mean stopping or even killing an attacker. The same is true in a Just War: a country has a right and duty to protect it’s citizens from an aggressor, eve n if it means the killing of an enemy.
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But the 5th commandment is not just against harming a person in body, but also in soul. We wound persons in their soul by cruel or demeaning words, or by prejudice, or by humiliating them – and we wound others by bad example, because leading others into sin harms a person the most.
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In the New Law of Christ, the 5th commandment is a command of peace, to bring peace where we are. As St. Paul says today: ‘Live in harmony with one another; live peaceably with all.’ And this is surely fulfilled in Jesus’ words: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’
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The great peacemaker is Mary. St. Bernardine says that after the Flood, God put a rainbow in the clouds; ‘Mary, he says, is this bow of eternal peace,’ seeking peace between God and man’ and man and man.
Help us Mary, to be apostles of peace, in our home and in our world, and so be worthy of the promises of Christ.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Therese]

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[i] Also: ‘Dare any of you … go to law before the unjust?’ 1 Cor 6:1

[ii] Moral Theology, Jone – Adelman, #208.

[iii] Catechism of the Catholic Church #2290

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