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What Catholics Believe - Chapter 34

The Tenth Commandment:  Blessed are the Poor of Heart

In the May issue of Harvest, Father Paul Plante began by stating that “of the Ten Commandments, the last two may be the least well-known and perhaps even taken for granted.  They deal with issues that are more subtle and that we most likely would not necessarily detect.”  These two commandments relate to what is happening within us, in our hearts and minds, and not the outward actions that others can observe.  Father Plante went on to speak about the Ninth Commandment.  In this article, let us look at the Tenth Commandment which the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us is:  You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

Coveting the goods of another means desiring what another has in an inordinate way – being envious or jealous.  Does not this directive of the Church go against the message we are constantly hearing from the culture?  How many commercials do you see on the television or hear on the radio whose underlying message is: – Keep up with the Joneses – You need this because all your friends have it – You do not want to be the last to have this – etc.?  The Seventh Commandment tells us not to steal what belongs to another, but this commandment challenges us to look at what is going on within ourselves.  What are our true motivations for acquiring things?  Is it something I truly need or must I have it because others have it?

Having material goods is not evil.  We all need things in order to live in this world. While we are all made in the image and likeness of God, our Creator, our needs are different.  Shelter, food, clothing, as well as respect, love, and acceptance are all things a human person requires to grow, mature, and develop into the person God intends each of us to be.

The challenge of this commandment for me is to be thankful for what I have and to not always be comparing it with what others have.  In other words not to desire something another has, which I do not really need.  I believe it was Saint Augustine who said that our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord.  Yet, in the consumer society that exists in America, we often seek the rest that our hearts desire in possessions.  Again, the focus of this commandment is to look at what is happening within me, in my heart, mind, and soul.  Can I be satisfied with what I have without being envious that someone else has more?

It seems to me that becoming “poor in spirit” does not concern only material things but also the gifts and talents with which each one of us has been blessed.  If we think of the two parables about talents that are in the Gospels, the message is clear that gifts are to be used and not hidden under a rock.  Gifts are given in order to be shared.  Sharing insights and accepting insights from another, as well as putting one’s gifts at the service of the Church, the community, one’s family, are all ways to live, in a positive manner, this commandment.

As I was thinking of what to write about the Tenth Commandment, I recalled that we are just beyond the midpoint of this Jubilee Year of Mercy.  The Holy Father has asked us to live the spiritual and corporal works of mercy in a very conscious manner this year.  By doing so, it seems to me that we will be engaged in converting our hearts to become poor in spirit.  Developing a heart that is poor enables us to be grateful for what we have, to rejoice with others in their good fortune and, also, to share with those in need.

- Sister Rita-Mae Bissonnette, RSR, Chancellor, Diocese of Portland