Every culture condemns theft, but the 7th Commandment is about more than stealing, said Pope Francis on November 7, in continuing his general audience series on the Decalogue. This Commandment actually speaks to a key tenet of Catholic social doctrines, referred to as the “universal destination of goods.”
“What does this mean?” the pope asked.
He answered by citing the Catechism’s definition for this principle that explains how God entrusts the earth to the common stewardship of mankind, such that the goods of creation are destined for the whole human race, even though the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property.
“There is just one world,” the Holy Father exclaimed. “There is just one humanity!”
And yet, he lamented, “the wealth of the world, today, is in the hands of the minority, of the few, and poverty — or rather misery and suffering — is the lot of many, of the majority.”
The pope spoke of the well-known fact that the widespread hunger on the earth is not due to a lack of food, but rather due to a lack of “free and far-sighted enterprise, that ensures adequate production, with a fraternal approach, ensuring equitable distribution.”
Again citing the Catechism, Francis said, “Every wealth, to be good, must have a social dimension.”
Stewards of Providence
The pope referred to those who own property as “stewards of Providence.”
Just as he pointed out in explaining the 5th Commandment that no one’s life belongs to himself, so the pope said today that “no-one is the absolute master of goods: He is an administrator of goods. Possession is a responsibility.”
“Every property removed from the logic of God’s Providence is betrayed: It is betrayed in the deepest sense,” the pope said. “That which I truly possess is what I know how to give. … If I know how to give, I am open; then I am rich not only in what I possess, but also in generosity, generosity also as a duty to give wealth, so that all can participate in it.”
In fact, the pope warned, if I am unable to give something, it is “because that thing owns me, it has power over me and I am a slave to it.”
In using our possessions with generosity, Christ himself is our model, Francis continued:
Although humanity strives to have more, God redeems it by making Himself poor: That Crucified Man paid an inestimable ransom on behalf of God the Father, “rich in mercy” (Eph 2: 4; cf. James 5: 11). It is not property that makes us rich, but love.
The Holy Father then spoke of a truth that he’s mentioned before: “The devil enters through the pockets.”
We start with love for money, the hunger to possess; then vanity comes: “Ah, I am rich and I am proud of it”; and in the end, pride and arrogance. This is the way the devil acts in us. But the gate of entry is always the pockets.
The Holy Father concluded by reiterating that the 7th Commandment means loving: “Love with your property, make the most of your means to love as you can. In this way your life becomes good and possession truly becomes a gift. Because life is not the time for possessing, but for loving.”
See the Holy Father’s series on The Commandments here: