By John Feister
Fifth Commandment: “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13).
I’ve stood as an adult at life’s
portals several times: once each
at the birth of my sons, watching,
encouraging, witnessing; again
at the bedside of my mother as she
passed into life hereafter.
All were transition times: My
sons surely were alive well before
their birthdays; most parents can
tell you that
there are plenty
of signs of life
from the outset.
At the other portal,
passing with a
sense of awe as she continued her
journey to life everlasting.
When I consider those times,
I am reminded of Jesus’ words in
“I came so that
they might have
life, and have it
promise of life
is the way I
“You shall not
kill.” It is a prohibition to be sure,
but, like all of the other commandments,
it is there to allow us to
live to the fullest the life that God
We people have a sad history of
ignoring the promise of life from
the earliest times—the story of
Cain and Abel (see Genesis 4:8-12)
tells us that. But one could argue
that respect for life never has been
a more urgent issue than it is
today. In his 1995 encyclical, The
Gospel of Life, the late Pope John
Paul II named our culture’s lack of
respect for life as one of the signs
of our times.
When we talk of living life abundantly, the deepest
meaning of “You shall not kill,” we’re talking about
birth and natural death, but we’re talking about much
more. We’re talking about openly and actively opposing
abortion, but we’re also talking about fighting all
of those other things that take life away.
Anyone who has worked in the Third World, or
among the poor in our own United States, has witnessed
how social poverty takes away life and how
our culture can strip human dignity, that is, take away
respect for life by allowing or even causing poverty.
A January 2007 TV documentary by Maryknoll
films, Lives for Sale, shows a growth in human slavery—in the United States—related to the injustices
surrounding immigration from Mexico and
Latin America. It is the story of powerless
people being sold into bondage.
Being “pro-life,” that is, against
death, includes standing in solidarity
with those who are powerless, from
“womb to tomb.” It is among the
brightest witnesses of the Church that
acts of solidarity are everywhere in the
good works of people building houses,
working at soup kitchens, staffing pregnancy
centers, opposing the death penalty, advocating for
just laws and policies, to name a few. All of these ways
honor the Fifth
The “culture of
death” as John Paul
called it, dishonors
God. Taking of life
example, puts us in
the driver’s seat
reserved for God. God’s command, “You shall not
kill,” gives us a grave responsibility to avoid war.
Catholics believe, of course, that there are times of
legitimate self-defense, when killing is unavoidable
and ethically allowable. But nations, including our
own, often cut a broader swath, resorting to war
when war is not justified. Pope Benedict
XVI, for example, has clearly condemned
our military intervention in Iraq. At the
same time, how many thousands, on
all sides, have lost their lives! How
many millions have died from abortion,
genocide and poverty!
Words of Life
It is the teachers of the Church, the bishops,
who have framed the challenge of the
Fifth Commandment so effectively for our times.
An American, our own late Cardinal Joseph L.
Bernardin, introduced the concept of “a consistent
ethic of life” as a way to tie together all of the life
issues that challenge us today. In The Gospel of Life,
Pope John Paul II speaks of consistency: “Where life is
involved, the service of charity must be profoundly
consistent… human life is sacred and inviolable at
every stage and in every situation…We need, then, to
‘show care’ for all life and for the life of everyone”
Jesus taught us that all of the Commandments are
about being in right relationship with God and
neighbor (see Matthew 22:34-40). In an age where we
people can assert all manner of new and wonderful
creativity and control over creation, the Fifth
Commandment reminds us of the only true author:
It is God, the giver of life, who calls us to have life,
and have it more abundantly.
Next: The Sxith Commandment
What do you think Cardinal Bernardin meant when he referred to “a consistent ethic of life”?
What does it mean to have life abundantly?
Halting ‘Virtual’ Violence
By Judith Dunlap
Ever since my grandson Jake turned 10, I have had opportunities
(several Christmases and birthdays) to peruse the
electronic game section of our local toy store. Good grief!
Just the pictures on the covers of some of the games gave me the
chills. I know they were marked for teens and older children, but
that is no reassurance. Jake turned 13 this year, and in no way is
he old enough to handle the graphic violence some of those covers
depicted. At least I hope not.
While the correlation between violent behavior and violent
video games is being debated across the country, there is one
thing we know for sure: Youngsters are being desensitized to the
significance of pointing a gun at another human
being, shooting him until he is a bloody pulp and
then cheering about it with friends.
A study in 2005, conducted undercover by
young unaccompanied children, revealed that 42
percent of them had no difficulty buying videos
and games marked “M” for mature audiences. The
results of two dozen recent surveys suggest that
while violent games increase aggressive thoughts in
young people, they do not necessarily increase
aggressive behavior. Frankly, as a grandmother and
a Christian, even an increase in aggressive thoughts
gives me concern.
How is this increase in aggressive thoughts
going to affect our youngsters? If, thankfully, these thoughts
aren’t being played out, what happens to them? I remember the
anger and pent-up frustration of my own teen years. How does
increased aggression affect a teen’s attitude and his or her relationships
“Virtual” killing may not be a sin against the Fifth Commandment,
but its impact on a young person’s general character is
questionable. The early years are a time to practice choosing
between good and bad, and video games that involve killing
others are not good.
Talk about what games might be appropriate substitutes for video games.
By Frank Frost
The real-life spy
story that has
movie Breach manages
to be a gripping
tale even though we
know how it ends from
the opening shot—an actual
news clip of Attorney General John
Ashcroft in 2001 announcing the
arrest of Robert Hanssen for spying
on the United States. Even those
who followed the news when it happened
still want to know what could
possibly motivate a man like this.
This question is raised in the very
next shot—an extreme close-up of a
man’s hands praying the Rosary. The
shot pulls back to reveal Robert
Hanssen who, we will learn, is an
F.B.I. agent suspected of betraying
his country by selling high-level
secrets to the Soviet
Union. The film
comes back time
and again to the
enigma of Hanssen
(perfectly played by
Chris Cooper), who
professes deep religious
piety and at the same time feels no
moral qualms about stealing and
selling state secrets.
Also helping make this story
fresh is its perspective. In a sense
it’s not Hanssen’s story at all, but
the story of a young F.B.I. operative
named Eric O’Neill (Ryan
Phillippe). Bright and ambitious,
O’Neill is assigned to assist Hanssen,
who has just been asked by the F.B.I.
to establish a new office for Security
Assurance at the Bureau.
O’Neill believes he is being asked to spy on Hanssen because he is suspected
of being a sexual deviant. But Hanssen,
who can be arrogant and abrasive, turns
out to have a paternal side as well, and
begins to adopt O’Neill as a protégé. He
sees the opportunity to draw lax Catholic
O’Neill and his wife into the stringent
Catholicism he himself follows as a member
of Opus Dei and an advocate of the
traditional Latin Mass.
O’Neill comes to admire his boss and
his faith, and seeks to be relieved of his
assignment, feeling Hanssen is being misjudged.
When O’Neill is then told the true
purpose of his job—to uncover evidence
that will allow Hanssen to be prosecuted
for espionage—his relationship to the
complicated, suspicious and volatile
Hanssen becomes both difficult and
dangerous. The movie also convincingly
portrays the tensions that
threaten the marriage of O’Neill and
his wife because of the secrecy O’Neill
is sworn to.
Breach is a work of fine craftsmanship.
Writing a drama from a well-known
news story can become a dramatic
straitjacket. Screenwriters Adam
Mazer, William Rotko and Billy Ray
wisely limit the story to the last two
months before Hanssen was arrested. By
focusing on O’Neill they are able to capitalize
on a dimension of the story that
was not included in original news coverage.
Director Billy Ray effectively builds
and holds tension through several close
calls O’Neill actually experienced.
But the principal mystery that drives
the film—leaving the answer to us—is
how an apparently sincere religious
believer can seem to make no connection
between his fanatically held faith and the
morality of his working life.
What values do you find in this film?
By Judy Ball
St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431)
If she hadn’t heard and followed the voices that called
her to save her country from English occupation, Joan
of Arc would be just another illiterate peasant girl
unknown to history. Instead, she is a canonized saint celebrated
in books, in film and on stage as a woman of
courage who spoke truth to power.
Born in France during the Hundred Years War against
England, Joan had a simple childhood. But by her early
teens, she reported hearing voices from heaven that told her
she had a special mission to save France.
Leaving home, she presented herself and her case to
French authorities. Overcoming their initial resistance, Joan
was finally put in command of troops at Orléans. In eight
days, the army she led freed that city, which had been
under siege for eight months. Another victory followed at
Patay. Soon after, Joan stood at the side of the new king of
France at his coronation.
As the war continued, French losses mounted. Joan was
captured by allies of the British, sold to the enemy and
imprisoned. Viewed as a
sorceress or even a
heretic, she was cross-examined
officials who challenged
her about the voices she
reported hearing, about
her use of male dress,
about her faith. Lacking
in formal education, she
was no match for her
Insisting that the
voices she heard were
from God, Joan was declared a heretic, excommunicated,
turned over to secular authorities and burned at the stake.
Twenty years after Joan’s death, a Church investigation
found her innocent of the charges against her. She was canonized
in 1920. Her feast day is May 30.
As a young girl growing up in
the Bronx, Virginia loved hearing
her father read stories of
the Knights of the Round Table to
her. She loved dressing in armor herself
and playing the role of a knight.
She eventually outgrew her
childhood games, but
her fascination with
St. Joan of Arc has
Now living in
technology to tell the
story of St. Joan on her
Web site (www.stjoan-center.com).
She offers visitors an opportunity to
meet the real St. Joan through a CD,
which includes her unpublished
novel (Jeanne! God’s Holy Warrior),
photos dating from the 15th century,
details from her trial, prayers, poetry
and music. The site also includes
reviews of books, films and plays
about St. Joan.
“I’m offended by the media that
misrepresent her as insane, as suffering
from epilepsy or brain disease, as
a transvestite. I love St. Joan. I want
her name and renown to be transmitted
to the next generation,”
Virginia told Every Day Catholic.
“She was a woman of such courage
As a young woman in
the U.S. Air Force,
Virginia displayed her
Working as a registered
nurse at the
base hospital, she told
her superiors she
would not “go along with
the abortions they were
doing. They made my life miserable
after that, but I had the moral
support of the chaplain.” And, of
course, she had the example of St.
Joan, her model and mentor.
Virginia, who has visited France
many times, celebrates St. Joan’s feast
day in style—first attending Mass,
then baking a homemade cake in her
And why not? St. Joan of Arc is
her “best friend.”