The readings today deal with the 7th Commandment, “Thou Shall Not Steal.” I’d like to look at this Commandment from a number of perspectives including, spiritual, economic, moral, financial, religious and psychological
FIRST – Let me start out with some insights here from Fr. Ronald Rolheiser who is an Oblate priest in San Antonio, Texas. Fr. Rolheiser asks:
- What is forbidden by this commandment? The biblical injunction against stealing forbids unjustly taking, keeping, acquiring, or damaging goods that do not rightly belong to us. Hence, what is forbidden is theft, vandalism or cheating so as to gain something, paying unjust wages, breaking or manipulating contracts so as to get an unfair advantage, and any stewardship of nature and mother earth that is not sufficiently respectful.
But Fr. Ron then goes to a SECOND, broader and deeper level. He says that contained within
- … the seventh commandment is also the imperative to practice social justice. What is implied here is that we can steal from others not just by personally taking or damaging something that does not belong to us, but also by participating blindly in systems that do the stealing for us.
- Here we can confer shopping at large, warehouse-like discount stores where we probably know that, the only way we can afford “new” products at such an inexpensive price, is to tacitly agree to labor practices in other countries, which would never be accepted in the United States.
- The seventh commandment, paradoxically, protects the right of private property even as it tells us that the world and everything in it is nobody’s private property. The world belongs to everyone, equally. Hence the prohibition against stealing implies that we may not, irrespective of how legitimately we have acquired it, own too much, that is, have excess while others do not have enough.
The Church has clearly spelled this out many times in its social encyclicals (Click here or see below for listing of Catholic social encyclicals complete with hyperlinks) even though this particular teaching is very unpopular and generally ignored. As the church puts it: Nobody may have excess property while others lack essentials. Hence to acquire excess while others lack necessities is stealing, pure and simple. (Rolheiser)
Myles & Katharine Weiss are messianic Jews who lead “Zola Levitt Ministries – Christianity through Jewish Eyes” In Napa Valley California. “Founded in 1979, we are principally a teaching and evangelistic association.” We believe that, “The evangelism of the unbelievers and the exhortation of the believers take precedence over all other activities of this ministry. Their national television program airs on nearly a hundred independent stations and teaches the Bible with an emphasis on Israel, prophecy, and the Jewish roots of Christianity.”
They present a THIRD interesting spiritual insight into the 7 Commandment which begins to go to the heart of the matter – the emotional / spiritual component.
Stealing, in the sense of the Hebrew word ganav, refers to both the act of carrying off by stealth that which is not one’s own (i.e., theft), but also to the deceptive inner disposition that accompanies the action. And, ultimately, that deceptive inner disposition is a form of self-deception.
Because) none of us really “owns” anything at all, since God alone is the Creator and Giver of all of life. — blindly disregarding the fact that “in Him we live and move and have our being” (See Acts 17:28). And so, at bottom, stealing is an act based on fear, since the attitude behind the action evidences a lack of trust that God will meet all our needs.
Here is where we need to start. The 7th Commandment certainly involves material things but Jesus is really asking us to look into our relationship with Him. What’s missing? Why don’t we trust Him? What has led to that mistrust? How do we even begin to build that trust again so that the fear of losing materially might be diminished or eliminated?
I don’t know. Ask Him the questions – and listen for an answer.
Audio version of the homily is here:
Pope Leo XIII
Issued on the fifteenth of May 1891. Literally “Of New Things,” on capital and labor and the condition of the working class. This was the most significant of all the encyclicals before or since. Rerum Novarum broke down the barriers that separated the church from the worker. Never before had the church spoken on social matters in such an official and comprehensive fashion.
Pope Pius XI
Issued May 15, 1931. Literally “In forty Years,” commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. This encyclical repeated many of the themes of Rerum Novarum (The Dignity Of Labor, The Rights Of Workers To Organize, Etc..)
Quadragesimo Anno also emphasized the immorality of keeping economic control in the hands of a few. It recognized the principle of subsidiarity, which held that higher levels of authority should act only when lower levels cannot deal with a problem.
Pope John XXIII
Issued May 15, 1961. Literally “Mother and Teacher,” on Christianity and Social progress. This encyclical gave an updated interpretation of the classic theme of private property and introduced the notion of private initiative as an extension of private property. While Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno left responsibility for social justice with the individual, Mater et Magistra placed some in the hands of the state. (this encyclical needs to be read in conjunction with Pacem in Terris, literally “Peace on Earth,” Pope John XXIII’s other great encyclical.)
Pope Paul VI
Issued March 26, 1967. Literally “On the Progress of Peoples.” A vigorous endorsement of Mater et Magistra, Populorum Progressio presented Catholicism as no longer tied to a social system based on natural law, but rather as a proponent of a pluralistic, decentralized approach to economic problems.
Pope John Paul II
Issued on September 14, 1981. Literally “On Human Work.” Laborem Exercens focused on the themes that work is central to the social question and that work has potential not only to dehumanize but also to be the means whereby the human person cooperates in God’s ongoing creation.
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: On the Twentieth Anniversary of Populorum ProgressioIssued on December 30, 1987. Literally “On Social Concerns,” commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio. Solicitudo Rei Socialis presented an overview of modern social problems with some guidelines for action. It dealt with authentic human development and adopted a critical attitude toward both capitalism and communism. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis warned that economic development alone may not set people free but only enslave them more.
(A personal favorite of mine … Fr. Zlock) Issued on May 1, 1991. Literally, “The Hundredth Year,” commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. Centesimus Annus brought Rerum Novarum up to date and tied it to “the preferential option for the poor.” done in the context of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Centesimus Annus still criticized both capitalism and communism.
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict’s third encyclical, is a call to see the relationship between human and environmental ecologies and to link charity and truth in the pursuit of justice, the common good, and authentic human development. In doing so, the pope points out the responsibilities and limitations of government and the private market, challenges traditional ideologies of right and left, and calls all men and women to think and act anew.
The Proclamation Of The Gospel In Today’s Modern World