“You shall not steal.”
Ocean’s Eleven tells the story of a gang of thieves led by George Clooney who get together to rob a Las Vegas casino of $160 million. It’s a memorable movie thanks to the ensemble cast, various plot twists, and the fact that you quickly find yourself cheering for a group of anti-heroes (the thieves who want to steal the money.) Whether or not you’re a wealthy casino owner, no one likes having what is theirs taken from them. It can be something small like your lunch money or much more dramatic (as in Ocean’s Eleven). And so, this commandment certainly covers the taking of others’ belongings and more:
“The Seventh Commandment not only forbids taking something away from another person, it also requires the just management and distribution of the earth’s goods…” -YouCat 426
What this means is that we are asked to do more than just not steal from others: we are to look out for the needs of others around us. This is a practical application of Jesus was asking when He told us to love our neighbour. It isn’t simply about respecting others’ things, it’s also a call to care for the intrinsic value each of us bears as a child of God. So, in looking at this commandment, we need to consider both sides – what we shouldn’t do and what we should.
First of all, this commandment tells us not to take what belongs to others:
“Theft is the unlawful appropriation of goods belonging to another.” -YouCat 428
To give you a sense of what that means, here’s the list of things we’re not supposed to do:
- not paying a just wage
- keeping things you’ve found that could be given back
- fraud, counterfeiting, or falsifying accounting records
- making others work in inhumane conditions
- breaking contracts and tax evasion
- wasting profits and not considering the needs of others (to those who are given much, more is expected)
- artificially influencing prices
- endangering others jobs
- making those who work underneath you do something illegal or immoral
- doing shoddy work
- asking for inappropriate remuneration (asking for more than you’re worth)
- wasting/neglectfully managing public property, counterfeiting, falsifying accounting records,
- misappropriation of intellectual property (students work, media, concepts or ideas)
While this might seem like an intimidating list, it all comes down to not taking, taking credit for, or in any way doing harm to that which belongs to others. These prohibitions may be the easier part of this commandment, as we must also consider duties to others (i.e. what we’re supposed to do.) We call this are of the Church’s teaching ‘social justice’ or ‘Catholic social teaching.’ And it starts with the way we see the human person:
“Because all men, as children of God, possess a unique dignity, the Church with her social teaching is committed to defending and promoting this human dignity for all men in the social sphere.” -YouCat 438
What this means is that all of us – priests, religious, and laypeople alike – are called to do what we can to care for the need of others. This call to care for the least among us is not an optional part of the Christian life:
“Christians must look after the needy of the earth with great consideration, love, and perseverance. After all, on no other point will they be evaluated so decisively as on their way of treating the poor: ‘As you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40).” -YouCat 449
There’s an old sufi saying that goes “Past the seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them, he cried, ‘great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?’ And God said, ‘I did do something. I made you.'” We are called to share from what we have with others. That may look different from person to person, but we need to do something. This can take the shape of acts of service, participating in organizations that serve the poor, giving your money, offering your talents… there are a million ways in which each of us can help those in need every day.
This area of our faith is expressed in an area of theology we call Catholic Social Teaching. This is why you see the Church reaching out to the poor, the lonely, and the hurting, why the Church advocates for those in need, and why she asks us to care for the environment. The companion to the YouCat called DoCat was published in 2016 to help us make sense of our social responsibilities.
Like the characters of Ocean’s Eleven, we too are part of something much larger. While they used their talents to come together to steal a lot of money for their own benefit, we are asked to respect the rights and property of others while looking out for their needs before our own. commandment not to steal gives us criteria to make sense of what that looks like, hard as it might be at times, as we learn to live and love as Christ did.
“Love for the poor must be in every age the distinguishing mark of Christians. The poor deserve not just a few alms; they have a claim to justice. For Christians there is a special obligation to share their goods. Our example in love for the poor is Christ.” -YouCat 449
-Mike Landry is Catholic Youth Camps director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton. He is also chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools, serving 10 schools west of Edmonton. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain with their five children.