On the way to mass this morning, the Citizen’s bride shared today’s readings – a longstanding practice. She noted that there will be those who would use this to justify socialism – after all, didn’t the first reading proclaim that
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.
Doesn’t this establish the legitimacy of socialism? No, it does not. Socialism has never been a tenet of Christianity, nor should it be. Why, do you ask? It is an issue of Free Will versus compulsion.
In Acts 4, the community is called to remember the lessons taught in Luke 12:33 – to ‘sell your belongings and give alms’ and Luke 16:9 that speaks of ‘dishonest wealth.’ Give alms and love not wealth for wealth’s sake is the Catholic interpretation of these Gospel passages. Together, these three readings call upon Christians to not have undue love for money. Nowhere does it argue that it is the nature of a fair and just state to compel the personal distribution of wealth. This is the difference between Christian charity and the compulsion of the body politic.
Socialism as a form of government emphasizes the distribution of wealth, goods, and services according to the dictates of the state. It violates Catholic moral teachings on two key points – it is both materialist and determinist in nature. Socialist governments, in order to create and distribute material goods, compel the members of the state to participate in the creation and production of such goods. The desire for ‘my fair share’ creates an atmosphere where people focus on the material. Socialism emphasizes the ‘here-and-now’ desire for goods and services. It creates no opportunity for charitable works, nor does it expect people to engage in such save in completing their obligation to the state. In fact, the dictates and demands of the Socialist state permit no room for religion – at least none save the State. This leads to the second flaw in a socialist government – compulsion.
God has given us Free Will in order that we emulate the example of Christ willingly and openly. The society of Christians is made up of individuals, not states. In fact, Paul’s letters are studded with specific references to the generosity of individuals and communities. He also emphasized the fact that he labored to ‘earn his own keep.’ He called upon conscience, not the community of Christians as a body politic to compel support. Another glaring compulsive issue is that of the family. In a socialist state, children come under two authorities – the parents and the state. Historical socialist nations have always – always emphasized the authority of the state over parents. An ideal, Christian state is one that provides an opportunity for the family to be a healthy, productive, cooperative unit. Parents have the Christian right – and obligation – to provide for their children in order to raise them to continue to grow in faith.
A final Catholic objection to socialism is its treatment of private property. "It is lawful," says St. Thomas Aquinas, "for a man to hold private property; and it is also necessary for the carrying on of human existence.” The Gospels of Matthew speak of the good works a landowner was able to perform – because of his wealth. Pope Leo XIII in his Rerum Novarum wrote about wealth and property. He explained the the wealthy are reminded in the Gospel not to hold their wealth dear, but to be good custodians of the gifts with which they have been graced.
It is the duty of Christians to be charitable with their wealth. We should place the needs of others above our wants. And don’t we? Catholic Charities provides significant services to all in need. Catholics by our nature are generous people. Already, the president discussed eliminating charitable deductions. Now, the Citizen doesn’t deduct everything he probably could, but the deductions do help Catholic families to be generous in our support to charities that we believe provide good service. Isn’t this preferable to the government taking and giving as it will, to who it will, as it will?