How did Jesus live the Commandments in his life? How are his 21st-century followers called to live them? Throughout 2007, Every Day Catholic will feature a series of cover articles on the 10 Commandments by award-winning writer Kathy Coffey. 

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Hidden Forms of Theft
 
By Kathy Coffey

“You shall not steal ” (Exodus 20:15).

Whew!” we might first think. “Got off easy on that one!” We law-abiding sorts don’t pilfer office supplies, skim money from the collection plate, shoplift jewelry, pick pockets or rob banks. At last, this is one commandment we’re handily observing, right?

Right—if we stick to the letter of the law. But the commandments are demanding, calling us beyond superficial observance to deeper reflection. There are more forms of stealing than we might initially recognize. Let’s look first at homegrown forms, then at the larger picture of social justice.

In arenas close to home, we rob our children or spouses of hours together when we work overtime at a job that often buys more than necessities; it buys luxuries (the second TV set, pizza delivery, PalmPilot, iPod, etc.).

The Church has long taught that economic concerns cannot be the primary drivers of human life. The person created by God is too precious to be merely a means of profit. Our birthright as God’s children is dignity, security, the divine, transcendent love. All that matters most is gift. So why do we hoard lesser things?

We steal a person’s enthusiasm or innocence by negative comments. We squash plans that seem naïve, quell a child’s natural curiosity or creativity, stifle the initiative of the new employee. Unfounded fears can block imaginative solutions and, even worse, the inspiration of the Spirit. When we fritter away our time on games and television, we rob the bright potential of the intellect.

Two forms of theft reduce the immediacy of the present: if we are consumed with anxiety about the future, or dwell too much in memories of the past. Either extreme robs the current moment of all the grace and potential for God’s revelation.

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The items in closets or drawers that don’t fit or are no longer worn—these too are stolen from those who could be using them, who might in fact be thrilled to have them. As St. Basil reminds us: “The coat in your closet belongs to the naked. The shoes rotting in your basement belong to the barefoot.”

Our property and talents do not belong only to us, but were given by God for the benefit of others. Here, as everywhere, our model is Christ, who “though he was rich, yet for your sake…became poor so that by his poverty, you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).

A look through the Catechism of the Catholic Church reveals social dimensions of this commandment, condemning: the payment of unjust wages, bribes to legislators, breaking a contract and “work poorly done.” Furthermore, discrimination against women and immigrants which denies them job access violates the Seventh Commandment. Interestingly, the Catechism denies that theft occurs when one needs essentials desperately (#2408-9)—as for instance, when people sought food and water after Hurricane Katrina.

How the foundations of Las Vegas or Atlantic City would tremble to hear its words: “The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement” (#2413). Intuitively we may cringe at the busloads of people pumping their savings into slot machines.

So too, people who lavish more money and attention on their pets than some children receive aren’t exercising proper stewardship: “One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons” (#2418).

On a global scale, the arms race plunders the resources of the planet, substituting weapons for people’s basic needs. Dwight Eisenhower warned in 1961 that the military-industrial complex could bleed our country’s riches—and he was prophetic.

Paying Back

To conclude on a bright note: Many people are making efforts at reparation. Corporate pollution may steal clean water and air, but it’s heartening to think of the youth group at St. Edward the Confessor Parish in Richmond, Virginia. They sponsored a two-week “fast” from every liquid except tap water and donated the money saved to a project providing clean water in Nicaragua.

As Helen Keller said, “The world is full of suffering, but also of the efforts to alleviate it.” Those who repay the thefts which occur in our homes and society brilliantly honor the Seventh Commandment.

Kathy Coffey, the mother of four, is an editor at Living the Good News in Denver, Colorado. She has won numerous writing awards. Her newest book is The Art of Faith (Twenty-Third Publications, 2007).

Next: The Eighth Commandment

Questions for Reflection:

• Kathy Coffey mentions ways to reflect more deeply on what is meant by stealing. How is this appropriate to your own situation?

• What can you do to make amends for the many ways society dishonors the Seventh Commandment?

 


FAMILY CORNER
Honesty: Caught, Not Taught
By Judith Dunlap

I was just a novice teacher when one of my students, Randy, came up to my desk to show me the purchase he had made. He was very proud of the clear plastic ruler he held in his hand. He was even prouder of the deal he had gotten when he purchased it. “It only cost a nickel,” he said. I asked him how he had gotten such a bargain, and he told me he’d swapped the price tag from another item in the store. I began to comment on his action when he stopped me, saying, “No, really, Mrs. Dunlap, it’s O.K. My dad does it all the time.” I didn’t know what to say.

Now when I look back on that day, I’m actually glad I said nothing to the youngster. Let’s be honest. For most young boys, Dad is the equivalent of all-righteous authority. But if the same thing happened at this time in my life, I would make it a point to have a few words with the dad.

I have spent over 25 years talking to parents, catechists and catechetical leaders about how faith is handed on to children. Often, I spend time talking about how we can help youngsters develop a right conscience. It is no surprise that the number one component in raising faith-filled children with an accurate sense of right and wrong is their parents. What we say in religion class, especially in a child’s early years, is always measured by the youngster’s own lived experience.

Children today see everything and hear even more. You can’t fool them. If you want them to be faith-filled, you need to work on growing in your own faith. If you want them to have an accurate sense of right and wrong, make sure your own compass is always fixed on what is right. It is as simple—and demanding—as that.

For Family Response:

As a family, look at a favorite movie or TV show. Watch for the moments when the characters lie and when they are truthful. Discuss the consequences of such choices in the story line—and in real life.

 


Media Watch
The Namesake
By Frank Frost

Frequently, the American immigration debate focuses on assimilation—to what degree immigrants should give up their traditional culture in favor of “being American.” The Namesake can serve as an enjoyable discussion-starter on the topic.

The epic two-generational love story of a couple from Calcutta, who come to New York where they bear and raise their children, is a beautifully shot film with characters we quickly care about. The story intercuts the visually rich and deeply established social milieu of India with the struggle of a family to find itself in a new country of informality and freedom of opportunity.

The Namesake is about the characters’ growth and understanding over time, and as such does not turn on one dramatic dilemma. Indeed, we can be forgiven if we ask whose story it is.

Is it that of Ashimi (Tabu), the young woman we first meet in Calcutta whose parents are negotiating a planned marriage for her? Or Ashoke (Irfan Khan), whom we meet reading the Russian writer Gogol on a train, about to collide with destiny? Or is it the story of their American-born son Gogol/Nick (Kal Penn), who embodies the initial rejection of his Bengali heritage, only to find a new appreciation of it?

Several themes emerge from the story. One derives from the title of the movie. What’s in a name? The significance of Ashoke naming his son Gogol, and later of Gogol changing his name to Nick, is a measure of family heritage and the deepest dimensions of personal identity.

The phrase “the American way” surfaces often, usually with a shrug that suggests there is sacrifice to be accepted in the loss of traditional culture, in exchange for economic opportunity and freedom. Negative aspects of the American way are manifest in the sullen rejection of the parents by the thoroughly acculturated teenager Gogol. Positive parts of the American way are manifest in the apparently unlimited opportunity for wealth and success his parents offer him by staying in America when his mother gets homesick for India.

Each viewer will see America in his or her own way as the film holds up a mirror to allow us to see ourselves in a fresh context. At the same time we get a chance to appreciate the rich cultural traditions of India through the spectacularly photographed Bengali wedding and funeral rites.

Questions of personal and ethnic identity become more urgent as the family progresses through growth and loss, and we are reminded that whether they consider themselves Indian or American they struggle for the same aspirations as individuals all around the world—family connections, dignity and pride. We are also reminded that time does not stand still; new personal and national identities continue to emerge. As for Gogol, he will fully confront the question of his name, his identity and his destiny only in the grief of his father’s death.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

 


SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556)

A war injury started Ignatius Loyola on the path to conversion and, ultimately, sainthood. Ignatius spent his early years preparing for a life of service in the Spanish court. Around age 30, a cannonball shattered his leg in battle. Laid up for months, he whiled away the hours by reading. The books he was given—the only ones on hand—included a life of Christ and lives of the saints. Hardly what the soldier with a reputation for womanizing had in mind! But something deep in him was touched; he was beginning to turn to Christ.

After reporting a vision of the Mother of God, Ignatius made a pilgrimage to her shrine at Montserrat. He remained in the area for almost a year, often spending hours praying in a cave in the hills. He began to record material that later became his greatest work, the Spiritual Exercises. His attempt to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was cut short by political and social unrest; he returned to Spain to resume the studies he had abandoned years before.

Ignatius then moved to Paris for additional studies and prepared for ordination. Among his classmates were several men also drawn to the spiritual life. In 1534, the group vowed to live in poverty and chastity and pledged special service to the Holy Father. These were the earliest days of the Society of Jesus.

Ignatius was elected the first superior general. He worked from Rome as Jesuits began to preach and teach throughout the world. He continued work on his Spiritual Exercises, which he saw as a manual for the spiritual formation of his followers. He died suddenly in 1556 and was canonized 66 years later. His feast day is July 31.

Dr. Frank Ayers

A yearlong retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises helped Dr. Frank Ayers progress in his goal of establishing a more personal relationship with God. But it wasn’t easy. During his weekly meetings with a spiritual director he resisted what he felt was the retreat’s overemphasis on a judgmental God.

In the end, things fell into place. “I came away feeling sorry for my sins not because I was afraid of punishment but more for offending a loving God,” Dr. Ayers told Every Day Catholic.

It is the image of a loving God that enriches Dr. Ayers’s life and calls him to share that love with others. Creighton University in Omaha officially recognized that fact when it presented him with its 2006 St. Ignatius Award.

A member of the faculty there for decades, Dr. Ayers presently serves as associate dean for student affairs and director of admissions at the Jesuit university’s School of Dentistry. While most of his work now is administrative, he takes the time to deliver lectures to students about serving disabled patients, a professional interest he developed following the birth of his son Patrick, who has special needs.

Dr. Ayers has also helped lead efforts to bring minorities to Creighton’s dental school. Besides volunteering his services at a local clinic that serves needy Hispanics, he has brought his skills to the Dominican Republic for five summers, along with other faculty and students.

While there, he does hands-on dental work and relishes the opportunity to live in solidarity with the poor. “It’s the interaction with the Dominican people that’s the best part,” he said. “They know God. They don’t set out to teach you, but they model what it means to love God.”

 
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