“You know how you ought to walk and to
please God—as indeed you are walking—we beseech and exhort you in the Lord
Jesus to make even greater progress.”
Saint Paul was at Thessalonica, but
had to leave in a hurry, under pressure from the Jews. (Part of his
“adventure story.:) Yet, having more to tell the Thessalonians, he wrote
this epistle to them in the year 53 A.D. The major point of today’s passage
is that Catholics must live a more exemplary life than their pagan
neighbors. The command to “make disciples of all nations” is not directed
solely at the Apostles—it is directed to all Christians. The first, and
most important way for any of us to convert the pagans around us is by our
own holy life and good example.
Saint Paul cautions, first of all,
about immorality—the sins of the flesh. He knew that even the pagans were
aware of the difference between good and evil—even if they didn't bother
very much to avoid that evil. He knew that they were aware of the need for
enduring family relationships; for stable homes in which to raise their
children and to spend their old age. So, Paul cautions us to “possess our
vessels—that is, our bodies—“in holiness and honor, not in the passion of
lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
Saint Paul also cautions us against
another vice which threatened to destroy the Church at Thessalonica; what he
refers to as “transgressing and overreaching our brothers.” Essentially, he
is referring to violations of the seventh Commandment, thou shalt not steal;
the acquisitive version of the sin of pride.
It is wrong for us to be concerned
with outdoing one another—having more possessions, or being thought “more
important” than the next person. If carried to excess, these are at least
sins against the virtue of humility. But the “ego trip” of possession and
status often enough leads to the direct violation of the 7th Commandment;
“Thou shalt not steal.” In his pride the sinner reasons that “Since I am
more important than He, I have the right to defraud him or take away his
Of course, nothing could be farther
from the truth. The right of a person to his property comes from the
Natural Law, and is reinforced by Divine Positive Law. Man cannot live
without rights to personal property. And society cannot function amid the
constant bickering which would arise if ownership were not defined.
By the seventh Commandment we are
enjoined from taking the property of another, from keeping it, or from
destroying it. Only by engaging in a just transaction can property rights
legitimately change hands.
We may not take another’s goods; not
by violence, not by stealth, not by fraud or cheating. It is wrong to take
advantage of the ignorance of another to his serious detriment; wrong not to
pay the debts we have contracted; wrong to do less than a day's work for a
day's pay; wrong to pay less than a living wage for that day's work.
We may not keep the property of
another if it has somehow fallen into our hands. We are obligated to make a
good faith search for the owner of lost goods, to return them if we are
able. Certainly, if we have taken something in bad faith, we are bound to
make restitution, either returning the property or its just value. This is
a grave matter, and if we have stolen something of serious value, we are
bound to confess this sin and discuss terms of restitution with our
Finally, we may not destroy the
property of another, either out of envy or for no reason at all. Vandalism
is the most senseless of all the forms of theft, for no one profits from
it. Only if someone were using his property in a dangerous manner, may we
act to take it away or destroy it. (Eg: A teacher might be justified in
destroying a weapon carried to school by a child. Or a parent in destroying
pornographic pictures found in his child's possession.) But most cases of
destroying someone else's property are such “gray areas” that they must be
approached with extreme caution.
The vision presented to us in the
Gospel is intended to tell us something of the glory of God in heaven, but
also something of the glory we shall possess when we are with Him.
Remember, please, that we will share that glory in heaven, only if are
united to His will here on earth. Pope Saint Leo the Great tells us that
the glory of the Transfiguration is the glory of our Lord’s sacred humanity,
for the Apostles could not have survived the glimpse of His sacred divinity.
Very likely, the soul in heaven in the state of sanctifying grace will look
much the same.
This is the will of God—your
sanctification: Abstain from immorality. Do not over reach one
another—trying to be more important than the next one. Do not transgress
the property of each other.
“What does it profit a man if he gain
the whole world,
and loose his own soul?”