Sunday 29th November 2020

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Accounting To St. Peter

July 29, 2020 Frontpage No Comments


Our opening story may be a little politically incorrect (not that a lack of political correctness has ever stopped or even really mattered to me), but it’s a wonderful story to highlight the topic of this week’s article.
Back in the days when Canada was being settled like the American frontier, a Catholic Indian made his Confession to the Black Robe (Jesuit missionary) who ministered to the tribe. The Indian, named John Baptist at his Baptism, accused himself of stealing two dollars from a wealthy man who had no religion. The priest told John he had to make restitution, so John set out immediately return the money.
John approached the rich man at his home. He said, “Me rob you. Black Robe tell me to give back money.”
“What money?” asked the rich man.
“Two dollars me stole from you. John Baptist bad man.”
“All right. Don’t steal again, John. Good day.”
“Good day not enough. Me want other thing.”
“What else do you want?”
“Me want . . . what you call . . . yes, receep.”
“A receipt! What do you want with a receipt? Did the Black Robe tell you to get a receipt?”
“No, Black Robe tell me nothing.”
“Then why do you want it? You stole from me, you returned the money. Isn’t that enough?”
“You old, me young. You die first, me die later. Me knock on door of Heaven. Great chief, St. Peter, open and say, ‘That you, John Baptist? What you want?’ Me answer, ‘Me want go in house of Great Spirit.’ And he tell me, ‘But your sins?’ Me say, ‘Black Robe forgive them.’ And St. Peter say, ‘And what you stole from man of no religion, you pay back? Show receep.’ Poor John Baptist in bad fix — no receep. Have to gallop all over black pit below to find you. No religion, no Heaven.”
John Baptist’s comment about “no religion, no Heaven” is poignant, but that isn’t the topic of this article. The whole point of this article is what John went through to make his sin against the Seventh Commandment right.
We’re looking at the Seventh and Tenth Commandments today: “You shall not steal” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods,” respectively. We’ll begin with the Seventh Commandment. God has given everyone the right to private ownership so that we can enjoy the fruits of our labors, live with the dignity due our humanity, and maintain a certain independence. Because of this natural right granted by God, the Seventh Commandment obliges us to respect the property of others, to keep our business agreements, and to pay our just debts.
This Commandment forbids stealing, robbery, cheating, contracting debts beyond our means, unjustly damaging the property of others, accepting bribes, and knowingly buying or receiving stolen goods.
Stealing is a mortal sin if the thing stolen is of considerable value. However, stealing something of small value from a poor person can be a mortal sin. Stealing small amounts over a period of time could eventually become a mortal sin, if the accumulative amount becomes sufficiently large.
Let’s say the cashier at the supermarket gives you a dollar too much in change, and you decide to keep it. That would be a venial sin. Later you drop that dollar into a blind beggar’s cup, then someone else comes along and steals that dollar from his cup. That would be a mortal sin.
If a bank teller manages to steal five dollars from his till, then that would be a venial sin. But if he were to do this daily for an extended period of time, the amount could add up to a mortal sin. When in doubt, ask your priest.
We’re obliged to return stolen goods to the owner, whether we are the thief or not, whenever we are able. If the rightful owner is dead, the property must be restored to his heirs. If there are no heirs, the property must be given to the poor or some other charitable purpose.
If a thief can’t restore all he has stolen, he must restore all he can. If he has used what is stolen, he must repair the damage done by restoring the equivalent. If he can’t restore anything, he must at least pray for the person he has wronged.
If poverty or some other circumstance prevents the thief from making restitution immediately, he must resolve to do so as soon as possible, and must make an effort to fulfill his resolution.
Restitution may be made secretly, without letting the owner know restitution is being made. For instance, a money order may be sent with an alias. Or a priest, who is pledged to secrecy, may be entrusted with the property to be restored.
If we discover that something we’ve purchased is stolen, we may not keep it; it must be returned to the rightful owner. It’s also wrong to ask the owner to reimburse us for the money we spent on the stolen item. The only person we can demand payment from is the person who sold it to us.
Then there’s “finders keepers, losers weepers.” If we find an article of value, we must make a reasonable effort to find the owner. The more valuable the item, the greater our obligation to locate the owner. If, however, after all our earnest efforts, we’re unable to locate the owner, we may keep what we’ve found.
Borrowing is probably the most common sin against the Seventh Commandment. It’s sinful to keep whatever we’ve borrowed beyond the length of time established or agreed upon with the owner. If no time has been established or agreed upon, we may not keep the borrowed item beyond what common sense and our conscience tells us is reasonable.
If we unjustly damage the property of others — through carelessness, malice, incompetence, etc. — we’re obliged to either repair the damage or pay the amount of the damage, so far as we’re able.
Cheating is probably the second most common sin against the Seventh Commandment. Some forms of cheating are: negligence in working, tax evasion, false advertising, fraudulent contracts, false insurance claims, and copying in an examination. There are many more forms of cheating, as these cover only a few, but it’s our responsibility to develop a well-formed conscience so that we know without thinking to identify cheating and stealing.
One form of stealing I’ve noticed that’s common among Catholics is parishioners who light candles at one of the side altars and don’t bother to pay for it. They seem to think that their Sunday donation to the collection basket covers this. That simply isn’t true. If the pastor has a collection box for candle money, then it’s stealing not to pay for the candle you light.
We should try to throw in a couple of extra bucks for people who want to light a candle but can’t afford it, which is a good practice if you have poor people in your parish.
Next week we’ll finish our examination of the Seventh and Tenth Commandments, because this is What We Believe…Why We Believe It.
If you have a question or comment you can reach out to me through the “Ask Joe” page of, or you can email me at
Hey, how would you like to see things like this article every week in your parish bulletin as an insert? You or your pastor can learn more about how to do that by emailing me at

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