Causing Physical and Spiritual Harm

News: Commentary
by Joe Sixpack — The Every Catholic Guy  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  May 13, 2022   

Finishing the Fifth Commandment

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This is the second in an examination of the Fifth Commandment. Read Part I.


A woman went to her priest to complain that her husband mistreated her. The priest knew the woman easily became angry at every little thing her husband did So, Father concocted a little remedy for the situation.

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Anger, which is generally sinful, merits a look at provocations

The priest handed the woman a bottle and said, "Here you are. Take this medicine, and it will cure your anger and quarreling."

"But what kind of medicine is it?" asked the woman.

"It's miraculous water."

"Miraculous water? What do I do? Sprinkle it on my husband?"

"No, not at all. All you have to do is keep some in your mouth. As long as you do that, he'll never feel any desire to fight with you."

The woman understood what Father meant. From that time on, she never gave her husband anything to argue about.

I didn't write this story to start any trouble between some of you married folks, although I realize the story describes an all-too-often occurrence in the relationships of some couples. My intent was to use a story to demonstrate the silliness of anger and its provocations. As we continue to deepen our ongoing discussion of the Fifth Commandment, looking at this lady's angry husband and her provocations is a great place to start.

Unfounded anger is usually a venial sin unless the angered person goes into such a rage that he appears to have lost his senses. We must always distinguish between misguided anger and righteous anger. Inappropriate or excessive anger is a sin against charity, and we should do all we can to avoid these. Righteous anger, however, is what's termed just indignation over sin. It motivates an orderly desire for punishment.

We must always distinguish between misguided anger and righteous anger.

Another important sin against the Fifth Commandment, one that's in the news fairly often these days, is euthanasia. So-called mercy killing is obviously immoral because an innocent human life is ended. What amounts to murder is committed to help a patient avoid pain, shorten his suffering or eliminate someone who is supposedly useless to society owing to old age, defect or illness. Only God can decide when life should end.

And Christ sanctified suffering on the Cross, allowing our crosses to become sources of grace when united with his. For those who suffer and are not Catholic, the Holy Spirit can use even that suffering in the process of the person's conversion. The person who is already a Catholic can unite his suffering with that of the crucified Christ, thereby making his prayers very powerful and honorable in the sight of God.

St. John Paul II made the suffering of his final years very evident to the world, as he was trying to show us the importance of offering up our suffering. He did just as we all should do; he offered his suffering in reparation for his sins as well as the sins of the whole world.

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Another violation of the Fifth Commandment, direct sterilization, is always mortally sinful if done with the intention of preventing conception. Direct sterilization removes, for selfish reasons, the procreative power given to us for the generation of human life. Sterilization includes tubal ligation and vasectomy. Indirect sterilization isn't sinful when done for the sole purpose of correcting a serious pathological condition. An example of this would be a hysterectomy when a woman has a cancerous uterus.

Direct sterilization is always mortally sinful if done with the intention of preventing conception.

Also harmful to life and wellbeing is gluttony. This sinful act is defined as an excessive desire for or indulgence in food, drink or other substances such as drugs. The abuse of drugs or alcohol to the point of intoxication is always excessive and therefore always sinful. Intoxication is mortally sinful when the person is so drunk that he can't distinguish between right and wrong or can't remember his actions when he sobers up.

Scandal is yet another sin against the Fifth Commandment, but most people don't understand the proper meaning of it. Scandal can be defined as follows:

Any action or its omission, not necessarily sinful in itself, that is likely to induce another to do something morally wrong. Direct scandal, also called diabolical scandal, has the deliberate intention to induce another to sin. In indirect scandal, a person does something that he or she foresees will at least likely lead another to commit sin, but this is rather tolerated than positively desired.

The Fifth Commandment also obliges us to take whatever ordinary means necessary to preserve the life and health of ourselves and our neighbors insofar as we are able. It does not, however, oblige us to utilize extraordinary means that involve extreme difficulty in order to preserve our life. But extraordinary means may become obligatory to the degree a person is very necessary to his family, the Church or society.

Extraordinary means of preserving one's life are constantly evolving owing to the technological advances in medicine. For example, back in the '60s when doctors first started doing open heart surgery, it was considered an extraordinary means to have, say, a heart bypass. It has become so common today, with significantly fewer risks, that it's now considered an ordinary means of preserving life.

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The Crucifixion

Despite the commandment's admonition that we must protect and preserve life, a person may risk his life or health if there is a proportionately serious reason. A good example would be a soldier throwing himself on a hand grenade to save his fellow soldiers. This is, after all, what Jesus did for us on the Cross.

Then there is suicide, which is objectively a mortal sin because God alone has the right over life and death. When a person commits suicide, he attempts to displace God and His rightful authority. Of course, the victim of suicide, who suffers from elements that restrict his free will, may not be fully responsible for this evil act in God's sight.

Finally, there is the question of organ transplantation. When studying the Fifth Commandment, you may wonder if this common medical practice is actually permitted. The Church does permit the transplantation of vital organs provided the donor is truly dead or if the donor can lead a normal life without the organ, such as a kidney, for example.

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