QUAERITUR: Is gambling a sin?

From a reader:

I have recently started dating a woman who is a devout Catholic. I was
baptized, but have fallen away from the church since I was young.
Since I have love her so much I decided to start attending mass again
because I knew it would make her happy. I went with an open mind and
am very happy about the decision. My question is this, I make my
living by playing professional poker. I do very well for myself. I
myself see nothing wrong with this. Gambling to me, is perfectly fine
as long as you don’t have a problem. I consider it in the same way I
think about alcohol. It is good and okay as long as you are
responsible. What is the Catholic church’s opinion on poker or
gambling?

This is a little tricky.  It is not for nothing that in archaic English games of chance were called games of “hazard”.

Full disclosure: I made a lot of money in my first year of college shooting pool at my dorm and elsewhere and I was known to shuffle a deck.  Let’s just say I didn’t need a work/study job on campus.  Like Dr. Maturin, I didn’t have qualms about skinning the annoying.  Of course I wasn’t even a Catholic yet in those days.  As a priest, I have had a few friendly wagers here and there, but nothing big or anywhere near what could be considered scandalous.  In all my years I think I have spent less then $20 total on lottery tickets.  Holy Church had severe canons about clerics and gambling and for very good reasons: for their own sake, for the sake of the goods of the Church, and to avoid scandal.  Priests demonstrate time and again that they aren’t always very bright.  Why would they be good gamblers?

As far as I know there is no biblical prohibition against gambling. In fact, I think Joshua threw lots in order to distribute property.

However, the gambling you describe involves your time and your money and repetition. The Lord has some serious words about the possibility of serving “two masters”.  Furthermore, while it may be true that you are in complete “control” of this activity, and that it is not in control of you, that is, you are not addicted to gambling as many gamblers come to be, you may be putting yourself in the near occasion of sin, risking becoming addicted.  It is a sin knowingly to place oneself in the near occasion of sin.

It could be argued that playing poker is hardly different from day-trading.  Okay.  Maybe so.  However, playing cards is immediate and involves other people, some of whom may be addicted to the action.  We can also participate in the sin of another person by our cooperation of providing the means or counsel or approval for their sin.

That said, gambling is not in itself sinful.  The old Catholic Encyclopedia article provides some criteria.  I urge you to read the whole article here, to see with what grave reserve gambling has been viewed by the Church and great saints through history.  But here are the criteria:

Theologians commonly require four conditions so that gaming may not be illicit.

  • What is staked must belong to the gambler and must be at his free disposal. It is wrong, therefore, for the lawyer to stake the money of his client, or for anyone to gamble with what is necessary for the maintenance of his wife and children.
  • The gambler must act freely, without unjust compulsion.
  • There must be no fraud in the transaction, although the usual ruses of the game may be allowed. It is unlawful, accordingly, to mark the cards, but it is permissible to conceal carefully from an opponent the number of trump cards one holds.
  • Finally, there must be some sort of equality between the parties to make the contract equitable; it would be unfair for a combination of two expert whist players to take the money of a couple of mere novices at the game.

If any of these conditions be wanting, gambling becomes more or less wrong; and, besides, there is generally an element of danger in it which is quite sufficient to account for the bad name which it has.

I will add that when casinos began to open up in greater numbers, and bus trips were organized for seniors and advertisements began to draw young people into, for example, the wave of playing Texas Hold’em (a particularly energizing form of poker I might add), as a confessor I noted a sharp sharp increase in the number of people who began to have serious problems with gambling, and who were hurting themselves and their dependents.  I am sure other priests noticed this as well.

In sum, I understand that the venom of certain highly poisonous snakes has beneficial medicinal uses in small doses.  The collection of the venom can be more or less problematic.  Don’t forget that the biblical account of the fall of man describes the Father of Lies as having appeared to our First Parents in the guise of a serpent.

Even snake handlers get snake bit.

UPDATE 1909 GMT:

All of this brings to my mind the hymn written many years ago by the official WDTPRS Parodohymnodist whose work we have enjoyed and even recorded.  You will recall such hits as “O Come O Come Liturgical Blue”.

Here is just the first verse.

To the tune “The Church’s one foundation”.

The Church’s one foundation is B-I-N-G-O.
It is the one salvation from all the debt we owe.
And when foreclosure threatens we’ll play it every night,
for bigno pays the mortgage but also heat and light.

I hope I remembered that correctly.

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43 Responses to QUAERITUR: Is gambling a sin?

  1. AnAmericanMother says:

    My dad paid his way through school playing poker and selling blood. [I did that too. I have a rare blood type, so they always smiled when I showed up.]
    But he did not keep that as his profession once he had a wife and family. For many years, though, he would still play poker for ‘chicken stakes’ on Wednesday nights with a few friends.
    I could see, though, how it could get away from you. You’re in control . . . until you’re not.

  2. Random Friar says:

    For your reasons, I tend to be a little nervous. Casual games might tempt others, or might draw “suckers.” Professional games might draw better competitors, but there’s always an addict around. I have to come clean as well: I used to be “the house” for our floor’s Blackjack games. Let’s just say that I too didn’t need much in the way of financial aid, but I repent for being an instrument of taking money from foolish college students (a large chunk of the pros these days, you’ll notice).

    The age-old advice I give to people is: “Bet only what you don’t care about losing. You win, frosting on the cake. You lose, you paid $200 for that watered-down rum and coke the hostesses brought you, but hopefully you enjoyed it anyway, and can walk away happy.”

    Another problem comes from events such as a parish “Casino Night” or “Parish Festival” with lots of ridiculously house-friendly games. For a Casino Night, IMHO, everyone should pay a set amount, gamble away those chips, and whoever has the most chips at the end of the night gets something nice. Parish bingo makes me a little nervous, though…

  3. There is another angle to this discussion, more philosophical, I think.

    Consider professions and jobs in general…

    Nurse, doctor, manager, construction worker, general laborer, astronomer, etc.

    These do not merely provide income; they contribute to society, each in their own way. Even a professional sports players contribute something when we can take a break from the stresses of life and watch them play.

    Perhaps it’s not so much a question of whether it is sinful to gamble professionally; rather, what does it contribute to the common good?

  4. Lucas says:

    Fr, dumb question, but what would have happened if a priest won the lottery? I’m assuming the money is thr priest’s and he isn’t obligated to turn it over. But neither would he be able to leave his assignment unless he quit the priesthood correct? [This is a rabbit whole and we won't allow this to develop. But a religious with a vow of poverty would have to turn the money over to his community. A diocesan priest could, according to prudence, do with it what it pleases him to do. There are cases of pastors of parishes helping their parishes with lottery winnings. And that is that.]

  5. Iowander says:

    Professional poker plays on television too – usually sports channels.

  6. Charles E Flynn says:

    My father was a bartender who worked at racetracks.

    When I was very young, my father told me a story about a woman who was always late for the first race because she had to collect the rents on the apartment buildings she owned. After some years passed, she was on time, and then, she was late because she had to pay her rent. (It is possible that this story is a common Irish parable.)

    My father referred to the customers as “losers.” Once in a while, he would get a good tip on a race, and win a modest amount. He made more money by cashing checks for out-of-state wealthy people he trusted, who would show their appreciation by making it possible for us to get some things, such as a new RCA color television, drop-shipped from the factory wholesale. This arrangement was not a hazard.

  7. It’s interesting. I had a pastor a little while ago who used to say this about gambling:

    Two men enter an alley. One has a knife – he leaves with the other man’s money. Is this a sin..?
    Two men enter an alley. One has a pack of cards – he leaves with the other man’s money – is this a sin…?

    You may have gathered that he was against it somewhat as he saw that it wasn’t using the fruits of your own labours. But rather trying to take them from someone else without giving that person anything in exchange for it. The intention in both cases being the same – to take the money of the other man (admittedly in case two there is a presumption that the second man shares that intention) I think he saw it as a socially acceptible form of theft.

    Now that is not necessarily my viewpoint (after all – man two consented to the card game) but I just thought I’d throw it in here for fun.

    LF

  8. SonofMonica says:

    With respect to the comparison of gambling to day-trading, I prefer this analysis:

    Investing – “Any activity in which money is put at risk for the purpose of making a profit, and which is characterized by some or most of the following (in approximately descending order of importance): sufficient research has been conducted; the odds are favorable; the behavior is risk-averse; a systematic approach is being taken; emotions such as greed and fear play no role; the activity is ongoing and done as part of a long-term plan; the activity is not motivated solely by entertainment or compulsion; ownership of something tangible is involved; a net positive economic effect results.”

    Gambling – “Any activity in which money is put at risk for the purpose of making a profit, and which is characterized by some or most of the following (in approximately descending order of importance): little or no research has been conducted; the odds are unfavorable; the behavior is risk-seeking; an unsystematic approach is being taken; emotions such as greed and fear play a role; the activity is a discrete event or series of discrete events not done as part of a long-term plan; the activity is significantly motivated by entertainment or compulsion; ownership of something tangible is not involved; no net economic effect results.”

    Source

    If you treat casino gaming the way you treat other forms of gaming, you’re going to be just fine and remain free from sin. If you treat casino gaming as a means of gaining wealth, well…

  9. Bender says:

    re: games of chance

    Actually, despite the nomenclature, there is no “chance” involved. The outcome of games is entirely dependent upon various physical factors and the skill of the players.

    If someone does attribute the outcomes to luck, etc., and gambles on that basis, then that amounts to superstition, which is a sin.

    If, on the other hand, the basis of one’s gambling is his own personal skill, so long as he is not taking or putting at risk money that rightly belongs to other people or is held in trust for the benefit of other people (e.g. the family) (or taking time that rightly belongs to them), and does not risk poverty for himself, such that society would be then obligated to pay for him, then I see little moral problem.

  10. New Sister says:

    I think point two noted above, about what renders gambling illicit, should explicitly address the immorality of playing against a known addict – regardless of his/her skill level: gambling addicts are anything but free.

  11. Bender says:

    LF — not only did man two consent, but even though he lost his money, he still had the entertainment of playing the game.

    In my case, that is ALL that gambling is good for, the entertainment value.

    Consider a third case –
    Two men enter an alley. One guy shows a movie (which, like most movies today, is really awful and a waste of time) – he leaves with the other man’s money – is this a sin…?

  12. Lucas says:

    Thanks Father!

    I’d like to think the priest would turn it over to the diocese since he wouldn’t really have a need for it.

  13. “It could be argued that playing poker is hardly different from day-trading. “

    And perhaps it could be argued that day-trading is much worse than poker.

  14. digdigby says:

    I notice no one has uttered that dreaded word……. BINGO.

  15. APX says:

    as a confessor I noted a sharp sharp increase in the number of people who began to have serious problems with gambling, and who were hurting themselves and their dependents. I am sure other priests noticed this as well.

    I’m not a priest, but I do work in a probation office. I haven’t even been here a month yet, and the number of people who have gambling problems, and the other problems is has created in their lives is astounding. What’s even more astounding is how many of these people are/were just your regular middle class working citizens, who just got too caught up in gambling and now have criminal records (everything from theft under/over, fraud under/over, assault, etc etc), broken families, alcohol and drug addictions, loss of jobs, etc etc. When I sit down with these people and hear their story, I can connect the dots and actually see their life spiral out of control and pin point the exact moment when their life just fell apart.

    My dad paid his way through school playing poker and selling blood.
    My first year of university I used to sell my DNA to the micro-biology department to put gas in my car. $20 for a mouth swab. Easiest $20 I even made, and the line-ups in the hall were ridiculous. Lol! Poor desperate students.

  16. APX says:

    @digdigby

    I notice no one has uttered that dreaded word……. BINGO.

    I was going to ask whatever happened to parish bingo. My grandma used to make a lot of money and win all kinds of cool things playing bingo.

  17. Ernesto Gonzalez says:

    Consider a fourth case:

    Eighteen men take thousands to a field, charging them $20 to $100 hundred dollars for the privilege of being ignored by them for at least two hours (but there is no time limit). Meanwhile, these thousands of suckers (all joyful at the prospect) are then charged exorbitant prices for commodities they could easily acquire elsewhere. Oh, and there is no guarantee that any of them will leave happy.

    And I love baseball.

  18. Charles E Flynn says:

    Could we have a lottery based on guessing the number of times in a given week when Fr. Z will declare a topic an official “rabbit hole” ?

    [You are tempting me, aren't you!?]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  19. @Bender
    A good point well made. I would be prepared to make an argument that even thinking of charging for some of the rubbish at the cinima should be a sin in itself – but not however gambling related. : D (I’m desperatly trying not to do a joke starting with “200 men enter” and ending with “Is this SPARTA?”.)

    @Ernesto Gonzalez
    Agreed. Although I suppose you could say it was entertainment – unless of course you are a Cubs fan.

  20. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Interesting post Father! Yea, gambling isn’t intrinsically wrong in itself, neither is owning a bar. Both situations have risks.

    What job could a professional poker player switch to? I am in awe of professional poker players – these are masters of mental sequencing, memory, and statistics. And poker players are skilled people “readers” [facial expressions, movements, body language]. At the same time, these folks are self-aware and know how to hide their giveaway emotions and ‘tells’.

    Yea, Henry Edwards’ conjecture that “day-trading is much worse than poker” might be right. The stock market has more unknowns and factors outside of the gambler’s control.

  21. Mary Ann says:

    Is gambling a sin?

    Hmmm. Gambling can involve things other than money. Some pursuits, for instance, may have the chance for resulting in serious injuries or even death. Where can a line be drawn between ‘acceptable’ risk taking (whatever that is) and pushing those boundaries into a morally questionable activity?

    I know my chances of being hit by a foul ball at a baseball game are small and I can act to minimize that that risk. But our culture is ever hungry for more and more exciting entertainment. I have to wonder about risks people are taking either as individuals or even as professionals who act so that we may obtain thrills vicariously . Some extreme sports (or even ones that seem more mainstream these days such as auto racing) are inherently dangerous, in my opinion, no matter the talent level possessed by the participant. I understand that this is not a popular opinion.

  22. Ernesto Gonzalez says:

    @The Licensed Fool:
    The point is that it is entertainment (and I’m a Nationals fan!). As long as all parties agree to be entertained beforehand, and the activity is not inherently sinful, then any sin involved in gaming, gambling, movies and sports is due to a person’s state in life.

  23. Sliwka says:

    There was a big to do last year in my archdiocese about gambling, bingos, lotteries and school funding. Luckily, though certain historical events, most places in Canada have the opportunity for publicly funded Catholic education (known as the “separate board” in most places). Our Archbishop, his Grace Richard Smith, announced that all Catholic schools (and parishes at that) within the archdiocese would no longer accept funds earned through either parent organised or state funded loteries, bingos, or other means that could be considered gambling. In weighing the pros and cons, he felt that the potential to capitalise on the trouble and possible addictions of some individuals outweighed the benefits to the insitutions. There were some unhappy people.

  24. @Ernesto Gonzalez
    Good point – well made.
    I think that Love is also a factor. Some things we know are always sinful – by definition – but others can become so (or not) depending on our attitude and intentions when performing them (a great example earlier by someone was the deliberate taking advantage of an addict). Are we acting with love and respect towards the other person or are we taking advantage of our neighbour?

    Also spare some sympathy for me – I am a Cubs fan :D

  25. APX says:

    @Father Z

    To the tune “The Church’s one foundation”.

    The Church’s one foundation is B-I-N-G-O.
    It is the one salvation from all the debt we owe.
    And when foreclosure threatens we’ll play it every night,
    for bigno pays the mortgage but also heat and light.

    ROFLMAO!! Okay, this just made my day. How does the rest of it go?

  26. Slappo says:

    I play the ocassional game of texas holdem tournament style poker at my uncles house, and that itself is enough to tell me that anything more then that would become very problemactic for me.

    I once blew hundreds of dollars in online gambling in one night as a young college student. I cried myself to sleep and went to confession the next day. Never again…

    $20-$40 for fun and dinner from 7pm-midnight with family and friends, and ocassionally the night is free if my cards are good :).

  27. Panterina says:

    The problem that I see with gambling is that one is using money for one’s own entertainment in a way that could be otherwise used to help a person in need. There are so many truly starving people in the world that I cannot bring myself to waste any money by gambling.

    Having said that, for this man it’s his profession, and he does have a right to make an honest living. As long as his gambling losses don’t affect his family, and he puts his winnings to good use, I suppose he should be fine.

    He does need to be careful of the near occasions of sin that gambling offers, like all of us who have “normal” jobs have to.

  28. chcrix says:

    “Investing – “Any activity in which money is put at risk for the purpose of making a profit, and which is characterized by some or most of the following (in approximately descending order of importance): sufficient research has been conducted; the odds are favorable; the behavior is risk-averse; a systematic approach is being taken; emotions such as greed and fear play no role; the activity is ongoing and done as part of a long-term plan; the activity is not motivated solely by entertainment or compulsion; ownership of something tangible is involved; a net positive economic effect results.” ”

    Now, as I reflect on this definition it seems to me that much if not most of what passes for investing in our world might be closer to gambling.

    Sufficient Research?
    Odds Favorable?
    Systematic Approach?
    No role for greed and fear?
    Long Term Plan?
    Tangible ownership?
    Net positive economic effect?

    Nope. I’d wager ;-) that most investors and investments are not investments by this description. Indeed whole segments like carbon futures trading or ‘Intellectual property licensing ventures’ i.e. patent trolls are as much gambling as going down to the old riverboat.

  29. MikeM says:

    When the inquirer says that he plays “professionally,” does that mean that you rely on the winnings to live, or just that you play in “professional” level tournaments?

    I don’t think poker, as a game, is sinful. My friends and I play hold ‘em with low buy-ins where the amount of money isn’t going to make a big difference to anyone, and I’ve played in a few pricier tournaments when on a weekend outing or something. I’ve also bet on a few horse races.

    I think that when you start to feel like you need to win, though, gambling starts to pose a strong temptation to sin. Plus, gambling is one of those things where in order to win, someone else has to lose. That’s fine when everyone involved is just playing a game or seeking some entertainment… but I don’t think it’s good when your living depends directly on other people’s loss.

  30. DB1995 says:

    Is gaming so different from partaking of alcohol? The individual has to exercise self-control; failure to do so can wreck a family and end in disaster. Now, I am an ex-teetotal protestant (now Catholic), and whenever I get the upper-hand on the Biblical argument on alcohol, there is a familiar reversion to attacking alcohol because, “what if it causes someone to sin or be scandalized by seeing you drink?” I think that argument, so broadly applied, is bull but I would be delighted if Fr. might comment on that angle.

    I’m not dissuaded from thoroughly enjoying Texas Hold’em, but I also don’t want to lightly dismiss father’s comment of an increase in issues as the sport of Hold’em has taken greater “hold” in society.

    It seems to me that as long as you aren’t going to harm your family (financially or time playing) and as long as you are playing with others who are generally on par with your own skills, then game-on. The pro-sport might have different aspects than my infrequent small stake games, but I’d be interested in further thoughts on that topic too–I know one pro-player who says, “if it weren’t for luck, he would never lose.” (He also happens to be a Catholic, evidenced also by his family size.)

  31. campello says:

    I could not let this topic go by without mentioning the legendary Fr Joseph Fahey, S.J. President of BC High during my time there (A.M.D.G.). I had always heard scuttlebutt about Fr Fahey being a math genius and being blacklisted from casions. I paid the rumors no mind, and was sure they were false. Not until Fr Fahey passed on to his eternal reward, did I find out it was true. http://articles.latimes.com/2002/jan/21/local/me-fahey21

  32. APX says:

    With regards to professional poker. It is my understanding that it’s not your own money you’re playing with, but your sponsors’ money. This makes me wonder if it would change anything.

  33. digdigby says:

    Campello -
    That’s a hoot! “You gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold ‘em….” Obviously he did.

  34. The Church’s one foundation? A healthy bank account!
    You count it on a Monday in very large amount.
    You bank it on a Tuesday with consummate delight,
    (Excepting what you put by for gin on Wednesday night).

    —the late Fr Michael Sewell. Say a prayer for his soul.

  35. Jack Regan says:

    I have to admit that I like a flutter (a bet – english slang) and in the UK it is far more legal than in the US. Betting on sport is quite common. I enjoy a bet, but I think there is a need to keep it under control. So, I allow myself one bet of no more than £20 each year. I normally better on Football, and I almost never win. I’ve only ever won once!

    I did have £20 on the new Archbishop if Westminster a few years ago, though. Didn’t win!!

  36. Supertradmum says:

    As a person who has struggled with poverty most of my adult life, raising a child on my own, not in a socialist country, to me gambling is stealing money from the poor. The Catholic community does not help its own and for people to go to casinos for enjoyment when brothers and sisters in Christ suffer need, is sinful. I know retired persons waste hundreds, not thousands of dollars on the Mississippi casinos. Sometimes, priests go with them. I am sorry, but I think this is wrong and not an appropriate form of entertainment.

  37. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Panterina,

    your thinking is most honorable but not unproblematic. Mind that I do not dissuade from doing works of mercy, never! But I think one’s theories and worldviews are more important than one may think, and I think once you begin to feel an obligation to do what is really a good work of merit but not obligation, you are in principle, and I for one will soon feel to be, in conflict with the concept of joyful giving. [Just for not being unclear, there is an amount of charitableness which justice, gratitude or obligatory love demand. I'm not speaking of these.]

    As it was said by Jesus Sirach,
    He that is evil to himself, to whom will he be good? he shall not take pleasure in his goods. – My son, according to thy ability do good to thyself, and give the Lord his due offering. – Defraud not thyself of the good day, and let not the part of a good desire overpass thee. (Sir 14,5.11.15)

    and St. Paul:
    See that ye abound in this grace the collection for Jerusalem, also. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love. – Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity. (2 Cor 8,7f.; 9,7).

  38. Rouxfus says:

    I reckon the Church’s view on gambling is akin to its view on using alcohol. There is nothing inherently morally wrong with alcohol. But if you get drunk, or its effects affect your responsibilities or relationships with others in an adverse way then it can be sinful. The same formula seems to apply to gambling.

    With regard to the relationship between gambling and speculation in the financial markets, a good friend came up with this expression: “A speculator is a willing winner who occasionally loses. A gambler is a willing loser who occasionally wins.” [Gibbons Burke]

    In other words, if you are going to gamble, be prepared to lose your entire stake, because most games of chance, and most financial markets, are rigged games designed to fatten the purse of the house. If you have other ideas, unless you are playing poker or blackjack, you are kidding yourself. If you are playing poker or blackjack, or some other game where it is possible to have a positive mathematical expectation, and you are confident of that positive “edge”, and you aim to win and are not in it to be entertained, then you are a speculator and not a gambler.

  39. Tony Layne says:

    @ chcrix:

    Your comment made me think of a list I made about 3 years ago of 23 ways casino gambling is different from stock and futures investing. Among them are: 1) Casinos are more strictly and effectively regulated by the local, state and federal governments; 2) You’re far more likely to get a return of 9-to-1 on a “hard eight” bet than you are on an IPO; 3) There are still some parts of the world where an incompetent CEO who ran his casino into the red would be given “cement overshoes” rather than a “golden parachute”. In fact, it’s probably a better, more tangible incentive to excel.

    But to get back on to topic, much of what passes for “investment” isn’t contributing to the economy. Rather, they’re bets on exchanges of paper, with the market value of the paper often bearing no discernable relationship to the actual value of the commodities or corporations they represent. In the case of the stock market, the companies already have the money, so they get no benefit from the trades. Traders have an expression: “Bulls win. Bears win. Pigs lose.” A lot of stock speculation simply consists of bulls and bears taking money from pigs. And that is where day-trading becomes ethically questionable.

  40. Bender says:

    OK, let’s consider this case –

    A guy places a bet on a certain outcome of an event, standing to win 1000 times the money he bet.

    The outcome does not happen, and he loses the money he bet. So, the following month, he places another bet for the same amount. Same result. This goes on for several months without him ever winning.

    Is the money he is bets — the money that HE EARNED by the sweat of his labors — stealing from the poor?

    Let’s continue the scenario — One month, he places his bet, and soon thereafter the certain outcome he bet on happens. He wins 1000 times the amount he wagered. He takes his winnings and uses it to pay certain medical bills.

    Since the money he won came from betting, are those ill-gotten gains that properly belong to the poor?

    What is described above is actually popularly known as health insurance. Each month the guy pays a premium against risk, i.e. places a bet on an outcome. Most months, he loses, i.e. he stays healthy. One month, he wins, i.e. he has gotten sick or injured, and he applies his winnings, i.e. his insurance benefits, to his medical bills.

    Is that immoral? Do the poor have a greater claim to the fruits of your labors than you do?

  41. Rouxfus says:

    It seems to me that the idea at the poor have a claim on the property of others is contrary to the right to own property. However, the idea that there’d is a Universal Destination of Goods does impose a positive duty on Christians to provide for the needs of those in need whom they meet. A panhandler has a right to beg for alms, but no rightful claim on what the Christian has in his wallet. He does not have the right to reach into the Christian’s wallet and take that money. The commandment against stealing supports this idea. But yet, the Christian has a duty to respond in charity to those in need whome he meets (c.f. Matthew 25), because, as we do (or don’t do) for these, the least of Christ’s brethren, we do (or don’t do) for Him.

    God entrusts us as stewards of the goods (to wit, God’s) He gives us. It is a matter of our own salvation, which we work out with trembling, to dispense prudently for God’s glory, not ourn. the first and last time I played a game of Texas Hold ‘em I said a silent prayer beforehand that God would help me play against a dozen experienced players well, and promised to donate the gains to a local charity that feeds the homeless. It came down to me and another player at the end, and rather than duke it out to the last, we agreed to split between us the first and second place pots. My share went to the homeless ministry, as I had promised.

  42. Luis_Sa says:

    Rouxfus, the Angelic Doctor happened to disagree with you:
    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3066.htm#article7
    Surprising isn’t it?

  43. Luis_Sa says:

    Well I should add that Aquinas is referring to cases of extreme need, and he is, as usual, quite prudent:

    Since, however, there are many who are in need, while it is impossible for all to be succored by means of the same thing, each one is entrusted with the stewardship of his own things, so that out of them he may come to the aid of those who are in need. Nevertheless, if the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand (for instance when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy), then it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another’s property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery.

    ST IIa-IIae, Q.66 Art. 7 (respondeo)