By asking John the Baptist what they should do, the crowds demonstrate a crucial aspect of repentance – “the desire and resolution to change one’s life” (Catechism paragraph 1431).
John replies with a few specific examples. All are rooted in recognizing the dignity of each human person:
In every human person, [we see] a son or daughter of the One Who wants to be called our Father. In this way, our relationships with our neighbors are recognized as personal in character. The neighbor is not a ‘unit’ in the human collective; he is ‘someone’ who by his known origins [as a child of God] deserves particular attention and respect (2212).
Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that everyone should look upon his neighbor — without any exception — as ‘another self’ (1931).
Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man (1929).
Question for reflection: When have I asked for guidance from someone I trust?
The Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal,” governs our relationship with goods; it calls us to respect what belongs to our neighbor and to exercise proper stewardship of our own resources, so that we may help others in need.
God gave the entire earth to humankind as a whole, and all should take their part in its benefits, according to what is known as the universal destination of goods; nevertheless, its division into private property is necessary to safeguard our human freedom, dignity, and means of support.
To respect others’ property rights, we must not take their goods against their will by theft; fail to pay workers a just wage; engage in fraud, bribery, or other forms of financial corruption; violate contracts; willfully refuse to pay debts or taxes; do slipshod work; or improperly take supplies from work for our own personal use.
Economic life is bound by the moral law because it is ordered to the human person; work is a duty whereby we develop our gifts and talents to earn our livelihood, contribute to the good of others, and collaborate in our own unique way with God’s work of creation.
As a result, each one of us has the right of economic initiative, so that we may pursue our interests and undertake ventures that help to build robust, flourishing societies; for this reason, the Church condemns communism because it stifles freedom and reduces people to cogs in a collective machine.
At the same time, the centrality of the human person in economic life demands that profit should not be the overriding objective, to the detriment of moral concerns; while business owners have to seek profit to make their firms sustainable, they should also have due regard for their employees’ well-being.
To promote both free enterprise and social justice, the Church advocates a system of appropriate government regulation, but leaves it to the lay faithful to determine the precise terms of that regulation; although the state has a role to play, the private sector has the primary responsibility to act justly in the economic arena.
We are to have a “preferential love for the poor” because Jesus identifies with the poor, and warns us that we will be judged by our response to their needs; by helping the poor – both those suffering from a lack of material necessities and from spiritual poverty – we help Christ Himself.
In the same way, wealthy nations are obligated to assist poor nations, so often crippled by the injustices of history; while direct aid can be helpful, it is more important in the long run to contribute to their economic development, and enable them to sustain themselves.
This commandment also extends to our relationship with the environment; because we have been entrusted with the awe-inspiring gift of creation, we must tend it with respect; even as we may appropriately use animals for food and clothing, we must care for, and never abuse, God’s beautiful creatures.
Live Your Faith
We can be tempted to cut corners in all kinds of ways that we don’t necessarily think of as stealing. Do we cheat on our tax returns, or expense accounts?
Do we spend money disproportionately on ourselves, splurging on unnecessary things and hoarding closets-full of clothes, while neglecting to give sufficiently to our neighbor in dire need?
Do we spend time idling on social media when our employer thinks that we are working? Do we have pirated versions of movies, games, music, or software? All of these are forms of theft in that they unjustly deprive someone else of goods.