May 12, 2006

Be Our Guest / John Jaffe

Wanted: More theological guidance for Catholics in the pews

An April 21 letter to the editor underscores the prevailing lack of theological knowledge rampant among modern Catholics. The writer appears to be more a Quaker or Jehovah’s Witness than a Catholic.

He wrongly states that “all killing is murder.” Murder, as defined in Webster’s Dictionary, is “the unlawful killing of a human being.” Murder is a mortal sin, but not all killing is murder.

The earliest Hebrew translations of the Ten Commandments found in the Torah use the Hebrew verb “ratsach,” associated with criminal acts of killing; murder. The Hebrew verb “harag” more closely covers killing in general, including all forms of life, and was not found in the earliest texts.

These differences were made clear by rabbinical scholars in the 16th century when the English King James version of the Bible appeared. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible, translated the commandment using a word that means “murder,” not “kill.” St. Augustine, using that translation, made it clear that this commandment did not pertain to every type of killing, to include capital punishment.

To further substantiate the above, it would be very “un-God-like” for God to give the Hebrews the Ten Commandments, admonish them not to “kill,” then lead them across the Jordan where they promptly fought and killed the inhabitants to gain that land, all under his leadership and direction. God, by very definition, cannot be illogical, or “un-Godly.” God is perfect.

It is reprehensible that Catholics today are left in a perpetual state of confusion concerning, for example, war, self-defense, etc. What are the children of soldiers or law enforcement officers supposed to think when they read uninformed writing?

I put the blame on many of today’s religious clerics. Not long ago, I had this same conversation with two priests, one newly ordained, pertaining to this commandment. I was met with blank stares, and the comment, “I’ve never heard that.”

Catholics don’t get complicated theology in Sunday homilies, leaving many in the pews uncertain how to address current issues in our lives.

Another problematic area is an understanding of the Church’s traditional position on “subsidiarity,” support for the poor. It hasn’t been fully explained. There are people who need help, but there is a fine line between giving help and becoming an “enabler.”

Do we encourage people to change their lives for the better, discarding habits and lifestyles that are harmful and even deadly, or do we just regularly and routinely give them “stuff” to the point they become ever more dependent? It may make us feel better, and relieve our guilt for having achieved a degree of “success,” but how does it effect those to whom we give?

Faithful Catholics may be assured that the Church does indeed have very good answers for the questions we have. While some homilists are very good, it is unfortunate we do not get the core teachings, but rather a politically correct, “light” version of theology on Sundays and from Catholic News Service columnists.

(John M. Jaffe is an Indianapolis resident and member of St. Barnabas Parish.)


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