A Theological Reflection on Extrajudicial Killings

by Lesley Anne Rosal

More than 3,600 lives slaughtered: this is what appeared in the headlines of both local and international news on the day that President Duterte celebrated 100 days in office. 100 days. What must the highest official of the land achieve in these 100 days? In the natural order of things, one would aim for economic advancement. Another would take steps hoping that one day everything will be better. But this administration took pride in bloodshed and injustice like medals to be flaunted for all the world to see, justifying extrajudicial killings as the best solution to the war against drugs. The President has not been even an ounce apologetic and his numerous supporters have been blindly defending him, applauding the loss of lives and maintaining that it is necessary to wipe out crime. As each body falls from the rain of bullets, so is the moral climate getting gloomier each day. We have gone farther from having that better tomorrow. We have gone back to the time when Cain killed Abel and God, cried out:

“What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” (Gen 4:10)

No matter what “happy end” this government is envisioning, the evil that is currently being encouraged and tolerated goes against what has been true from the very beginning: human life is sacred. Even natural law states this as a matter of fact. Each person holds within him or her a dignity that puts him or her above all other creatures. As Christians, we firmly believe in God’s command that

“You shall not kill.”

Regardless of what a person has become or of the gravity of the sins one has committed in his or her lifetime, no one or no institution can claim the right to deprive a human being to life. In the document Donum Vitae, the Church states that “human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end.”1 If we look into the Theology of the Spirit, this “creative action of God” is the “Breath of God that breathes life into the dust of the Earth so that it becomes a living being (Gen. 2:7)”2

Life is brought forth because of the Spirit who is the Giver of Life.

From this we can say that as God breathed us into existence, the Spirit has begun to dwell within us. Each human being has become “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:16) because “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). Furthermore, the assertion that human life is sacred stems also from the truth that we are made in God’s “image and likeness” (Gen 1:27). It is only the human person that God has willed to exist in His image and likeness, bestowing upon man transcendence amongst the created realities. The essence of the human person comes from the fact that “God fashioned man with his own hands [that is, the Son and the Holy Spirit] and impressed his own form on the flesh he had fashioned, in such a way that even what was visible might bear the divine form.”3

And so this why the Church is so adamant in defending human life, not excluding those who have committed crimes: our very essence as human beings is that we were made in God’s image and likeness; no crime, nor sin can ever change who we are from the very beginning.

In addition to who we are as God has affirmed us “in the beginning,” God’s “chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4).”4 God became man so that we can be one with Him and share in the Divine Communion. Likewise, it was through Christ that we have received new life in the Spirit, conferring on us our dignity as children of God. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Rom 8:15-17). Jesus, however, fully revealed the Spirit only when He was glorified through His Death and Resurrection. When His hour had come, Jesus commends His spirit to the Father “at the very moment when by His death he conquers death so that ‘raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,’ he might immediately give the Holy Spirit by ‘breathing’ on his disciples.”5 This is the same Spirit that raised us up from sin when we were baptized, giving us hope, the same Spirit that makes us one with God, the same Spirit that relates us to one another as brothers and sisters. and also the same Spirit that enabled, and continues to sanctify and send forth in mission, the Church.

Therefore, from this we can also argue that there is no way that we can justify killing even those who we deem “evil” and declare that we are the “better specie” because each of us is a child of God.

And if we are children of the Father then that makes us brothers and sisters It is appalling to note that the culture the Duterte administration is creating is something that turns brothers and sisters against each other. It is also heartbreaking to hear and converse with people who have lost all hope for the other as if death is the only solution to rid society of its ills.

Once I posted my opinion on social media about an experience I had one night as I was biking on the way home. Just blocks away from home, I heard the sound of bullets firing in the distance. Scared, I checked out what happened in our Barangay’s group page and found out that had I stayed in my friend’s house for around five minutes longer, I could have witnessed a couple being gunned down to death by killers riding in tandem. Worse, I could have been shot, too, as I zoomed by. Just minutes later, I received comments from “friends in Facebook,” majority of which were Catholics. They believed that Duterte was doing the right thing and that I was too quick to judge the changes the administration was implementing. I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief. I couldn’t help but be silently enraged that people smirk and say, “serves them right” as if the ones killed without due process deserve to be slaughtered and left to bleed like animals in sidewalks.

I fear for what may happen in the future.

However, I also believe that this is the right time for the Church to wake up and be docile to the leading of the Holy Spirit to defend and promote life. Maybe we, Catholics, need to revisit the truths about our faith, the very basic of which is our assertion that human life is sacred.

Maybe in this gloom, we need the light of faith to illumine the hearts of those who support the people behind extrajudicial killings.

I hope that the Church will rekindle the fire that moved the apostles to preach that Christ came to give us life to the full, the same fire that also rested in the hearts of the first Christian communities that were bound by the love that came from the love shared by the Triune God. Maybe it is not the time for us to remain silent but to speak out and evangelize. I believe it is time that we let the world know that life is a gift and not something we can lord over others.

In Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), John Paul II stresses that the best way to promote life is for us to be living witnesses of life to others. That for evangelization to be effective we need to give a sincere gift of ourselves to others – our lives for the lives of others – reflecting the self-giving love poured out by the Trinity.

If each of us will, with zeal, fulfill the mandate given to each of us to go and proclaim the Good News that gave us life then no longer shall the ground cry out with the blood of men killed for a false sense of justice.

One day we shall find ourselves in a better place; in a civilization of love that sees life as the most beautiful gift given to us by God.

Lesley Anne Rosal is a Fulltime Pastoral Worker for Live Christ, Share Christ, which streamlines Catholic Lay Evangelization. She is also part of De La Salle University – Manila’s Theology and Religious Education Department, teaching Theology to college students. She obtained a Master Degree in Religious Studies major in Catechetics at the Don Bosco Center of Studies and is currently completing units and a thesis to graduate with a Master of Arts in Theology, major in Moral Theology in the same institution which is an affiliate of the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome. This paper was submitted as part of her requirements in the subject Pneumatology.

1  Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Vitae  (Rome 1987), no. 5.

2  Denis Edwards, Breath of Life: A Theology of the Creator Spirit  (New York: Orbis Books, 2004), 35.

3  Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), no. 704.

4  Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum  (DV) (18 November 1965), no. 2.

5  CCC, 730.

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