TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


Chapter 10: Work, Subhuman Realities, and Property

Question E: What Are People’s Responsibilities with Respect to Their Own Property?

Before considering responsibilities regarding others’ property (question F) and in transactions (question G), the present question focuses on responsibilities in regard to acquiring, caring for, using, and disposing of property. Certain specific and important ways of using wealth—insurance, savings, and gambling—require special attention.

While the responsibilities treated here apply both to individual agents and to groups, such as families, for simplicity’s sake what follows usually speaks only of individuals.

1. The Christian Concept of Property Implies Two Basic Moral Norms

Some general norms were set out (in B.4.a–b) for human use of subpersonal creation. Those norms apply to acquiring and holding property, and the motives for violating them account for owners’ abuse of their property. But since ownership is subject to the requirements of fairness, the abuse of property by its owners not only is irreverent toward God but unfair to other people.

In addition, the Christian conception of property implies two basic norms applying only to owners: they should share the use of their property with others and should practice conservation.

a) Owners should share the use of their property with others. Contemporary secular opinion and Catholic teaching agree that in deciding about the use of things, owners may give preference to meeting their own needs and those of their dependents. Beyond that, however, the contemporary world’s understanding of owning property stands in sharp contrast with the Christian understanding.

Most people in affluent, contemporary societies think owning property primarily means enjoying the right to do whatever one pleases with it. Of course, people recognize some limits, for example, that owners must pay taxes and not use property in ways which hurt others or impose unfair risks on them. But most people do not think owners have a strict duty to care for and conserve their property, and then, having met their own and their dependents’ needs, to use it to meet others’ needs. It is taken to be commendable charity, not strict justice, when even the wealthiest choose to help even the poorest.

In contrast, as has been explained (in D.1), the Church teaches that ownership always presupposes and is limited by the universal destination of goods, that is, by the fact that the material world is God’s gift to humankind as a whole. Owning property means being responsible for the care and management of part of this gift. People do not have the right to do as they please with their property; they cannot assume that what they own is theirs to keep indefinitely and use just as they like, provided only they pay their taxes and do no harm to others. Rather, every owner has a constant, serious responsibility to make certain his or her property fairly serves genuine human needs. Having satisfied their own needs and those of their dependents, owners should do what they can to meet the needs of others. Consequently, under certain conditions almsgiving is so grave an obligation in strict justice that failure to feed the hungry can be a form of homicide (as has been explained in D.1.d).

Moreover, for Christians aware of having received the gift of God’s love, this obligation in strict justice also is an unconditional requirement of mercy:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?(1 Jn 3.14–17; cf. Mt 25.41–46)
To refuse help to others in need is to evict God’s merciful love from one’s heart and so to abide in that death which precludes eternal life.

b) Genuine needs are more than the bare minimum for survival. Since the concept of genuine human needs is essential to the preceding norm, it is necessary to explain what these are. On the one hand, they do not include whatever people think they need, since many people, especially in affluent countries, think they need all the comforts and luxuries they are accustomed to, plus any new ones they strongly desire. On the other hand, genuine human needs are not limited to the conditions for bare survival, since in merely surviving human beings cannot fulfill all their specifically human potentialities and are tempted by their misery to sin against others and their own dignity.78

Genuine human needs are marked out by the basic intelligible human goods (see CMP, 5.D; and above, 9.A.1.j), considered as the object of a will toward integral human fulfillment (see CMP, 7.F). Thus, genuine excludes not only mere objects of emotion but anything which would be obtained, used, or enjoyed sinfully; at the same time, genuine needs includes everything to be used in living a morally good life. Thus, in condemning certain inequalities as morally unacceptable, John Paul II uses a broad concept of necessities: “As regards necessities—food, clothes, housing, medico-social assistance, basic instruction, professional training, means of transport, information, possibility of recreation, religious life—there must be no privileged social strata.”79

c) The practice of conservation is a moral obligation. Since God gave humankind as a whole dominion over lower creation, everyone should acquire property and use it conservatively. John Paul II teaches:

Make the most of the goods of nature: ensure that they will yield more in favour of man, the man of today and of tomorrow. As regards the use of God’s gift of the land, it is necessary to think a great deal of the future generations, to pay the price of austerity in order not to weaken or reduce—or worse still, to make unbearable—the living conditions of future generations. Justice and humanity require this too [note omitted].80
Thus, conservative use means taking into account the adverse side effects one’s actions might have on other people, not only those now living but future generations. Conservation requires restraint in using resources known to be nonrenewable and avoiding insofar as possible contributing to irreversible changes in nature, since any such change could interfere with potential future uses not now foreseen.

Consequently, individuals and groups should acquire only what they really need; use carefully whatever they acquire; when possible, reuse things or pass them on for others’ use; when feasible, salvage usable parts and recycle materials; and carefully dispose of things which cannot either be reused or recycled.

Affluent people are especially obliged to practice conservation. As the Synod of Bishops points out, the essential conditions for human life on earth would suffer irreparable damage if everyone consumed and polluted at the same rate as people living in the wealthier nations do.81 Therefore: “Those who are already rich are bound to accept a less material way of life, with less waste, in order to avoid the destruction of the heritage which they are obliged by absolute justice to share with all other members of the human race.”82

d) One should consider how serious are violations of these norms. The gravity of these two basic moral norms regarding property is seldom sufficiently appreciated. Understanding why that is so can clarify a person’s sense of justice in these matters.

As to the norm requiring owners to share their property with others, the common contemporary view of property is so pervasive that even Christians who know about the norm often fail to take it seriously. Indeed, even victims of injustice in this matter often take it for granted that owners act within their rights in adhering to conventional standards. That people do not see themselves as victims does not mean the harm they suffer is insignificant and tolerable. Even if not conscious of being victims of injustice, those deprived of their just share of the world’s goods are well aware that the harm they suffer is great.

As for the practice of conservation, classical moral theology never discussed it; few Catholics feel a moral obligation in the matter, and some dismiss it as a merely fashionable cause. The norm may seem rather puritanical, because the Catholic moral and ascetical tradition does not regard the exuberant and even lavish use of material goods as wrong in itself. Also, some leading conservationists are secular humanists, whose erroneous views on other matters diminish the credibility of their sound moral judgments and public policy proposals on this matter.

Even when Catholics recognize their duty to practice conservation, they, like other people, are likely to ignore its seriousness. Most of those whose interests require this practice make up a seemingly faceless, nameless multitude, including people of distant lands and future generations, whom only clear-eyed faith, not clouded common sense, recognizes as neighbors to be loved and treated fairly. Then too, it is easy to think of particular acts of waste and consumption as very small, and so people overlook their responsibility to commit themselves to a “less material way of life” and to change habits whose effects over time are great.

2. Christians Should Subordinate Possessions to the Kingdom

In deciding whether to acquire or retain anything, some people take into account only the comparative strength of their desire for that thing and others, and the limits of their ability to satisfy their desires. The desires usually include not only rational ones—for instance, for the necessities of life—but also merely emotional motives (listed in B.4.c, above). The latter, often stimulated and nurtured by advertising, always are virtually without limit, since no matter what one has, it is always possible to imagine having something more or better.83 Also, for some people the measure of their ability to satisfy their desires is how much cash and credit they have currently available; they give little or no thought to meeting future responsibilities.

Christians should take a very different attitude, free from slavery to desire for possessions. An individual’s personal vocation or a group’s proper mission provides the standard for judgments about acquiring, holding, and disposing of things.

a) Jesus requires his followers to give up their possessions. After a rich man refuses Jesus’ invitation to sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and become his disciple, Jesus tells his followers that wealth is a humanly insuperable obstacle to salvation (see Mt 19.16–26, Mk 10.17–27, Lk 18.18–27). Not everyone is called precisely as the rich man was, but every Christian life presupposes renunciation, which at least means detachment from material goods (see Lk 14.1–32): “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Lk 14.33).

The problem is that material goods offer quick gratification, which provides an illusion of happiness; thus, people set their hearts on having and using things rather than on sharing in the heavenly communion of persons:

 Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Lk 12.32–34)
Wealth tends to enslave, and possessions compete with God for a would-be disciple’s allegiance: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Lk 16.13).

Consequently, the gospel challenges Christians either to live in evangelical poverty (see LG 42) or entirely to subordinate to their faith any necessary acquiring, retaining, and using of material goods. All Jesus’ followers must give up everything they have, in the sense of investing all their material goods in God’s kingdom. In doing so, as Jesus points out, they act with truly enlightened self-interest (“make for yourselves”); their investment will yield its return endlessly in heaven.84

b) Personal vocation or a group’s mission provides the standard. Christians should implement their faith and organize their lives by committing themselves to doing God’s will as they concretely discern it. In other words, they should respond to their personal vocations (see 2.E). Vocation must not be understood narrowly or individualistically; it extends to the whole of life, including such matters as friendships and legitimate recreation, and it specifies all the individual and social responsibilities of a Christian. Therefore, to devote material goods to the service of Jesus’ kingdom means acquiring, using, and retaining them precisely insofar as they are necessary for survival or are suitable for fulfilling responsibilities pertaining to one’s personal vocation.

Desiring and clinging to things which exceed this limit, whether by their quantity or their quality, is inconsistent with the total giving of self which Jesus requires of every one of his disciples. May I own an automobile? Perhaps. Do I need it for transportation? Not if public transportation (or a bicycle), perhaps supplemented by occasionally borrowing or renting an automobile, will do. Is the transportation a necessary and suitable part of an integrally Christian life? Not if I can forgo it while fulfilling all my responsibilities. May I buy a new, or an expensive, or a second automobile? Not if the old, or less expensive, or first one will meet my needs. Thus, while giving up all their possessions, Jesus’ disciples may retain the things they need to follow him.85

Christians need not reject new technology or forgo improved facilities which really enable them better to fulfill their responsibilities. But they must not become

slaves of “possession” and of immediate gratification, with no other horizon than the multiplication or continual replacement of the things already owned with others still better. This is the so-called civilization of “consumption” or “consumerism”, which involves so much “throwing-away” and “waste”. An object already owned but now superseded by something better is discarded, with no thought of its possible lasting value in itself, nor of some other human being who is poorer. All of us experience firsthand the sad effects of this blind submission to pure consumerism: in the first place a crass materialism, and at the same time a radical dissatisfaction, because one quickly learns—unless one is shielded from the flood of publicity and the ceaseless and tempting offers of products—that the more one possesses the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled.86
One must obtain and keep things not in the vain pursuit of satisfaction in possession but in the reasonable pursuit of true goods.

Just as personal vocation sets the limit for the individual Christian, each community’s proper mission provides the standard for its acquiring, using, and retaining material goods (see S.t., 2–2, q. 188, a. 7). Parents may try to obtain what they need to bring up and educate their children; families may keep what they need to care for their disabled and elderly members. (In 6 below, specific norms for saving and ensuring will be treated.) But Christian families must not try to keep up with their materialistic neighbors. Likewise, the Church herself and each voluntary association may have the material goods necessary to carry out their missions. Still, it is an evasion of the gospel standard if a cleric, religious, or any of the faithful who is a leader or member of a prosperous parish, religious community, or other association enjoys a luxurious life-style, even without holding personal title to any of the property or money he or she uses and spends.

c) Leo XIII’s teaching on this matter must be understood correctly. In clarifying the limits of the obligation of almsgiving, St. Thomas distinguishes two modes of what is needed: the first is what is absolutely necessary for one’s own survival and the survival of one’s dependents; the second is what is needed to live decently and provide for dependents according to one’s social condition and status (see S.t., 2–2, q. 32, a. 6, c.). Referring to this distinction, Leo XIII said the Christian is not required to give away “what he himself needs to maintain his station in life becomingly and decently.”87 This papal teaching sometimes has been taken to mean that Christians may retain all the wealth they need to maintain their standard of living, no matter how high. However, that interpretation is inconsistent with other elements of the Church’s teaching. For example, Vatican II points out that some of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church teach that “one is obliged to come to the relief of the poor, and to do so not merely out of one’s superfluous goods.”88 Therefore, it is reasonable to interpret Leo’s teaching in the light of Thomas’s, and to interpret the latter in its historical and textual context.

As to the historical context: in Christian societies, someone’s station in life could limit the material goods he or she needed, for it was mainly determined, not by wealth, but by social function and responsibilities—one’s station and its duties. In contemporary affluent societies, however, station in life is largely determined by wealth, and so it can set no limit on one’s standard of living. As to the text to which Leo referred, Thomas makes a point which Leo did not explicitly mention: that what one needs to live decently and meet one’s responsibilities is not rigidly fixed but somewhat elastic; very often, someone with enough to make do could have considerably more without having an obvious surplus or considerably less without suffering a serious deficiency.

Transposing Thomas’s standard to today, one can judge how much wealth one needs by considering all one’s responsibilities, which are specified by one’s personal vocation. In living by this standard, a person can fulfill the obligation indicated by Vatican II—to use even goods which are not superfluous to help the poor—since the limit defining the superfluous remains elastic, and allows what is reasonably considered necessary at one moment to become available the next to meet someone’s unanticipated need. Consequently, Church teaching does not approve a standard of living higher than that set by the limit of an individual’s personal vocation or a community’s mission.89

3. Specific Norms to Be Followed in Acquiring Things

Besides the basic norms flowing from the Christian concept of property and the general norm that material goods should be subordinated to the kingdom, there are specific norms for acquiring, using, caring for, and disposing of property. The following norms guide one in acquiring material goods, both as to what to acquire and how to acquire it.

a) Before acquiring anything, one should consider all the costs. In many cases, acquiring something is only the beginning of a whole series of costs or further acquisitions. Even if these are easily foreseeable, the tendency is to ignore them and focus exclusively on the prospective benefits of having the thing.

So, before anything is acquired, all the costs and burdens of having, caring for, and using it should be considered, and the impact of all these factors should be measured against the thing’s prospective use in meeting genuine needs. For example, offered an appealing free puppy, a family is attracted by the prospective benefits of having it as a pet; consideration also should be given to the cost of dog food, veterinary care, installing a fence, and so on, as well as the time and energy, otherwise available for other uses, which will be used in seeing to the animal’s needs. One also should consider whether one will be satisfied with the thing itself, or whether acquiring it will make one want still other things. For example, someone who buys a television set may need to subscribe to a cable service, probably will “need” a video cassette recorder, and then will “need” to rent or buy movies, and so on.

b) In acquiring things one should consider ownership responsibility. Since owning anything entails responsibility for its right use, not only by its owner but by others who might benefit from using it, nothing should be acquired unless one expects to be able to use it fully to meet legitimate needs or see to its right use. That responsibility can be fulfilled in various ways. In some cases, where there is a choice between acquiring something and borrowing or renting it to serve a temporary or occasional need, borrowing or renting should be preferred. In other cases, where it seems best to acquire something, its potential future use by others should be taken into account. In building a house, for example, one should try to make it serviceable for future occupants; in other words, its marketability should be considered, even if one does not expect to sell the house. Again, in purchasing clothing which one will not completely wear out, extremes of style should be avoided for the benefit of someone who will use it as secondhand clothing.

c) In choosing things, one should take side effects into account. Having and using anything will have various sorts of foreseeable side effects, and these should be considered in judging whether to acquire it. Among the side effects are those affecting the environment. Will using this fertilizer or automobile have a more serious environmental impact than using that one? Will a pet be a nuisance to neighbors, or will a noisy appliance disturb them? Even more important are moral side effects. Will having or using the thing be an occasion of sin? Will it scandalize others? Even if consumption is justified, conspicuous consumption should be avoided. Those things should be preferred which manifest Christian detachment and cannot reasonably be expected to arouse others’ avarice or envy.

d) One should prefer the simpler even if it is not cheaper. Because mass production and mass marketing provide economies of scale, it may happen that, among material goods which differ little in price and would meet the same need equally well, one is simpler, involving fewer natural resources and less energy to produce. The temptation then may be to choose the more complex product, which typically promises to satisfy some additional desires, although it will not better serve any purpose in fulfilling vocation and carrying out mission.

In such cases, Christians should resist the temptation and prefer the simpler product, for they practice conservation by doing so. Moreover, by preferring the simpler way of meeting their authentic needs, they act on Jesus’ norm—to give up possessions—and bear witness to their primary allegiance to God. Finally, preferring the simpler product, if it happens often enough, will tend to undermine the structures of the consumerist economy, by reducing the market for more complex products and encouraging more efficient production and better distribution of simpler goods.

e) It can be better to gather, beg, or borrow than to buy or rent. Many people in affluent societies feel that the only proper way to acquire things is by buying or renting them. However, the Christian principle of the universal destination of goods and the basic norms calling for shared use and conservation can favor gathering, begging, and borrowing.

Gathering is simply taking things which can be used and which no one owns or owners plainly have left for the taking; of course, due care must be exercised not to violate just property claims. In rural areas, food and fuel sometimes can be gathered from uncared for fields, streams, and forests; in urban areas, useful things often can be gathered from what others discard; employers sometimes allow employees to take leftovers, scrap, and other things which otherwise would be wasted. Gathering is a way of practicing conservation and it also saves money which can be put to other uses.

Begging and borrowing obtain from owners the gift or gratuitous use of things they can spare; of course, beggars and borrowers may not exaggerate their needs or falsely suggest that they lack resources to meet them. The beggar or borrower will find it easy to remember that all material goods are God’s gifts to the whole of humankind, and so will be disposed to humility. Owners who respond favorably are helped to fulfill their responsibility to put their property to good use. Beggars and borrowers should show gratitude to benefactors, repaying material goods with spiritual ones. In this way, interpersonal communion grows more easily than it does between buyers and sellers. Members of a parish or neighbors could facilitate borrowing by cooperating in maintaining a catalogue of possessions which they are prepared to lend to one another.

f) In buying, shopping should be carefully planned. In affluent societies, many merchants and retail complexes promote shopping as a pastime, doing everything possible to stimulate shoppers’ desires to buy. However, shopping as entertainment and impulse buying violate the Christian standard: a person should acquire only what is needed to fulfill his or her responsibilities. Therefore, insofar as possible, one should plan one’s shopping, using advertising only as a source of factual information while resisting its persuasions. Genuine needs should be articulated as clearly as possible, products should be studied to discern how well they will meet those needs, and decisions should be based on real value for price, not on the superficial appeal of transient fashion or new style.

g) In borrowing money, future responsibilities should be taken into account. Plainly, it is always wrong to borrow money for uses which are not in themselves morally good. Therefore, money never may be borrowed for uses that are merely emotionally motivated, for example, to indulge unreasonable appetites or seek illusory self-fulfillment in possessions. Some families go heavily into debt in this way, with the bad result that both parents unnecessarily work outside the home, while leaving the care of their small children to others or leaving somewhat older children without the guidance and supervision they need.

Moreover, even when the use of the money would be morally good in itself, prospective borrowers should consider how the burden of repaying a debt will affect their ability to fulfill other responsibilities. For the most part, people whose incomes will not increase greatly during the period of a loan do better to avoid using part of their limited income to pay interest. Owing money also limits the ability to help others in need and to respond to new elements of one’s vocation which might emerge. Therefore, borrowing which is not required to fulfill urgent responsibilities usually is unreasonable.

Many merchants and banks promote borrowing, veiling its cost by encouraging the use of charge accounts and credit cards, while emphasizing how small a payment is required to carry the balance from month to month. Actually, however, this involves borrowing money at rather high rates of interest. Most such borrowing can and should be avoided by prudent saving to provide for necessities and by self-restraint in forgoing unnecessary goods and services.

Still, provided one borrows to achieve a reasonable purpose and foresees that repaying the debt will not stand in the way of meeting other responsibilities, borrowing can be justified, for example, by a young person to obtain the education needed to fulfill his or her personal vocation or by a family to obtain a home.

4. Specific Norms about Caring for Material Goods

Time, effort, and resources should be devoted to caring for one’s property and money in proportion to their true value. The value of material goods should be judged in reference not only to oneself and one’s dependents, but to others as well.

a) Due care should be given to material goods. Some people, including some who are poor, fail to care for their property and money. They waste food and other consumables; neglect necessary maintenance of their homes, automobiles, and other equipment; damage and ruin things by careless use and avoidable accidents; regularly lose money and other valuables, or carelessly allow them to be stolen; and so on. The wealthy for their part often are prodigal, selfishly disregarding the inherent worth of material goods and their responsibilities to others.

People are especially prone to neglect things which they do not themselves need, no longer want, or plan to dispose of. They ignore their responsibility to other potential users or future owners. Many also are careless with things which are not their private property: public or community property, an employer’s equipment and supplies, a rented dwelling or automobile, and so on. They selfishly disregard others’ rights in this way, needlessly increasing their costs or impeding their potential benefits from using the things.

The basic norms concerning shared use and conservation require that all material goods receive due care. People should take the trouble to know how to care properly for things, disciplining themselves to make the necessary effort. Poor people who do not do this often fail seriously in their responsibilities to care for themselves and their dependents. Others also should be considered: potential or future users of things one does not need or plans to dispose of, fellow users of public or community property, owners and future users of things one rents and borrows, all those who must share the costs of employees’ wastefulness, and so on. One seldom knows such people or experiences the effects of one’s behavior upon them; but whether they are considered or ignored, they too are one’s neighbors.

b) Excessive care should not be lavished on material goods. Some people put so much time, effort, and resources into caring for their property and money that they neglect other responsibilities, impede other people from making reasonable use of their things, or even fail to make good use of the things on which they lavish so much care. In some cases, excessive care for material goods shows inordinate attachment to them; in others, it manifests perfectionism, which may be more a psychological than a moral problem. In any case, the underlying problem should be addressed, and instrumental goods such as property and money should be subordinated to intrinsic human goods. Things should not receive so much care that genuine interpersonal communion or proper care for oneself is neglected.

c) One should protect others’ interests in family property. People often hold legal title to things—real property, investments, insurance policies, and so on—which, morally, belong not to them individually but to their marital community or family as a whole. They should do what is legally necessary to protect other family members’ interests in such property, so that, for example, inheritance and tax laws will not adversely affect those interests. Usually that requires that adults make a last will and testament or establish a trust, and review it periodically; often, too, executors, trustees, beneficiaries of insurance policies, and so on should be named. In all these matters, a person should take the care necessary to be morally certain that the provisions he or she makes are sound and legally effective. One’s responsibilities to all the persons involved should be honored, without favoritism or antagonism toward any.

Of course, not everything one controls is automatically family property or should be given to family members when one dies. For example, in an affluent society offering many economic opportunities, parents, having helped their children get a start in life, might rightly judge that their remaining goods are not family property. Someone who conscientiously concludes that family members are not morally entitled to part or all of the things at his or her disposal should consider other just claims, such as the needs of the poor.

5. Specific Norms for Seeing to the Use of Material Goods

The following norms guide one in using material goods and administering them for others’ use. Some special cases of using money will be treated separately below: insurance and savings (in 6) and gambling (in 7).

Two relevant norms require no further explanation: one should use material goods to meet one’s own genuine needs and those of one’s dependents, and one never should use anything in any immoral action.

a) One should try to use things as fully as possible. Affluent people often use things inefficiently, not only by neglecting to care for them and being careless in using them, both of which lead to waste, but by having available more than they need and/or using things only partially, then discarding them without regard to their remaining potential utility. For example, many people throw away large amounts of leftover food and discard clothing which is far from worn out; but the basic norm concerning conservation implies trying to use things efficiently by carefully limiting what one prepares for use and attempting to realize the full potential utility of anything one owns.

That does not mean the owners themselves always should realize the full potential utility. Very often, things partly used no longer serve their owners’ purposes, but can meet others’ needs. In such cases, owners should not throw things away, thinking only of their own convenience, but should take the trouble to sell or give the things they no longer need to someone who can use them.

Of course, there is a point at which it becomes wasteful to try to avoid waste: squeezing the last bit of toothpaste from the tube can take more time than it is worth. Sometimes, too, even though others might put something to use, it would be wasteful to go to the trouble of finding those potential users.

b) Using one’s property to meet others’ needs often is obligatory. Just as owners should use their money and consumable goods to meet their own needs and those of their dependents, they also should use these things to meet others’ needs.90 As has been explained, this responsibility sometimes binds gravely in strict justice. That certainly is so in a situation treated by classical Catholic moral theology: when an owner with superfluous goods can use them to meet someone’s urgent and grave needs. However, as explained above (in 2.c), the obligation sometimes goes further, since the concepts of the superfluous and of needs are somewhat elastic.

Admittedly, individuals and families cannot by themselves overcome unjust economic structures, so that oftentimes there is no practical way to help those in urgent need by forgoing something here and now. Sometimes, however, the alternative of using property to meet others’ needs is available. No very specific norm can be articulated to guide choices in such cases. Rather, one should recall Jesus’ teaching about wealth, including the lesson of the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Lk 16.19–31; cf. GS 27, 64); one should recall too how Jesus identifies with those in need, and the consequences for those who do not succor him in the poor: “ ‘Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment” (Mt 25.45–46). One should bear in mind the universal destination of goods and the basic norm requiring owners to use their goods to meet not only their own and their dependents’ needs but those of others. One should consider what others can do to meet their own needs, what is likely to be done by third parties, what one can do oneself, and all other relevant circumstances. Then one should apply the Golden Rule.

In doing so, it is right to take into account the priority which one’s responsibility for dependents enjoys. But the temptation to make a virtually absolute presumption against others’ claims must be resisted. That plainly is discriminatory, since goods are no less suitably used to meet their (outsiders’) needs than ours (one’s own and one’s dependents’). The issue calling for discernment is how an upright and disinterested person, such as Jesus, would evaluate competing claims: for example, a famine victim’s need for food and one’s own need for foods and beverages beyond a well-balanced and healthful diet, third-world children’s need for education and one’s own children’s need for the latest toys and electronic equipment, a pagan community’s need to hear the gospel and a Christian community’s need for a grand celebration on the occasion of a new bishop’s installation.

c) Several factors should be considered in making this judgment. In evaluating competing claims, differences in kinds of needs and in each need’s urgency obviously should be considered. So should the question of whether there are alternative ways of meeting a need. The duty to honor a claim for help is greater if one is uniquely equipped to do so or if it is unlikely that anyone else will. (It is irrelevant to one’s own responsibility that others who will not meet the need should do so.) Again, needs due to some sin or defect of a community to which one belongs (for example, misery in a region one’s own nation has devastated by unjust military action) deserve special consideration even if in no way one’s own fault (one did what one could to prevent the injustice).

A Christian also should consider how serving (and not serving) each need would affect all those involved, not only as individuals or distinct groups, but as interrelated members of the one body of Christ. Therefore, the order of charity must be taken into account: other things being equal, the claims of those with whom one has special and more intimate bonds—relatives, friends, members of the local community, and so on—are rightly preferred (see S.t., 2–2, q. 32, a. 9; 6.A.1.f).

Someone willing and able to meet others’ needs quickly finds that there are too many potential beneficiaries, for example, too many starving people in the world. Clear needs take priority over questionable ones, but often it is not feasible to try to determine whose needs take precedence, and one may do what one can to help those whose clear needs come to one’s attention. For this reason, the needy person in one’s path seems to have a special claim.

 In our times, the obligation is pressing to make ourselves the neighbor of absolutely every person, and of actively helping others when they come across our path, whether they be [in need in various other ways] or the hungry who disturb our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25.40). (GS 27)
Modern means of communication bring many needy people across one’s path, however. Here also it is necessary to appeal to the principle that clear needs take priority. Thus, a reputable relief agency working to improve agricultural methods so as to mitigate recurrent famines in a far-off land has a better claim on one’s resources than do many people who personally seek one’s help.

d) One should resist rationalizing evasions of this obligation. Even if someone does all he or she can to meet others’ needs, human misery as a whole is reduced only infinitesimally. If the intractable mass of human poverty is regarded as a problem calling for a solution, it becomes clear that any solution would require, not just that individuals use their money and goods to meet others’ needs, but that nations create a new social and economic order which would eliminate unjust structures and establish, everywhere in the world, programs to deal with poverty more effective than those now in operation anywhere.

Then too, some proponents of radical change argue that traditional ways of trying to meet people’s urgent needs are only anodynes, which do more harm than good by hiding the need for radical social changes and impeding effective action to bring them about. Some of these people use all their time, energy, and resources in serious efforts to promote radical social change, and are prepared to lay down their lives in that cause. Insofar as they hunger and thirst for justice, they must be respected, whether or not one judges their ideology and methods sound. One also must be prepared to cooperate in using every morally acceptable means to mitigate or overcome structural injustices which lead to human misery.

It can happen, however, that, their social consciousness having been raised, affluent people and communities, including churches and church groups, find thinking about poverty as a vast problem and talking about the radical changes needed to solve it an attractive alternative to using their wealth to meet others’ needs. Catholics who live very comfortably can employ the Church’s social doctrine to sketch out magnificent plans for economic justice, verbally support public programs to implement those plans, condemn the selfishness of people who prevent their implementation, and think themselves more righteous than others who seem to lack social conscience and care only about personal salvation.

These are evasions of the obligation in strict justice to use one’s wealth to meet others’ needs. For an individual to fulfill this obligation will neither change the world nor solve the problem of poverty, but it will make a difference to each person he or she helps—a real person whose real misery really will be mitigated. Even though the mass of human misery will be reduced only infinitesimally, that will be of immeasurable value because of the immeasurable dignity of each person whose need is met. Moreover, fulfilling the obligation will prepare material for the heavenly kingdom (in which alone human misery will be definitively overcome) and will allow a Christian to have a social conscience without belittling anyone else’s concern about personal salvation. Finally, Christians who use their wealth to meet others’ needs bear credible witness to the gospel—witness which might contribute to effective political action to implement plans for the economic justice which the Church’s social doctrine calls for.91

e) Mercy calls Christians to do more than justice requires. Although, other things being equal, responsibility for one’s dependents requires satisfying their needs before others’, Christian mercy, the justice of the kingdom, urges doing what can be done to satisfy others’ needs rather than one’s own. Such self-sacrifice contributes to Jesus’ redemptive work of building up the kingdom, not only by its witness value but by overcoming the alienation which sin causes and so promoting interpersonal communion. Therefore, when only the claims of legitimate self-interest are at stake, a Christian should make a strong presumption in favor of others’ claims. For example, provided other responsibilities do not argue against self-sacrifice, someone in a situation of common, extreme, life-threatening need, rather than claiming his or her rightful share of the goods and opportunities required for survival, rightly gives up that share so that someone else might survive.

f) Some are called to administer material things for others’ use. Sometimes, although its owners could give away property or money, they have such a gift for administering material goods that they should accept that as an element of their personal vocation. For example, people with both surplus wealth and skill in management can rightly set up or invest in businesses which provide just wages for gainful work and useful goods and services at fair prices, along with enough profit to compensate them reasonably for their work, which contributes to society’s economic common good.92 It is wrong to allow one’s resources to remain unproductive when they could be put to work contributing to the economic development of one’s community (see GS 65).

g) Sometimes owners should not reclaim property which had been stolen from them. Thieves and dishonest merchants often sell stolen property to innocent third parties. Both the original owner and the person who acquired it in good faith then seem to have a claim to it. The classical moralists, regarding ownership as a moral bond which endures when property is taken against an owner’s just will, held that the possessor in good faith has no moral claim to property identified as stolen, and so must return it (or what remains of it) to the original owner.

The legal provisions of property systems generally seem to reflect the same view, although perhaps they are shaped in part by other considerations: the good faith of someone possessing stolen property often is hard to prove or disprove, and the rule excluding the claim of one who possesses in good faith discourages theft by making people careful not to acquire stolen property.

Unless the contrary is more probable, those who find themselves possessing stolen property should assume that relevant legal provisions are just and should conform to them.

If it is clear that the possessor really was in good faith, however, it may be that the original owner should not reclaim the property. Since the right of ownership is subordinate to the universal destination of material goods, the need of both—original owner and possessor in good faith—should be considered. Both were victimized; the harm each stands to suffer is relevant in judging what resolution will be fair. Sometimes the original owner can easily yield part or all of stolen property which is greatly needed by the possessor in good faith. Therefore, owners sometimes should forgo all or part of their legal right to reclaim stolen property.

h) The use of common property should be shared fairly. Members of families and other communities with property in common should be considerate of one another in using it. If one or several treat an item as their individual property, others are blocked from enjoying their fair share of its use. For example, one child refuses to allow others to take their turn playing with a toy; while others wait, someone uses a public restroom for reading; in a crowded picnic area, one small family occupies two tables; ignoring recall notices, a professor who is not subject to fines keeps books borrowed from the university library.

Often, such unfairness not only gravely violates others’ rights but leads to serious tensions. An especially odious form occurs when someone retains continuous possession of something which he or she needs only occasionally or temporarily, thus requiring other members of the community to beg for its return to common use—a reasonable request all too often met with hostility.

i) One should attend to the side effects of using things. Rather often, a use otherwise morally acceptable becomes wrong because it leads to side effects which should not be accepted. Some are morally significant directly and in themselves: using something may be an occasion of sin for oneself or may scandalize others. Such side effects will not be overlooked by anyone seriously trying to live a Christian life. Others harm oneself—for example, smoking is bad for the smoker’s health—or other persons.

Where the impact is on others, the question is whether the harm can be accepted fairly. For example, using amplifiers and speakers to play music can disturb others who do not wish to be disturbed; using poisons around the house and garden can endanger neighbors’ children and pets; using gasoline and electricity usually has a negative environmental impact. Sometimes the use is fair despite the side effects, and other times the activity can be modified to prevent or sufficiently mitigate them; but sometimes one should forgo the use to avoid them.

In considering the fairness of accepting side effects, relevant circumstances must be taken into account. Although, to avoid severe environmental damage, some things should no longer be manufactured or brought into use, the cost of replacing similar things already in use may warrant continuing to accept their bad effects on the environment. Again, because poor individuals and societies have fewer alternatives, they may rightly accept side effects wrong for the wealthy to accept. Thus, the affluent should willingly accept greater burdens in preventing and correcting pollution, rather than favoring measures which overburden the poor by imposing identical burdens on rich and poor alike.

6. Specific Norms for Saving and Insuring

Saving and insuring are ways of preparing to meet future needs, and even though some insurance contracts include substantial elements of saving, the two differ in principle. Saving is suited to meet needs which are certain or very probable; insuring is suited to meet needs which might result from an unpredictable but serious loss. Although Jesus’ teaching about wealth in the Sermon on the Mount might seem to exclude both (see Mt 6.19–34), at times they plainly are necessary to meet serious responsibilities. Thus, Catholic tradition and current exegesis uniformly interpret Jesus’ teaching as not entirely excluding saving and insuring, but as warning Christians against seeking security and happiness by such means rather than looking to God for them (see S.t., 1–2, q. 108, a. 3, ad 5; 2–2, q. 55, a. 7). Trusting God, Christians should be free of the anxiety which leads to miserliness and an endless quest for so-called financial security.

a) Solidarity should limit the need for saving and insuring. Much of the need for saving and insuring results from the institutionalization of individualism and non-Christian attitudes about property. In this matter as in others, Christians should try to increase family and community solidarity, which would limit the need for saving and insuring. Nevertheless, prevailing attitudes shape the property system and social programs in various ways, for example, by providing or not providing tax advantages for certain ways of meeting needs, requiring various kinds of insurance, and so on. Such provisions affect the options open to every reasonable person and family. Therefore, even where family and community bonds are strong, Christians today rightly save and insure more extensively than would be justifiable in a less individualistic society.93

b) In saving and insuring, one should consider every responsibility. People who are very poor need make no decisions about saving and insuring, because they must use everything available to meet urgent present needs. People who are neither poor nor wealthy must consider their responsibilities to meet their own and their dependents’ needs, both at present and for the foreseeable future. They should save and insure insofar as future needs demand and present responsibilities permit. People who can meet their own and their dependents’ present and future needs should consider their responsibility to others, especially the poor whose present needs are urgent, and should strike a just and merciful balance.

c) One should save and insure reasonably to meet future needs. It is not uncommon for people who are not poor and may even be wealthy to ignore future needs. Their attachment to material goods has less to do with anxiety and the quest for illusory security than with desires for immediate satisfactions and/or a quest for illusory self-fulfillment in having things, and they may spend all their available funds, and even go deeply into debt, indulging their fancies (see S.t., 2–2, q. 119). Such people have no savings and little or no insurance beyond what the law or the conditions of their employment require. They make no provision to meet predictable needs; and their unfulfilled responsibilities wrongly deprive others of what is due them or shift the burden of meeting needs to society at large.

Plainly, unreasonable self-indulgence should yield to reasonable provision to meet future needs. Moreover, sometimes the less well-to-do should forgo even some current spending which would be justifiable in itself in order to provide for more important future needs. For example, young people usually should save to establish themselves, parents to educate their children, and working people to support themselves after retirement. A father of small children usually should carry the life insurance necessary to provide for their care should he die. Again, the possibility of causing others some serious, inadvertent harm usually requires that one carry liability insurance, both to protect assets needed to meet other responsibilities and to fulfill the possible responsibility to those whom one might harm.

d) The affluent should avoid excessive saving and insuring. Future needs always are more or less uncertain and open-ended; it is reasonable to provide for them only within limits, rather than trying to save enough to meet every possible need and trying to insure against every possible loss. As St. Thomas teaches: “One should not consider every case that might possibly occur in the future, for this would be to think about the morrow, which our Lord forbade (Mt 6.34), but one should judge what is superfluous and what is necessary according as things probably and usually occur” (S.t., 2–2, q. 32, a. 5, ad 3). Due to the anxiety and attachment to material goods against which Jesus warned, however, affluent people are tempted to the miserliness of excessive saving and the self-indulgence of wasteful insuring. Those who succumb to this twofold temptation never think they have any surplus.

Sometimes, like the rich fool in Jesus’ parable (see Lk 12.13–21), the affluent hoard goods, depriving others of what they themselves never will need. When investing savings, they often consider only safety and yield; otherwise, they are unconcerned about the use to which their capital is put, or perhaps even prefer to invest in businesses which maximize profits by exploiting employees and/or pandering to people’s sinfulness. In buying insurance, instead of limiting coverage to an amount they conscientiously judge necessary to fulfill serious responsibilities, they may instead seek illusory protection against the inevitable. For example, in buying life insurance, a man may not be rationally motivated by an intention to provide for his dependents but irrationally motivated by fear of death itself, which no amount of insurance can prevent or undo.

e) One should consider the use to which invested money will be put. In investing savings, one must consider potential return and be careful about safety, so as to serve the purpose which justifies using the money in this way rather than in meeting someone’s more or less urgent present needs. However, one also should try to avoid turning over the management of one’s savings to people who will use them in unjust or otherwise immoral activities, and should try instead to invest in something morally acceptable. Of course, an individual’s responsibility is limited by his or her ability to know about alternative possibilities and to choose reasonably among them. Moreover, as in other aspects of investing, one should not be too trusting in this matter, for while certain investment vehicles are advertised as “socially responsible,” the notion of social responsibility here may not reflect a judgment conformed to Christian principles.

f) One should be honest and fair in insurance matters. Dishonesty and carelessness on the part of those insured directly harms insurers, but indirectly harms all buyers of similar insurance, to whom this cost of doing business eventually will be passed on.

Because insurance is intended to cover unpredictable losses, it is unfair to deceive a potential insurer about foreseen risks. So, in applying for any kind of insurance, one should answer questions honestly. Having obtained insurance, one should not be negligent, so that the likelihood of the loss insured against is markedly increased, but instead should make every reasonable effort to avoid or minimize that loss. In making any claim, a person rightly seeks every benefit to which he or she is entitled under the insurance contract, without exaggerating the loss or lying about relevant facts in order to obtain a larger settlement.

7. Gambling Can Be Reasonable but Often Is an Abuse of Property

While someone can have a morally acceptable reason to gamble, gambling is often wrong, especially when the stake is large.

a) Gambling is specified by the gambler’s intention. Like some investing or insuring, gambling is an agreement between two or more parties in which at least one of them puts a sum of money or some other good at risk with the expectation, contingent on a future event, of either gaining more or losing the stake. Gambling differs from the responsible investment of savings to meet a foreseen future need in that gamblers do not accept a risk of loss as a side effect of making provision for the future but choose to take a risk for the sake of the gain they expect if they win. Similarly, using insurance as the vehicle for gambling, by staking its cost on the chance of a profit if the event insured against occurs, differs from responsible insuring in that gamblers do not pay to provide against some unavoidable risk but choose to risk the cost of the insurance for the sake of the anticipated gain.

Because the difference between investing or insuring and gambling sometimes is nothing more than the volition shaping the acts, the behavior usually characteristic of investing or insuring can carry out a desire to gamble, and so can be gambling from a moral point of view. Still, the property system and social conventions classify only those specific forms of behavior as gambling which usually serve that purpose.

b) Gambling can enhance other rationally justified activities. Gambling on a game one is playing, a sporting event one is observing, or something else in which one is involved can intensify interest and participation, thus making one’s involvement deeper and more gratifying. If the activity constitutes good recreation, there can be a reason to seek that deeper involvement and enjoyment. Hence, if the gambling is not otherwise wrong, it can be justified for this reason. For example, provided they violate no law, wager modest amounts consistent with their other responsibilities, and avoid both addiction and scandal, friends competing in games of skill may bet on their performance, and co-workers or neighbors may operate a pool to wager against one another in predicting the winners of sporting events in which they are interested. When, as in these examples, the gamblers are friends or members of a community who fairly share the risks and rewards, such morally innocent gambling often also contributes to their interpersonal relationships.

c) Gambling can contribute to psychological well-being. The excitement of gambling can contribute to psychological well-being, not only when it enhances another rationally justified activity but even when engaged in by itself. For example, playing bingo sometimes helps elderly, retarded, or debilitated people to overcome their lethargy; a game of chance can be a welcome distraction for a family awaiting the resolution of some unusually tense situation. In such cases, too, gambling can have a valuable social dimension.

d) A gambling contract can be a vehicle for other good purposes. In certain circumstances, a gambling contract could be a morally acceptable investment vehicle. For example, a poor working-family, able to provide for current needs but unable to save significantly for the children’s education or for retirement, might spend a small amount each week on a ticket in a state-run lottery, not choosing the high risk of losing, but only accepting it in the hope of winning enough to meet some of their future needs. For them, the lottery is a very high-risk investment, since no other investment they can make will serve their legitimate purpose.

A raffle or lottery also can be a means of donating to and raising funds for a church or charitable organization, or some other worthy purpose, private or public. However, to avoid scandal (in the strict sense defined in 4.E.2.a), churches and other organizations should not sponsor gambling which is forbidden by just laws or legal gambling in which participants risk significant amounts, for such gambling is very likely to lead many people into sin.

e) In gambling, one should not take unfair advantage of others. Experienced gamblers sometimes take unfair advantage by enticing people to compete in games at which they are unskilled. Moreover, gambling often involves outright fraud. People not uncommonly imagine that dishonesty somehow is justifiable when linked to gambling, perhaps because it is so widespread, or because its victims suffer it patiently, or because gambling is thought of as recreation rather than as serious business. However, lying never is justifiable.

Fraud, of course, must be distinguished from the bluffing and deception allowed by the rules of some games and mutually accepted as fair play by all participants (see 7.B.6.d).

f) Gambling motivated entirely by emotion is always wrong. Because of the element of risk and the prospect of gain, gambling always is exciting and sometimes emotionally satisfying, so that many people experience some emotional desire to gamble. However, there always is a reason not to gamble: other possible good uses for what is staked, such as meeting the needs of the poor and productive investment. Therefore, unless motivated by some reason grounded in an intelligible human good, gambling is always wrong.

While gambling motivated by emotion alone is in itself only light matter, the emotional motivation tends to lead those who indulge in it to become addicted. Thus, some people not only gamble without a justifying reason but do so despite grave consequences for themselves and/or their dependents. But even if people who gamble without a justifying reason do not become addicted and do no material harm to anyone, their action, even if not gravely wrong in itself, is likely to give scandal, by bad example or by cooperation, to people whose gambling is gravely wrong. Therefore, the obligation not to gamble without a justifying reason always is serious and often a grave matter.

g) Gambling a stake which should be used otherwise is wrong. Addicts often gamble stakes which should be used to meet their own or their dependents’ needs, to pay just debts, or to help the poor. Often, too, gambling leads affluent people, including some not addicted to it, self-indulgently to waste assets which should be given to the poor or invested in enterprises promoting the common good. Since such gambling is likely to lead to—or actually involves—significant injustice, the matter is grave.

People with a good reason to save often wrongly gamble by choosing a riskier investment than necessary. Although the added risk is not necessary to obtain the return their good purpose requires, they give in to greed and court disaster. Quite often, too, people playing the markets use investment contracts as vehicles for gambling with large amounts of money which should be employed otherwise, for example, as capital for a worthwhile enterprise. Moreover, using investment contracts for gambling impedes the attainment of their morally good and necessary end by distorting markets and contributing to economic instability. Therefore, this form of gambling involves an especially grave social and economic evil.

h) Illegal gambling is almost always wrong. Much gambling is illegal. The general presumption that laws are just and must be obeyed (see 11.D.4.a) is hard to overcome in the case of laws against gambling, which in itself often is morally wrong and seldom a moral duty. Participating in gambling organized by racketeers is likely to scandalize the weak by bad example and those who organize it by cooperation. The illegal gambler should foresee these evils, cannot ascertain that they will be slight, and so should presume that they will be grave. Therefore, illegal gambling is wrong unless one is morally certain—which is very unlikely—that the relevant law is unjust or inapplicable, and participating in gambling organized by racketeers is grave matter.

8. Specific Norms for Disposing of Unneeded Property

Owners often dispose of property which they no longer need by selling it or bartering it for something they can use. Disposing of property in that way is a transaction, and transactions will be treated (in G). Also, as explained above (in 5.a), owners should consider others’ needs before discarding anything which still might be useful. Here it remains to consider only those cases in which the owner does not need something, and nobody else can use it or, at least, trying to make it available to someone who could use it would be wasteful.

a) Sometimes one should keep things nobody currently needs. While people generally tend to throw away something when they do not foresee that preserving it will benefit themselves or someone they especially care about, they ought not to be too hasty. Instead, they should consider the possibility that things entirely useless now will be useful at some time in the future, evaluate their responsibility toward those who might then benefit, and make reasonable efforts to provide for possible future use. For example, before disposing of photographs, papers, and records, one should consider their possible historical value, if only for one’s descendants. In some cases, a person can provide for possible future use of such things by donating them to a museum or library.

b) When feasible, parts should be salvaged and materials recycled. When owners judge that something considered as a whole has no current or potential future utility worth preserving, they should consider the potential utility of its parts or materials. Practicing conservation, a person should consider it better that a totally wrecked automobile be dismantled for its parts and melted down as scrap steel than allowed to rust away; when reasonably convenient, leaves should be used for compost instead of being burned; and so on. Public and private agencies, including some businesses, carry on mandatory or voluntary recycling programs, and these should be given the benefit of the doubt: one should participate in them unless it is counterproductive or too burdensome to do so.

c) Useless things should be disposed of carefully. When items of property not only are entirely useless but are in some way burdensome to keep, owners are tempted to consider only their own interests in disposing of them, and thus to solve the problem in the way least costly and most convenient for themselves. But what is cheap and easy for the owner often imposes burdens and costs on others. To some extent, governments try to limit these bad effects by laws against littering, dumping trash on vacant land, pouring engine oil into sewers, and so forth. Because such laws serve an important purpose, they should be obeyed, unless, of course, they are unjust or inapplicable. But owners disposing of useless things should go beyond the letter of relevant laws to consider what burden their action would impose on others and whether that burden can fairly be imposed. If not, they should either find a better alternative or arrange fair compensation for those affected. For ownership continues to entail responsibilities even when property has become entirely useless and burdensome.

78. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 36, AAS 83 (1991) 838–39, OR, 6 May 1991, 11, explains the problem of qualifying needs: “The manner in which new needs arise and are defined is always marked by a more or less appropriate concept of man and of his true good. A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to his instincts—while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free—then consumer attitudes and life-styles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to his physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality.”

79. John Paul II, Homily at Mass in Recife (Brazil), 5, AAS 72 (1980) 929, OR, 4 Aug. 1980, 10.

80. John Paul II, Homily at the Mass for Farmers (Legazpi City, Philippines), 4, AAS 73 (1981) 386, OR, 2 Mar. 1981, 11.

81. Synod of Bishops, Second General Assembly (1971), Justice in the World, EV 4 (1971–73) 804–7, Flannery, 2:697.

82. Synod of Bishops, Second General Assembly (1971), Justice in the World, EV 4 (1971–73) 834–35, Flannery, 2:709. John Paul II, Homily in Yankee Stadium (New York), 6, AAS 71 (1979) 1172, OR, 22 Oct. 1979, 5, likewise teaches against “consumerism, exhausting and joyless”: “It is not a question of slowing down progress, for there is no human progress when everything conspires to give full reign to the instincts of self-interest, sex and power. We must find a simple way of living. For it is not right that the standard of living of the rich countries should seek to maintain itself by draining off a great part of the reserves of energy and raw materials that are meant to serve the whole of humanity.”

83. See Eric Clark, The Want Makers: The World of Advertising: How They Make You Buy (New York: Viking, 1989).

84. A useful commentary: Robert F. O’Toole, S.J., “Poverty and Wealth in Luke-Acts,” Chicago Studies 30 (Apr. 1991): 29–41.

85. See S.t., 2–2, q. 188, a. 7, for St. Thomas’s explanation along these lines of the poverty appropriate to the various kinds of religious life which existed in his day. While that poverty differed from the detachment required of every Christian in permitting only communal possession of goods, the standard for judging what to possess is the same; see Jacques Leclercq, Christianity and Money, trans. Eric Earnshaw Smith, Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism, 59 (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1959).

86. John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 28, AAS 80 (1988) 548–49, OR, 29 Feb. 1988, 7; see Drew Christiansen, S.J., “Social Justice and Consumerism in the Thought of Pope John Paul II,” Social Thought, Spring-Summer 1987, 60–73.

87. Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, ASS 23 (1890–91) 651, PE, 115.22 (translation supplied).

88. GS 69. An appended note (n. 10 in the Latin text, n. 223 in Abbott) refers to St. Basil, Lactantius, St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Bonaventure, St. Albert the Great, and John XXIII, but neither to St. Thomas nor to Leo XIII.

89. John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 31, AAS 80 (1988) 555, OR, 29 Feb. 1988, 8, teaches: “Thus, part of the teaching and most ancient practice of the Church is her conviction that she is obliged by her vocation—she herself, her ministers and each of her members—to relieve the misery of the suffering, both far and near, not only out of her ‘abundance’ but also out of her ‘necessities’. Faced by cases of need, one cannot ignore them in favour of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things.” A note refers to St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, and Possidius.

90. Having stated the obligation of the faithful to support the Church, CIC, c. 222, §2, adds: “They are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own resources.”

91. See John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 38, AAS 80 (1988) 564–66, OR, 29 Feb. 1988, 10. A Protestant theologian, Ronald J. Sider, “A Biblical Perspective on Stewardship,” in The Earth Is the Lord’s: Essays on Stewardship, ed. Mary Evelyn Jegen, S.N.D., and Bruno V. Manno, S.M. (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 18–19, points out the necessary relationship between committed witness and political action: “Central to any Christian strategy on world hunger must be a radical call for the Church to be the Church. One of the most glaring weaknesses of the churches’ social action in the past few decades is that the Church concentrated too exclusively on political solutions. In effect, Church leaders tried to persuade government to legislate what they could not persuade their Church members to live. And politicians quickly sensed that the daring declarations and frequent Washington delegations represented generals without troops. Only if the body of Christ is already beginning to live a radically new model of economic sharing will our demand for political change have integrity and impact.”

92. See Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, AAS 23 (1931) 194 and 222, PE, 209.51 and 209.136.

93. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 49, AAS 83 (1991) 855, OR, 6 May 1991, 14, points out: “In order to overcome today’s widespread individualistic mentality, what is required is a concrete commitment to solidarity and charity, beginning in the family with the mutual support of husband and wife and the care which the different generations give to one another. In this sense the family too can be called a community of work and solidarity. It can happen, however, that when a family does decide to live up fully to its vocation, it finds itself without the necessary support from the State and without sufficient resources.” He draws the conclusion that it is urgent to promote family-oriented public policies.