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A Beacon Of Light… The Seventh Commandment Today

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(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He received his BA in religious studies and his MA in dogmatic theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.)

  • + + Have you looked around to see what is happening in the world lately? Do you see the great injustices and uncharitable acts being perpetrated? Someone might ask why these questions are important. The destruction happening around us is due to the injustice and uncharity we experience daily, and are precisely why the Seventh Commandment is so important.
    The “seventh word” of the Decalogue is: “You Shall Not Steal.” This Commandment is God’s revelation to us of the importance the virtues of justice and charity play in our daily lives.
    The presentation of the Commandments to the Israelite people, through Moses, establishes a covenant between God and His people. In establishing this covenant, God desires our communion with Him. This communion with Him, however, extends to the way we live in the world, especially with regard to our neighbor. Living in harmony with one another requires the virtue of justice.
    Justice is one of the four “cardinal virtues” and is the moral virtue that consists in everyone having a constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good.
    “The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1807). Justice toward God, or the virtue of religion, impacts our entire life. This virtue propels us to respect and treat others with the same human dignity we expect.

The Fruit Of Justice

Charity, on the other hand, becomes the fruit of justice because all our actions are geared toward love. Charity is the Theological Virtue where we love God beyond all things, and in turn, bestow that love upon others. This bestowal of love must be just in its equality to everyone, even though we encounter difficult people in our lives. Loving in charity involves respect for people and their goods. Charity is the virtue infused in our soul through the Sacrament of Baptism. This “divinely infused” virtue of love predisposes us with the desire to love God first, and then our neighbor as ourselves.
Having discussed the virtues above, we can see the link that exists between them. Both assist us in the accumulation and ownership of personal goods. Each of us has the right to ownership of goods. These goods should always be ordered toward the Glory of God. Since God is the Creator of all, everything we have must be used for that purpose.
The created things of the world are destined for the good and well-being of all. Any of the possessions we accumulate are meant to make us happy in this world. Similarly, we are encouraged to share these possessions to assist others as well, especially those less fortunate than we are.
Sometimes, however, envy and jealousy toward another’s property or possessions cloud our thinking in remembering the blessings these things are in our lives. Envy and jealousy can lead to temptation where we want to experience and accumulate the same goods as others. This often leads to stealing. This Commandment explicitly forbids stealing, or taking what does not belong to us. This includes keeping things found that are not ours, as well as keeping lost items and not returning them to the proper owners.

Care For The Less Fortunate

Other examples of actions that violate this Commandment are: tax fraud and evasion, providing unjust wages, price gouging, and the forgery of checks. So often, the news reports the schemes others create to avoid paying their full tax responsibility. This is wrong because the burden then rests on other taxpayers to make up the difference.
In addition to these, many often forget that taking items from our workplace to use at home also violates this Commandment: pens, paper, staples, paper clips, and other seemingly minuscule items. So often people forget that these little, minuscule actions can lead us to bigger, more serious kinds of stealing.
This is wrong and we should make restitution for taking them. What kind of restitution? Well, simply put, we could return to our workplace those things which we stole, or we could make a charitable donation for the valued amount of the things we stole to a local charity.
Today there is a severe concern in the world regarding the poor. So many find themselves on the fringes of society fighting to maintain any kind of dignity of life. The Seventh Commandment encourages us to care for the poor. In a society rich with wealth and possessions, the virtue of charity must be exercised in dealing with the poor. Failure to assist the poor, by turning a blind eye, contradicts the virtue of charity infused in our soul. Charity awakens in us a desire to love the weak and marginalized, as we care for the less fortunate.
The gift of charity flourishes further in a proper understanding of the meaning of social doctrine in the Church. Social doctrine evolved to assist the faithful in dealing with the changing events in society. For example, it was necessary for the Church to take a stance in opposition to the lack of providing proper wages to workers. In times past, where the cost of living kept rising and people’s wages were not, the Church stepped in to offer guidance. Here, the encyclical Rerum Novarum introduced the world to the importance of maintaining good labor policies that enabled workers a kind of “self-sufficiency” in leading fruitful lives.
Even today, the Church has as her responsibility the interpretation of events in the global field that hinder the progress of peoples.
Furthermore, the Seventh Commandment requires the implementation and protection of a system of economics that benefit all people. Sadly, however, nations still incur struggles in maintaining this system. Take, for example, the country of Haiti. Haiti is considered the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and is tainted with such corruption that hinders its economic growth. We have seen the great devastation caused by earthquakes and hurricanes that battered and destroyed the Haitian nation, and yet, nothing is done to destroy the corruption that hinders economic growth. The corruption that exists in Haiti, from the government and the wealthy class, could be seen as stealing.
Why? Because so many resources, both economic and industrial, are funneled into Haiti, and yet, we never see positive results. The Seventh Commandment invites us to do everything we can to eradicate this kind of economic poverty, to assist in the growth of poor nations. The responsibility of economic revival and maintenance is the responsibility of the state. The Church, and all Catholic Christians, have the obligation to assist nations in promoting good economic opportunities for all.
In fact, St. John Chrysostom speaks of the need to assist the poor: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life…the goods we possess are not ours, but theirs” (CCC, n. 2446).
We are almost done with our study of the Catechism’s section on the Life of Christ. We have three Commandments left to look at. Next week we will examine the Eighth Commandment that deals with lying. After we complete the Commandments, we will begin the final section of the Catechism dealing with our life of Christian Prayer.
Until then have a good week and may this Easter Season fill us with an abundance of Hope and Peace!

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