Love of neighbour, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level: from the local community to the particular Church and to the Church universal in its entirety. As a community, the Church must practise love. Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community. The awareness of this responsibility has had a constitutive relevance in the Church from the beginning: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-5). In these words, Saint Luke provides a kind of definition of the Church, whose constitutive elements include fidelity to the “teaching of the Apostles”, “communion” (koinonia), “the breaking of the bread” and “prayer” (cf. Acts 2:42). The element of “communion” (koinonia) is not initially defined, but appears concretely in the verses quoted above: it consists in the fact that believers hold all things in common and that among them, there is no longer any distinction between rich and poor (cf. also Acts 4:32-37). As the Church grew, this radical form of material communion could not in fact be preserved. But its essential core remained: within the community of believers there can never be room for a poverty that denies anyone what is needed for a dignified life.
What happened? How did the local Church move away from real community to relying on socialism and the State for carrying for each other needs? I am old enough to remember women in the neighborhood, Lutherans and Catholics, surrounding the woman who had six children and an ill husband. There were no programs for such, as yet, she was taken care of in the 1950s. Now, people assume the government will take care of people-this is socialism.
A dignified life is now the middle-class dream, and sadly, those who fall into poverty are judged according to Calvinism, to be unholy, or worse, under a curse, instead of an opportunity for charity. I personally know three women who have been homeless this past year. One had her house ruined in a flood. No one in her affluent town helped her with living space or moving. She is in her 70s and lived in a hotel for 20 months. That is a scandal, as many of her parishioners have very large houses with plenty of space. The second woman's flat burnt down and she could not get government housing. At this time, she is still, I think, in a hotel. These women are both active members of Catholic parishes and not one person made room for either. The third woman, a pensioner, was forced to look for cheaper rent in an area where governmental housing has a three year waiting list. The members of the parish wanted to charge her, and I am ashamed to say this, 100 dollars per day for rent, as she was living in a resort town and "that was the going rate". I cannot imagine a pagan saying now, "See how they love one another." None of these women have husbands or families to take care of them. The priest who was trying to help her find housing in the parish gave up and was ashamed of his people, but nothing happened and still has not happened. When I tried to get help for one of these ladies, the response from all the people in the parish was. "Isn't there a government program for her?" We are living in great need of love in our Church, and it begins with a loving relationship with God.
Certain people avoid the poor as if they have leprosy, letting the State become the Big Mama.
Clearly, the Pope delineates other alternatives.
A few references will suffice to demonstrate this. Justin Martyr († c. 155) in speaking of the Christians' celebration of Sunday, also mentions their charitable activity, linked with the Eucharist as such. Those who are able make offerings in accordance with their means, each as he or she wishes; the Bishop in turn makes use of these to support orphans, widows, the sick and those who for other reasons find themselves in need, such as prisoners and foreigners. The great Christian writer Tertullian († after 220) relates how the pagans were struck by the Christians' concern for the needy of every sort. And when Ignatius of Antioch († c. 117) described the Church of Rome as “presiding in charity (agape)”, we may assume that with this definition he also intended in some sense to express her concrete charitable activity.
The modern society does not look at the Church and say "See how they love one another."
Now, the Church was more organized in earlier days, and in pioneer days in the States, then it is now regarding real love in action. The deacons had two roles, depending on their call-spiritual and physical. The permanent deaconate in the dioceses where I have lived in the States have been active to a certain extent-one, now retired, was at the food bank he helped to organize. However, this is not usually the case. He was a light in the darkness of selfishness.
Here is the Pope again:
Here it might be helpful to allude to the earliest legal structures associated with the service of charity in the Church. Towards the middle of the fourth century we see the development in
24. A mention of the emperor Julian the Apostate († 363) can also show how essential the early Church considered the organized practice of charity. As a child of six years, Julian witnessed the assassination of his father, brother and other family members by the guards of the imperial palace; rightly or wrongly, he blamed this brutal act on the Emperor Constantius, who passed himself off as an outstanding Christian. The Christian faith was thus definitively discredited in his eyes. Upon becoming emperor, Julian decided to restore paganism, the ancient Roman religion, while reforming it in the hope of making it the driving force behind the empire. In this project he was amply inspired by Christianity. He established a hierarchy of metropolitans and priests who were to foster love of God and neighbour. In one of his letters, he wrote that the sole aspect of Christianity which had impressed him was the Church's charitable activity. He thus considered it essential for his new pagan religion that, alongside the system of the Church's charity, an equivalent activity of its own be established. According to him, this was the reason for the popularity of the “Galileans”. They needed now to be imitated and outdone. In this way, then, the Emperor confirmed that charity was a decisive feature of the Christian community, the Church.
What happened? Socialism and the Communist Manifesto leaked into Church leadership and the labor unions, as well as certain political parties in Europe and in America. We were warned by the succession of Popes up to the present day. The answer to socialism lies in the radical living of the Gospel and the intense relationship with Christ every Catholic should have individually, that love relationship which spills out into the parish.
Are Catholics really listening or reading what this Pope and those before have to say about charity, which is from and in God, going out into the community? One person said to me that "God will take care of these people?" Yes, but through His Church, not through some magical means....
25. Thus far, two essential facts have emerged from our reflections:
a) The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.
b) The Church is God's family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life. Yet at the same time caritas- agape extends beyond the frontiers of the Church. The parable of the Good Samaritan remains as a standard which imposes universal love towards the needy whom we encounter “by chance” (cf. Lk 10:31), whoever they may be. Without in any way detracting from this commandment of universal love, the Church also has a specific responsibility: within the ecclesial family no member should suffer through being in need. The teaching of the Letter to the Galatians is emphatic: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:10).
This does not and is not happening, especially in socialist countries like Ireland and Great Britain, where the State is the "nanny" and the Catholics bow to this power which they cannot control. Look at the elections yesterday and pay attention to France tomorrow-as France goes, Europe goes...to be continued.