“Thou shalt not kill,’ not kill yourself, not kill time (because it belongs to God), not kill trust, not kill death itself by trivializing it, not kill the country, the other person, or the Church.”
These words, spoken by Trappist martyr Dom Christian De Cherge, seem especially apropos as a tool for reflection on this 35th anniversary of the Roe v Wade abortion decision. Jesuit spirituality suggests that it is good to reflect frequently upon the times we might turn away from God. In our individual participation in the struggle over abortion, this turning can manifest itself in concrete emotional, spiritual or physical behaviors. The obverse is true of our reflections as well; it is good to consider daily the ways in which we turn towards God. After identifying the personal failings and strengths of our own conduct in the abortion debate, we can ask the Lord to assist us in avoiding the sin that destroys, and to send us the grace which lifts us nearer Him.
Dom Christian listed several categories of killing we might ponder today: killing of time, death, trust, and the country. While each of us defies these precepts in various ways, it is my intention today to focus on the mechanisms whereby we kill ourselves, other people, and the Church. We kill ourselves in turning away from the God-given purpose of our existence. We kill others in our destructive ruminations, violent words and physical attacks. We kill the Church in dismissing her officials and publicly dissenting from her teachings without carefully examining her arguments.
One foundational component of a Catholic worldview is that human beings exist to praise, reverence and serve the Lord in this world and to be happy with Him in the next. Thus, entertaining thoughts that are unworthy of a Christian, speaking words that goad others or myself to sin, or using my body in the service of ungodly desires could be seen as spiritually killing myself. Wallowing in wrathful thoughts towards those who draw different conclusions than I do could serve as a gateway to false pride. Pride can distort the position of the servant relative to the master, putting the created being in the place of God. While I am right and good to assess the validity of others’ arguments, internal hatred of my interlocutors wounds my soul without touching those of my adversaries.
How do I kill other people in the abortion debate? I kill in the use of words to wound rather than to convince. Making personal attacks against others places me again at risk of pride and wrath. Note well: when discussing abortion, one sometimes hears, “You will never change anyone’s mind about this. People think what they think.” If the abolitionists and suffragettes had denied the possibility of change in their fellow citizens’ opinions, this country would still have slavery and women without the vote. Denying the possibility of conversion is to deny the possibility of grace: it plays into the hands of the enemy of our human nature.
A further note on killing the other person: As a practicing physician licensed to care for pregnant women, I believe that abortions kill a living human being in the earliest stages of development. The moral question at hand is not if we are killing; it is whether the victims have any claims as persons or not. While the U.S. legal balance is at present skewed towards the denial of rights for the unborn, Catholics and many Evangelical Christians argue that both the mother and the unborn have rights. On a spiritual level, a woman seeking an abortion should recognize that exercising her “choice” will kill a vulnerable and defenseless human being. There is no doubt about this. There is also no doubt that an action can be legal and at the same time be wrong.
Final point, we kill the Church when, in ignorance, we hold it up to ridicule. Last Spring, I asked several medical students in a seminar whether they rejected Catholic teachings regarding reproduction and artificial contraception. Several raised their hands. I prompted them to articulate the position and to give their critique of it. Conversation languished for some while. None in that group of graduating physicians had an answer, yet these well-educated role models were willing to publicly disagree with an argument they could not explain. At a recent Christmas party, a gentlemen identifying himself as a Catholic biologist was railing for research that would result in the death of frozen human embryos. He justified the exploitation, “because they are just sitting there.” I advised him that the Church’s reverence for the protected status of a human person is not based on level of activity but on an intrinsic dignity. He agreed to consider that.
In conversations about abortion we can turn away from the purpose of our being when we entertain malicious thoughts. We kill when we speak unholy words, or physically attack the other person. We kill our children when we abort, terminate, or “get rid of” them. We can kill the Church if we dissent in ignorance from the teachings of its experts and legitimate authorities. Following a reflection such as this upon our failings, it is good to look at the way in which we turn towards God. In this case it shall be to consider how we appropriately love ourselves, the other person and the Church. I leave it to the readers’ good discretion to identify examples of their healthy spiritual habits, generosity to their fellows, and active participation in communities of worship. Concluding those considerations, all that remains for persons of prayer is to ask that the Lord help us to turn away from sin and to further embrace the Good News of love. May God help this broken soul to do so.
Dr. William Blazek, a Jesuit scholastic and physician, is a board certified specialist in Internal Medicine and a Research Scholar in the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He teaches ethics and clinical skills as an Adjunct Assistant Professor while preparing for ordination to priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.