Lazarus Lies At The Door
EDITOR'S NOTE: On Jan. 1 we began a 10-week countdown to the beginning of Lent. Ten weeks? Ten Commandments? Yes. In preparation for Lent, together let's make an examination of conscience by means of this weekly series of reflections on each of the Ten Commandments. The following is the seventh entry:
By Chris Sparks
You shall not steal. — Ex 20:15
The seventh commandment seems both blunt and obvious: don't steal. Don't take what isn't yours. And yet if you take a look at Church teaching on the commandment, matters become rather less clear.
For instance, the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks both of the right to private property as well as the "universal destination of goods" (see CCC 2402-2405). According to the teaching of the Church, all of the goods of creation are given to all of humanity to satisfy our needs through prudent use and wise stewardship. We're supposed to tend and keep the garden of creation, in other words, and then we will be able to eat of the fruit of the garden in accord with the law of God.
The right to private property doesn't do away with the universal destination of goods, though. We are stewards of our possessions, not masters. As stewards, we are obliged to use them wisely and well in accordance with the law of God. That includes tithing to God and His Church, as well as performing works of charity to friends, family, and complete strangers, for all are members of the one family of humanity, and all have the right to share in the goods of the world.
Saint Basil the Great puts it starkly:
The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear moldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong. — Homily on the saying of the Gospel According to Luke, "I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones," and on greed, §7 (PG 31, 276B — 277A). trans. Peter Gilbert
A hard teaching. Does this mean we all have to empty our savings accounts and give away all our extra possessions? Must we all be thrust fully into poverty ourselves to be good Christians? No. Pope Leo XIII clarifies the teaching:
No one, certainly, is obliged to assist others out of what is required for his own necessary use or for that of his family, or even to give to others what he himself needs to maintain his station in life becomingly and decently … But when the demands of necessity and propriety have been met, it is a duty to give to the poor out of that which remains. …
Therefore, he that hath talent, let him constantly see to it that he be not silent; he that hath an abundance of goods, let him be on the watch that he grow not slothful in the generosity of mercy; he that hath a trade whereby he supports himself, let him be especially eager to share with his neighbor the use and benefit thereof. — Rerum Novarum 36
How are we, the human race, doing at obeying this teaching from God? Oxfam, an English charitable organization, just released a report on poverty, wealth, and the world situation. It included the following — rather stunning — set of statistics:
• Almost half of the world's wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
• The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion.
• That's 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world's population.
• The bottom half of the world's population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
• Seven out of 10 people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
• In the U.S., the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.
That state of affairs is completely out of whack, according to the Catechism, Doctor of the Church St. Basil the Great, and Pope Leo XIII, all of whom are transmitting the teaching of Jesus Christ.
So what now? Is the solution the Communist revolution, a great act of collective theft from the hyperwealthy in order to give to the poor? Not at all — for we are commanded, "You shall not steal" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." What then?
Preach the Gospel. Live the teachings with your lives by performing the works of mercy, by tithing and supporting the Church with your time, talent, and treasure. Perform the ABCs of mercy:
• Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world.
• Be Merciful to Others. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us.
• Completely Trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive.
Be both prudent and generous. Hear the cry of the poor and answer their call, keeping in mind that God has entrusted much to you, and much will be required, for we who are Catholic have been blessed with the fullness of revelation, with God Himself in the Eucharist, with the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity, with deification and grace, with the life and love of God almighty, which He has charged us with spreading to the whole human race.
We must evangelize, and by evangelizing, we shall change the hearts and minds of the people. We must take the spiritual food and drink to those dying of starvation and thirst of the soul. Mother Theresa once famously said, "The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people. You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don't know what it is. What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God."
When the spiritually poor receive the treasure of Jesus Christ through faith and the sacraments, then they will turn to the physically poor, see in them their Lord, and become generous. When the spiritually rich share their wealth, then the materially rich in turn shall share their wealth.
We Catholics, we children of Mary, we Divine Mercy devotees — we are the rich, and Lazarus is lying at our door. Will we answer the cry of the poor?
To learn more about the seventh commandment, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2402-2405.
1. I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides Me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.