How did Jesus live the Commandments in his life? How are his 21st-century followers called to live them? Throughout 2007, Every Day Catholic will feature a series of cover articles on the 10 Commandments by award-winning writer Kathy Coffey. 

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Respecting All Life
 
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, I witnessed my mother’s 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 John’s Gospel: “I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (10:10). That positive promise of life is the way I approach the Fifth Commandment, “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 gives us.

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.

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Global Solidarity

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 Commandment.

The “culture of death” as John Paul called it, dishonors God. Taking of life medically by euthanasia, for 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” (#87).

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.

John Feister is an assistant editor of St. Anthony Messenger, managing editor of Catholic Update and director of Electronic Media at St. Anthony Messenger Press.

Next: The Sxith Commandment

Questions for Reflection:

• What do you think Cardinal Bernardin meant when he referred to “a consistent ethic of life”?

• What does it mean to have life abundantly?

 
FAMILY CORNER
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 to others?

“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.

For Family Response:

Talk about what games might be appropriate substitutes for video games.

 
Media Watch
Breach
By Frank Frost

The real-life spy story that has become the 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.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

 
SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
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 by Church 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 sophisticated interrogators. 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.

Virginia Frohlick

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 only grown.

Now living in Albuquerque, Virginia Frohlick uses 21st-century 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 and boldness.”

As a young woman in the U.S. Air Force, Virginia displayed her own courage. 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 honor.

And why not? St. Joan of Arc is her “best friend.”

 
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