75 years ago today: Cardinal von Galen’s homily against euthanasia
Editor's note: The following are excerpts from the homily of Cardinal Clemens von Galen, the most vocal opponent of Nazism. They are every bit as relevant for us today as they were 75 years ago in Nazi Germany.
My Beloved Brethren,
Commenting on the reading of Jesus weeping: Our Saviour weeps. Yes, the Son of God sheds tears. Whoever weeps must be either in physical or mental anguish. At that time, Jesus was not yet in bodily pain and yet here were tears. What depth of torment He must have felt in His heart and Soul, if He, the bravest of men, was reduced to tears.
Why is He weeping? He is lamenting over Jerusalem, the holy city He loved so tenderly, the capital of His race. He is weeping over her inhabitants, over His own compatriots because they cannot foresee the judgment that is to overtake them, the punishment which His divine prescience and justice have pronounced.
‘Ah, if thou too couldst understand, above all in this day that is granted thee, the ways that can bring thee peace!’ Why did the people of Jerusalem not know it? Jesus had given them the reason a short time before. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often have I been ready to gather thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; and thou didst refuse it! I your God and your King wished it, but you would have none of Me ...’
This is the reason for the tears of Jesus, for the tears of God ... Tears for the misrule, the injustice and man's willful refusal of Him and the resulting evils, which, in His divine omniscience, He foresees and which in His justice He must decree ... It is a fearful thing when man sets his will against the will of God, and it is because of this that Our Lord is lamenting over Jerusalem.
My faithful brethren! ... ‘According to Catholic doctrine, there are doubtless commandments which are not binding when obedience to them requires too great a sacrifice, but there are sacred obligations of conscience from which no one can release us and which we must fulfil even at the price of death itself. At no time, and under no circumstances whatsoever, may a man, except in war and in lawful defense, take the life of an innocent person.’
[After describing the Nazi euthanasia program, the Cardinal continued ... ]
This ghastly doctrine tries to justify the murder of blameless men and would seek to give legal sanction to the forcible killing of invalids, cripples, the incurable and the incapacitated. I have discovered that the practice here in Westphalia is to compile lists of such patients who are to be removed elsewhere as ‘unproductive citizens,’ and after a period of time put to death.
The opinion is that since they can no longer make money, they are obsolete machines, comparable with some old cow that can no longer give milk or some horse that has gone lame. What is the lot of unproductive machines and cattle? They are destroyed. I have no intention of stretching this comparison further. The case here is not one of machines or cattle which exist to serve men and furnish them with plenty. They may be legitimately done away with when they can no longer fulfil their function. Here we are dealing with human beings, with our neighbors, brothers and sisters, the poor and invalids ... unproductive — perhaps! But have they, therefore, lost the right to live? Have you or I the right to exist only because we are ‘productive’? If the principle is established that unproductive human beings may be killed, then God help all those invalids who, in order to produce wealth, have given their all and sacrificed their strength of body. If all unproductive people may thus be violently eliminated, then woe betide our brave soldiers who return home, wounded, maimed or sick.
Once we admit the right to kill unproductive persons ... then none of us can be sure of his life. We shall be at the mercy of any committee that can put a man on the list of unproductives. There will be no police protection, no court to avenge the murder and inflict punishment upon the murderer. Who can have confidence in any doctor? He has but to certify his patients as unproductive and he receives the command to kill. If this dreadful doctrine is permitted and practiced it is impossible to conjure up the degradation to which it will lead. Suspicion and distrust will be sown within the family itself. A curse will bestow itself on all men if we break the holy commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ which was given us by God on Mount Sinai with thunder and lightning, and which God our Maker imprinted on the human conscience from the beginning of time! Woe to us German people if we not only license this heinous offense but allow it to be committed with impunity!
‘Thou shalt not kill.’ God engraved this commandment on the souls of men long before any penal code laid down punishment for murder, long before any court prosecuted and avenged homicide. Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was a murderer long before courts or states came into existence, and plagued by his conscience he confessed, ‘Guilt like mine is too great to find forgiveness ... and I shall wander over the earth, a fugitive; anyone I meet will slay me.’
Because of His love for us, God has engraved these commandments in our hearts and has made them manifest to us. They express the need of our nature created by God. They are the unchangeable and fundamental truths of our social life grounded on reason, well pleasing to God, healthful and sacred. God, Our Father, wishes by these precepts to gather us, His children, about Him as a hen shelters her brood under her wings. If we are obedient to His commands, then we are protected and preserved against the destruction with which we are menaced, just as the chicks beneath the wings of the mother. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... how often have I been ready to gather thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; and thou didst refuse it!’
‘And as He drew near, and caught sight of the city, He wept over it and said: "Ah, if thou too couldst understand, above all in this day that is granted thee, the ways that can bring thee peace! As it is, they are hidden from thy sight. The days will come upon thee when thy enemies will fence thee round about, and encircle thee, and press thee hard on every side, and bring down in ruin both thee and thy children that are in thee, not leaving one stone of thee upon another; and all because thou didst not recognize the time of My visiting thee."’
Jesus saw only the walls and towers of the city of Jerusalem with His human eye, but with His divine prescience He saw far beyond and into the inmost heart of the city and its inhabitants. He saw its wicked obstinacy, terrible, sinful and cruel. Man, a transitory creature, was opposing his mean will to the Will of God. That is the reason why Jesus wept for this fearful sin and its inevitable punishment. God is not mocked.
Christians of [America]! Did the Son of God in His omniscience see only Jerusalem and its people? Did He weep only on their behalf? Is God the protector and Father of the Jews only? Is Israel alone in rejecting His divine truth? Are they the only people to throw off the laws of God and plunge headlong to ruin? Did not Jesus, Who sees everything, behold also our people, our land... and our cit(ies)? Has He not also wept for us? For a thousand years He has instructed us and our forbears in the Faith. He has led us by His law. He has nourished us with His grace and has gathered us to Him as the hen does her brood beneath its wings. Has the all-knowing Son of God seen that in our own time He would have to pronounce on us that same dread sentence? ‘Not leaving one stone of thee upon another; and all because thou didst not recognize the time of My visiting thee.’ That would indeed be a terrible sentence.
My dearly Beloved, I trust that it is not too late. It is time that we realized today what alone can bring us peace, what alone can save us and avert the divine wrath. We must openly, and without reserve, admit our Catholicism. We must show by our actions that we will live our lives by obeying God's commandments. Our motto must be: Death rather than sin. By pious prayer and penance, we can bring down upon us all, our city and our beloved land, His grace and forgiveness.
But those who persist in inciting the anger of God, who revile our Faith, who hate His commandments, who associate with those who alienate our young men from their religion, who rob and drive out our monks and nuns, who condemn to death our innocent brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, we shun absolutely so as to remain undefiled by their blasphemous way of life, which would lay us open to that just punishment which God must and will inflict upon all those who, like the thankless Jerusalem, oppose their wishes to those of God.
O my God, grant to us all now on this very day, before it is too late, a true realization of the things that are for peace. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, oppressed even unto tears by the blindness and sins of men, help us by Thy grace to seek always what is pleasing to Thee and reject what is displeasing, so that we may dwell in Thy Love and find rest in our souls. Amen.
Cardinal von Galen’s full homily is available here