Advent: Week Three (C); December 16, 2018
Zep 3:14-18a Ps/Is 12 Phil 4:4-7 Lk 3:10-18
Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.
What struck me about today’s Gospel was hearing that so many people from all walks of life and from the whole spectrum of social strata—tax collectors, soldiers, ordinary people—are flocking to hear John’s powerful preaching and message and that is centered around a question that is so direct and simple. They ask, “What should we do?” And how does John answer? “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
We are called to share, but John’s call to repentance is more than cleaning out our closet! John is calling us to the Gospel of a shared life. If those kinds of practical acts of caring are not happening among us, I don’t think were listening to the Lord. If we have more than enough to sustain life, and if someone else is not so blessed, but indeed, is being denied life through grinding poverty, then he can and should lay claim to what we have . In other words, private property is not an absolute right, but is relative to God’s will and the Common Good.
This belief was promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum (1891) the foundational document for the Church’s social justice Tradition, in which he says, “If the question be asked, how should one’s possessions be used, the Church replies without hesitation that man should not consider his material possessions as his own but as common to all.” That’s extraordinary, isn’t?
What Pope Leo XIII was affirming is the Social Doctrine of the Church: namely, the universal destination of goods. Put simply, as our Catechism teaches us, “The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race” (#2402). Our loving and generous God gave the earth to the whole human race for our sustenance without excluding or favoring anyone.
The world, despite rampant consumerism, extravagant waste in our throw-away culture, is rich in resources to ensure the basic necessities for everyone. Yet, many of the human family live in scandalous poverty because the resources are used indiscriminately and they are dwindling. Brothers and sisters, there is only one world! There is only one humanity!— and, we are meant to be in solidarity with one another because we are made in the image of God who is a community of shared Love. Unfortunately, the world’s wealth is in the hands of a minority, of the few, and poverty—with its attendant misery and suffering—is the lot of the many, of the majority.
If there is hunger on earth it is not the lack of production—there is no lack of food—but the problem lies in an equitable distribution because we lack as sense of global solidarity, which, as Catholics, we should be front and center because we belong to a universal Church. The Catechism also states that “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself” (#2404). All wealth, in order to be good, must have a social dimension.
Consequently, ownership of property and wealth is a responsibility. No one is the absolute owner of goods, but as we hear in the opening chapters of Genesis, we are mandated by God to be stewards of the goods of the world. God wants us to be generous because God is Self-giving love. But, every time we hoard our goods, we are betraying God’s providential will in a very profound sense. What I truly own is what I am freely able to share with others. This is the measure of our stewardship of our wealth. If I am able to give, I am open to God’s presence, then I am truly rich, not only in what I own, but also in generosity. Generosity is not a tip, but is a duty to give wealth so that all may share in it. As Gandhi once said, “Are you willing to live simply, so that others may simply live?”
If in fact, I am not willing to share my wealth with others, is it because my treasures own me, they have power over me, and they enslave me? When you come down to the nitty-gritty, is not so much what we have, but how we use them. The possession of goods is a blessing because we have the opportunity to multiply them creatively and to use them generously and thereby to grow in charity and freedom.
People of God, we need look no further than Christ himself, who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself” (Phil 2:6-7). And, in so doing, he enriched us with his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). As baptized members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we are called to follow our Lord’s example who is our Teacher and Savior.
What emerges from a lifestyle for which St. John the Baptist and the Catechism are preparing us? What happens when we live the Great Commandment and form a community grounded in the Common Good and Ultimate Good? We heard it in our second reading in Philippians 4:4-7, which makes the bold proclamation that we will experience “Joy and peace that surpasses all understanding.” We will be filled with patience, kindness, forgiveness, and peace. Amen