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Shooting in self-defense
Q. Regarding the commandment "You shall not kill," if someone approaches me with the intent to harm or kill me and I have a gun, is it wrong if I shoot the would-be aggressor?
-- N.A., Cambridge, Ohio
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
As you may know, the whole question of self-defense, whether of individual persons or societies, has been subject to a considerable degree of discussion in recent decades. The reason is that the weapons of offense and self-defense have become more lethal and easy to use. The result is a world in which random violence is more pervasive.
The Church's thought on the use of weapons of self-defense has been tightened up, especially as the Catechism of the Catholic Church was drafted. However, the fundamental principles remained the same. The Catechism states: "The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing" (No. 2263).
Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catechism continues, " 'The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.' "
According to St. Thomas: " 'If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful; whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful.' "
The Church's fundamental teaching, then, is that the killing of another person in self-defense is acceptable only as a means of the preservation of the life of another and as a last resort. Moderation must always be the guiding principle.
One may act in lethal self-defense only when absolutely necessary. Therefore, if it is unclear what the potential aggressor's intentions are or if the threat is vague, one should not respond in a decisively violent manner.
Q. I have a friend who is 46. She is unable to have children. She had a girl after many attempts and went in to full-blown menopause. Her daughter is now 9. She has eggs frozen, and she is looking for someone to carry the baby for her. What is the Church's stance on surrogate mothers?
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the guidance of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), studied this issue in depth in the 1980s and pronounced on this topic in the instruction Donum Vitae ("The Gift of Life,"1987). This teaching is repeated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see Nos. 2375-2377).
Let's look at Donum Vitae and the question "Is surrogate motherhood morally licit?" The Church answers:
"No, for the same reasons which lead one to reject heterologous artificial fertilization [that is, artificial fertilization with gametes from a 'donor']: for it is contrary to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of the human person. Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up, to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families" (No. 3).
The instruction proceeds to explain what "surrogate mother" means:
"a) the woman who carries in pregnancy an embryo implanted in her uterus and who is genetically a stranger to the embryo because it has been obtained through the union of the gametes of 'donors.' She carries the pregnancy with a pledge to surrender the baby once it is born to the party who commissioned or made the agreement for the pregnancy.
"b) the woman who carries in pregnancy an embryo to whose procreation she has contributed the donation of her own ovum, fertilized through insemination with the sperm of a man other than her husband. She carries the pregnancy with a pledge to surrender the child once it is born to the party who commissioned or made the agreement for the pregnancy."
Vestments and Roman Collar?
Q. Have Catholic priests always worn special liturgical vestments that are different from everyday clothes? And what is the origin of the "Roman collar" for priests' everyday wear?
Henrietta Lodges, via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D:
Vestments such as the alb, the chasuble and the dalmatic are replicas of first-century street clothes. As they passed out of fashion, the Church retained them as a "uniform." They have become symbols of continuity in the Church's worship. Liturgical vestments, in addition to adding beauty to our worship, help us to focus on the functions the clergyman is serving and not on his dress or on him as an individual.
The clerical shirt with which the "Roman collar" is worn was originated by a Church of England clergyman. Prior to that, some Protestant clergy had been wearing white preaching bands almost since the Reformation. The clerical shirt-and-collar has become known by the adjective "Roman" because of the large number of Catholic priests who wear them.
History of Cain?
Q. How could Cain encounter other tribes if Adam and Eve were our first parents?
— Olga Ariza, via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
Scriptural inconsistencies are puzzling. An example is Cain’s exile, in which he encounters a society the Book of Genesis has not mentioned. Indeed, until Cain is forced to leave home the author has led us to believe that Adam, Eve and their sons are the only human beings on the planet.
The early Church distinguished between literal and spiritual meanings of Scripture; we must do the same. The Catechism of the Catholic Church places immense importance on the literal sense, “the meaning conveyed by the words … and discovered by … following the rules of sound interpretation” (No. 116).
Sound interpretation recognizes that scriptural books were written long after the events they describe, and are perhaps compiled from many different sources. Scholars believe Cain illustrates – vividly – the sad, pervasive nature of sin, and its consequence, which (for Adam, Eve and their offspring) is exile.
However, the author of Genesis also wants to explain what happened between Adam and Noah, so he employs Cain to link the earlier and later history. This does not deny Eve’s role as “mother of all the living” (including those Cain encounters), but it suggests the author has compressed events and imaginatively embellished the history of Cain.
Descent into Hell?
Q. What is meant by “he descended into hell and on the third day”? Is it correct that no one went to heaven until this happened and that “hell” wasn’t what we normally think of as hell, but rather purgatory?
— Chris Regis, via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
To say Christ rose from the dead, affirms that Jesus, “like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 632).
Heaven was closed until Christ’s resurrection, so St. Thomas Aquinas taught the first lesson to derive from Christ’s descent is hope: “If Christ freed those … in hell, anyone – provided he is a friend of God – should be confident that God will deliver him.”
Still, St. Thomas reminds us Jesus delivered only the righteous. The pains of sin might once have been hard to discern; they are easier to comprehend since Christ returned to tell what awaits the unrepentant. St. Thomas adds that those who make a spiritual descent into hell in life are not apt to make the descent in death.
Christ’s descent into hell was not a visit to purgatory, but the two realities share a place in our spiritual lives. Christ’s descent was to deliver the just “from their privation of glory” (Summa Theologica, III 52.8, reply 3). This invites us to remember the souls in purgatory, who likewise await the glory promised them.
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