Today we will continue our Catechetical Sunday Series and focus on the Seventh Commandment: “You shall not steal.”

  • What does this Commandment cover?
  • There’s the obvious meaning: Don’t take something that belongs to someone else. We might think of robbing a bank, wasting time at work, shoplifting a candy bar, or mugging someone. But there’s a lot more to it than that. For example, we could steal someone’s reputation, rights, or innocence.
  • The Commandment “You shall not steal” also means that we should practice justice and charity. Justice means giving others what is due to them. Charity means seeking the good of others. If we fail to act with justice or charity, we are stealing.
  • Another thing the Commandment “You shall not steal” means is that we should respect something called “the universal destination of goods.” What’s the universal destination of goods? Well, God made the whole earth and all its resources to benefit everyone. This means that we should freely share the resources God has given us with others who need them. If we don’t, we are stealing.
  • Sharing doesn’t mean socialism, though.  Private property is important to assure security, freedom and dignity. Private property is also important for people to meet their basic needs and those of their families. So socialism, the kind that prohibits private property, is stealing too.
  • At the same time, the right to private property doesn’t mean we can rightly say “I worked hard for what I have, so I’ll do whatever I like with it.” The universal destination of goods means that as Christians, we need to take into account not only our own needs and desires, but also the wellbeing of everyone else. That’s part of becoming spiritual grown-ups.
  • So what are some questions we can ask ourselves to see if we might have broken the Seventh Commandment?
  • Have I committed theft? Now, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has an interesting definition of “theft.” It is, “the usurpation of another’s goods against the reasonable will of the owner.” In other words, taking what belongs to someone against their reasonable will. What would be an “unreasonable will?” An example I can think of is if your kids are starving, through no fault of your own, and your neighbor has a barn-full of chickens and eggs, an orchard full of apples, and his wife bakes a dozen loaves of bread every day. You go to him, explain that your kids are starving, and ask if he would please give you some eggs and apples and a loaf of bread. He refuses to help.
  • Under the circumstances, his refusal would be unreasonable, because he could help you out without any hardship to himself.  I don’t think you would be blamed by God if you discretely helped yourself to some of what he had in order to keep your kids from starving. In other words, it’s not stealing if you use the property of other people when that’s the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs like food, shelter and clothing.
  • Here are some more questions we can ask ourselves:
  • Have I bought something that I knew had been stolen?
  • Have I cheated or tricked anyone out of what rightfully belonged to them?
  • Have I stolen someone’s reputation or good name by engaging in gossip or detraction—that is, talking poorly of them without a good reason?
  • Have I deliberately failed to return something I borrowed or found?
  • If I am an employer, have I paid my employees unjust wages, that is, wages that fail to allow for a dignified livelihood for them and their families?
  • Have I treated my employees as merely means to an end, without regard for their wellbeing or dignity?
  • Have I tried to keep employees from organizing a union or participating in a union?
  • Have I been guilty of unjust discrimination when hiring employees?
  • Have I been greedy?
  • Have I claimed to have worked more hours than I actually did?
  • Have I committed fraud?
  • Have I cheated on my taxes?
  • Have I given or taken a bribe?
  • Have I embezzled money?
  • Have I violated copyright laws, or downloaded music illegally from the Internet?
  • Have I failed to do my work as well as I was able?
  • Have I wasted time?
  • Have I been lazy?
  • Have I failed to use the talents God has given me to seek the common good?
  • Have I deliberately damaged public or private property?
  • Have I failed to make reparation for damage I’ve done?
  • Have I intentionally failed to keep a contract I signed?
  • Have I broken a promise?
  • Have I been dishonest in my business dealings?
  • Have I failed to pay my debts without a serious reason?
  • Have I gambled so much that I caused financial hardship?
  • Have I used the goods God has given me with moderation, so as to share what I have with others who also need them?
  • Have I used the earth’s resources without any thought for the effects on other people, including future generations?
  • Have I spent money on things I didn’t need?
  • Have I spent money on pets that should have gone to relieve human suffering?
  • Have I failed to share what I have with those who need it?
  • If we have committed any of these sins, the good news is that God in his incredible love for us wants to forgive us and set us free. That’s why Jesus Christ came to earth, died for us, and left us the Sacraments.    Once we’ve received our Lord’s wonderful forgiveness and grace, we can share what He’s given us, and do what He’s called us to do.