Last week, we began looking at the Seventh and Tenth Commandments. Well, actually we only partially covered the Seventh Commandment — "You shall not steal" (Exodus 20:15) — but the two commandments are treated together because both have to do with respect for other people's property. So, this week we'll finish up the Seventh Commandment with a look at specific obligations, the irresponsible use of money and goods, and then we'll take a brief look at desiring things that belong to others, addressed by the Tenth Commandment.
If you recall, I mentioned last week cheating is one of the most common ways we sin against the Seventh Commandment. And now we'll look at a couple of more specific ways this is done. The first deals with employees and employers.
Employees must conscientiously provide quantitative and qualitative work they are being paid to perform, as well as guard against damage to their employer's property. It is a sin to take anything from your employer without his express permission —and I do mean anything.
You can't even take a few paper clips from the office or an empty carton from the stock room without his permission. These would be venial sins, but why sin at all when asking permission avoids that? Besides, I can think of no better way to increase your employer's trust in you than to ask about little things like that.
If you live in a union town, then you're no stranger to the concept of a strike. All too often these days, we see strikes the Church would consider immoral, and this is usually due to our current culture of "ME." There are three conditions under which we may legitimately strike:
Unless one or more of these conditions exist in a strike situation, then a Catholic is obligated to serve the employer in spite of a decision by co-workers to strike. An unfortunate reality today is strikes being used to extort more money or benefits from employers out of greed rather than from real grievances.
Employers have specific duties under the Seventh Commandment as well. Indeed, the duties of employers are spelled out in Sacred Scripture. There are four crimes (i.e., sins) in the Bible that "cry out from the earth for justice" — murder, sodomy, oppressing the poor and cheating a laborer out of his wages. Saint James wrote, "The wages of laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts" (James 5:4).
Sirach writes: "To take away a neighbor's living is to murder him; to deprive an employee of his wages is to shed blood" (Sirach 34:26–27).
These passages mean employers must see to it that their employees are paid just wages without undue delays. Employers must also see to it that working conditions are in accord with human dignity and are reasonably safe.
It's very important to note that anyone who has broken the Seventh Commandment may not receive absolution if he doesn't intend to make restitution. If someone confesses a sin in this regard and refuses to make restitution when he can do so, then there is no actual absolution — even if the priest granted it in the confessional. God doesn't give free passes.
Now let's talk about the irresponsible use of money and goods. The first and most obvious form of theft under this topic is that it's a sin to contract debt beyond one's means. This is an injustice to both the creditors and to one's own family.
Gambling is a problem that frequently comes up when talking about this issue. Gambling is the staking of money or valuables on a future event or game of chance, the results of which are unknown to the participants.
Despite what many of our separated brethren believe, gambling in and of itself is not sinful. They tell us that gambling is the irresponsible use of money — that it's wasteful and driven by a desire to gain something for nothing. Let's look at that for a moment.
By our definition of gambling, the stock market could be construed as nothing more than gambling. Our global economy would collapse if we did away with stock markets, yet we don't hear gambling opponents crying out for its abolition. Hmmm ...
Gambling opponents complain that gambling is nothing more than a desire to get something for nothing. Merchants and manufacturers often award prizes for simply shopping with them or registering for a contest without any obligation. I've yet to meet a gambling opponent who would turn down such a prize, yet that is most certainly both gambling and gaining something for nothing. Again, hmmm …
Opponents also complain about gambling being a waste of money if the person gambling loses because he then has nothing to show for his money. If a couple hires a babysitter to watch the kids, goes out to dinner, then attends a movie, what have they got to show for the usually hefty sum of money spent? Nothing, except a good time. Legitimate pleasure is what the couple paid for, and that's all gambling is — a legitimate pleasure.
Gambling is not sinful if done in moderation. It becomes sinful — possibly even mortally sinful — if it leads to dishonesty or risks the welfare of one's family. In other words, gambling must be fair and done only with the money that's been budgeted for recreation.
The Tenth Commandment is: "You shall not covet ... anything which belongs to your neighbor" (Exodus 20:17). Covet means to unlawfully desire something that belongs to another. So, this commandment forbids any desire to take or keep what belongs to someone else. It also forbids the envy of the good fortune or success of others.
It's certainly morally permissible to desire what belongs to another person, provided the other person is willing to make it a gift or to sell it. The prohibition of the Tenth Commandment applies only to immoderate or dishonest desires. If this weren't so, you could never, say, purchase a car. The car belongs to the dealer, and he's certainly willing to sell it. So it is morally acceptable for you to desire a thing, provided you're willing to pay for it.
A disturbing trend in this country regarding the Tenth Commandment is something the media showcases: "class envy." There is a movement in our land calling for higher taxation on the wealthy and restricting how much profit corporations can earn — in other words, punishing them for being successful. Based on all the arguments I read and hear from promoters of such ideas, I've come to conclude that these people are just upset that they don't have a lot of money. I think this comes from our growing culture of "ME."
This is a sin against the Tenth Commandment. If people aren't satisfied with their financial situation, it's up to them to do something about it. We live in a free country with a free enterprise system (at least for the moment). Steve Jobs began in a garage and built Apple to become one of the richest men in America. Anyone can do the same thing with the right idea, drive, initiative and a willingness to sacrifice. So, rather than sin against the Tenth Commandment, these folks need to either learn to be at peace with their lot in life or set out to achieve more.