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Browsing Fr. Joel Hastings


                  The seventh commandment is “You shall not steal,” found in Exodus 20:15.  Once again this commandment has a very direct and simple formulation with several layers of meaning that include respecting other persons and property; just practices in working with others; the stewardship of all that God gave us in creation; and the seeking to build up the good of all, especially those who are poor.

          In The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 20 offers this summary: “The seventh commandment forbids all dishonesty, such as stealing, cheating, unjust keeping of what belongs to others, and unjust damage to the property of others.”  Later it exhorts the need to restore what is stolen or damaged when such is possible.  This basic overview likewise reminds us that we are also to be true to all of our labors and responsibilities, never cheating from another (including in schoolwork and on the job).

          In the Catechism of the Catholic Church these values are placed in the context of how all things that are created are ordered toward our common good in union with God – or what is called the “universal destination of all goods.”  While the catechism clearly expresses the right of each to private property, such private ownership is always to be understood as a stewardship of what God Himself has given and not as something that is permanently claimed by anyone (since no one of us brought anything into this world nor do we take anything from it).  Accordingly we are to respect the goods of others, to be stewards of creation, and to seek the good of all, especially those who are poor – as God has given everything for the benefit of all.  These principles practically mean that every act of theft, all unjust business dealings (including injustice in giving wages and/or the nonfulfillment of the expectations to earn one’s wage; or any type of fraud) are contrary to this commandment.

          Further, the commandment speaks to larger level relationships between peoples and nations – wherein the same is true:  that all unjust dealings, fraud, or nonfulfillment of agreements are wrong.  The Church’s social teaching expresses how the rights and dignity of every individual person are to be upheld – including in the proper understanding of a right to private property and at the same time the call of each to stewardship for the sake of the good of all. Thus, the exploitation of people by a nation or any other political entity is immoral (including in such named socio-economic theories as communism, socialism, and even those forms of capitalism that place “individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2425]).

          On the positive side, this seventh commandment invites our free generosity for others and our solidarity with those who otherwise may suffer in isolation.  To be in solidarity includes both a willingness to aid those in need and an acceptance of a sufficiency in reference to what one already has.  Good examples of these principles of generosity and solidarity include our regular support of charities – especially when unexpected crises arise or catastrophic events as natural disasters have a severe effect on others.  Thus, this commandment, despite its clear prohibitions, contains a true guide for love of neighbor as self in the realm of material stewardship and in aiding the common good of all for this life as a means of leading souls to Jesus Christ and the gift of His eternal kingdom.

For further reading:  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2401 - 2463 gives very detailed teaching on this commandment, including the Church’s view on private property and the overview of Catholic “social teaching.”



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