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“You shall not steal.”

on Thursday, 01 August 2019. Posted in Church teachings

Reflections on the 7th Commandment of God

The greatest inheritance that St. John Paul II left the Church during the 26 years of his pontificate is undeniably “The Catechism of the Catholic Church”, published in 1992. Headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the project took 6 years to complete and involved a team of 12 cardinals and bishops. The Catechism emcompasses everything that a Catholic must believe and practice. It follows the four traditional divisions found in The Catechism of the Council of Trent: the profession of faith (the Creed), the celebration of Christian mystery (the Seven Sacraments), life in Christ (the 10 Commandments) and Christian prayer (The Lord's Prayer).

Here are excerpts from the Catechism on the 7th Commandment, "You shall not steal” (Ex 20:15; Deut 5:19; Mt 19:18). which refer to justice and the Social Doctrine of the Church. (Paragraphs 2401 to 2463). While reading the following, please keep in mind that an economic or financial system can be considered good or not, to the extent that it is in accordance with these principles.

The Seventh Commandment forbids unjustly taking or keeping the goods of one's neighbor and wronging him in any way with respect to his goods. It commands justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men's labor. For the sake of the common good, it requires respect for the universal destination of goods and respect for the right to private property. Christian life strives to order this world's goods to God and to fraternal charity.

The universal destination and the private ownership of goods

In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. (Cf. Genesis 1:26-29.) The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

Respect for persons and their goods

In economic matters, respect for human dignity requires the practice of the virtue of temperance, so as to moderate attachment to this world's goods; the practice of the virtue of justice, to preserve our neighbor's rights and render him what is his due; and the practice of solidarity, in accordance with the golden rule and in keeping with the generosity of the Lord, who "though he was rich, yet for your sake... became poor so that by his poverty, you might become rich." (2 Cor 8:9.)

Respect for the goods of others

The Seventh Commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another's property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing...) is to put at one's disposal and use the property of others. (Cf. Gaudium et Spes 69 § 1.)

Even if it does not contradict the provisions of civil law, any form of unjustly taking and keeping the property of others is against the seventh commandment: thus, deliberate retention of goods lent or of objects lost; business fraud; paying unjust wages; forcing up prices by taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another. (Cf. Deut 25:13-16; 24:14-15; Jas 5:4; Am 8:4-6.)

The following are also morally illicit: speculation in which one contrives to manipulate the price of goods artificially in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others; corruption in which one influences the judgment of those who must make decisions according to law; appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery of checks and invoices; excessive expenses and waste. Willfully damaging private or public property is contrary to the moral law and requires reparation.

Respect for the integrity of creation

The Seventh Commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation. (Cf. Centesimus Annus 37-38.)

God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. (Cf. Genesis 2:19-20; 9:1-4.) Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

The social doctrine of the Church

The Church makes a moral judgment about economic and social matters, “when the fundamental rights of the person or the salvation of souls requires it.” (Gaudium et Spes 76 § 5.) In the moral order she bears a mission distinct from that of political authorities: the Church is concerned with the temporal aspects of the common good because they are ordered to the sovereign Good, our ultimate end. She strives to inspire right attitudes with respect to earthly goods and in socio-economic relationships.

The Church's social teaching proposes principles for reflection; it provides criteria for judgment; it gives guidelines for action:

Any system in which social relationships are determined entirely by economic factors is contrary to the nature of the human person and his acts. (Cf. Centesimus Annus 24.)

A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable. The disordered desire for money cannot but produce perverse effects. It is one of the causes of the many conflicts which disturb the social order. (Cf. Gaudium et Spes 63 § 3; Laborem Exercens 7; 20; Centesimus Annus 35.)

A system that “subordinates the basic rights of individuals and of groups to the collective organization of production” is contrary to human dignity. (Gaudium et Spes 65 § 2.) Every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves man, leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheism. “You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13. )

The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism.” She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. (Cf. Centesimus Annus 10; 13; 44.) Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for “there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.” (Centesimus Annus 34.) Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended.

Economic activity and social justice

The development of economic activity and growth in production are meant to provide for the needs of human beings. Economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit or power; it is ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community. Economic activity, conducted according to its own proper methods, is to be exercised within the limits of the moral order, in keeping with social justice so as to correspond to God's plan for man. (Cf. Gaudium et Spes 64.)

Justice and solidarity among nations

On the international level, inequality of resources and economic capability is such that it creates a real “gap” between nations. (Cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 14.) On the one side there are those nations possessing and developing the means of growth and, on the other, those accumulating debts.

There must be solidarity among nations which are already politically interdependent. It is even more essential when it is a question of dismantling the “perverse mechanisms” that impede the development of the less advanced countries. (Cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 17; 45.) In place of abusive if not usurious financial systems, iniquitous commercial relations among nations, and the arms race, there must be substituted a common effort to mobilize resources toward objectives of moral, cultural, and economic development, “redefining the priorities and hierarchies of values.” (Centesimus Annus 28; cf. 35.)

Direct aid is an appropriate response to immediate, extraordinary needs caused by natural catastrophes, epidemics, and the like. But it does not suffice to repair the grave damage resulting from destitution or to provide a lasting solution to a country's needs. It is also necessary to reform international economic and financial institutions so that they will better promote equitable relationships with less advanced countries. (Cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 16.) The efforts of poor countries working for growth and liberation must be supported. (Cf. Centesimus Annus 26.) This doctrine must be applied especially in the area of agricultural labor. Peasants, especially in the Third World, form the overwhelming majority of the poor.

It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens. Social action can assume various concrete forms. It should always have the common good in view and be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. It is the role of the laity “to animate temporal realities with Christian commitment, by which they show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and justice.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 47 § 6; cf. 42. )

When her mother reproached her for caring for the poor and the sick at home, St. Rose of Lima said to her: “When we serve the poor and the sick, we serve Jesus. We must not fail to help our neighbors, because in them we serve Jesus.”

True development concerns the whole man. It is concerned with increasing each person's ability to respond to his vocation and hence to God's call (cf. Centesimus Annus 29).

How can we not recognize Lazarus, the hungry beggar in the parable (cf. Lk 17:19-31), in the multitude of human beings without bread, a roof or a place to stay? How can we fail to hear Jesus: “As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me” (Mt 25:45)?

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