Our Catholic faith teaches that every human life is sacred from conception to natural death. It begs the question: How do we treat sacred things? What happens to our demeanor, for example, when we approach the sacred space of a church, or a cathedral?
We lower our voices. Men remove their hats. We become reverent. As Moses was told to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground, in a similar way, when we approach the sacred, we are called to quiet our hearts and tread lightly. We are called to listen.
If people from within or without the Church claimed that individuals or the state had a right to destroy certain churches, we would rightly protest.
If this is how we protect divinely inspired, yet man-made worship spaces that decay over time, or are destroyed by fire, how committed should we be to protecting human persons? Think of the reaction the world had to the Notre Dame Cathedral fire. Donations poured out all over the world to restore it, which was a beautiful response. How should we respond, then, to the intentional destruction of the “Temples of the Holy Spirit” happening from conception to natural death?
Even those who have committed heinous crimes have an eternal soul. Like us, they were made in the image and likeness of God and were redeemed by the blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Governments have an obligation to protect their citizens from those who would do them harm. But even those who are incarcerated are invited to turn away from sin and accept what Christ has won for them. St. Dismas showed us that salvation is possible even in our last moments.
Capital punishment is not a “natural death.” Vengeance does not restore what was taken from us. It cuts short opportunities for repentance, time to be transformed by grace, and the possibility of asking for pardon. This should be a serious consideration for those Catholics who support the use of the death penalty.
While the great founders of our country did not always adhere to the idea that every life is sacred, they intuited it when they declared that life is an inalienable right. A just government does not grant this right. It merely recognizes what is already there. This is true from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death. St. Dismas, pray for us.