I’m a SocialistApril 25th, 2012
When we vote during primary elections, the precinct officials always ask us for our political party affiliation. Years ago I shocked an election worker by answering “I am a socialist.” It’s true. We Franciscans are socialists. We hold things in common.
Franciscans receive paychecks or stipends made out in the name of their religious order or their local community. The automobile I use is titled under the name of “Franciscan Friars,” and so forth. Of course, I am not a socialist in the traditional understanding of dictatorial communism or state controlled ownership of everything. Still, we Franciscans are socialists in our community of life. In fact, I venture to assert we Franciscans are some of the longest enduring socialists in history.
Franciscan socialism is rooted in the life of St. Francis of Assisi who renounced everything in order to follow Jesus and live the Gospel way of life. The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:44-47 and Acts 4:32-35) gives a sense of the communal sharing of property and goods, so that “no one lacked” the basic needs of life.
Of course, the narrative moves right to the tale of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) who held back part of what they said they had given and are struck dead by God for lying in their testimony to the Jerusalem community of believers. There is also the narrative about how the Apostles instituted deacons (Acts 6:1-7) in order to care for the poor widows after there was a complaint about unjust distribution of the alms in Jerusalem. The Greek Christians complained that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of alms.
When we look at the church’s social doctrine we find the principle that the goods of the earth were given for the use of all. Thus, there is an obligation in justice to see to it that no one is deprived of their basic human needs due to inequities generated by human greed or any unjust social system.
This principle of social justice is difficult to explain in today’s context where our economic system calls for a meritocracy or greater rewards for those who have specialized skills (doctors, professionals, star athletes and actors) or who expose themselves to great risks for the good of the whole society (e.g. police, firefighters, soldiers) or those who make discoveries which benefit the common good.
One can argue that those with special needs due to disability should receive more than they can contribute (e.g. the blind or mentally disturbed). Or one can argue that some restorative justice is due to those who have been harmed by injustice (e.g. Catholics persecuted during England’s period of discrimination against Catholics.) The same would be true for “affirmative action” legislation approved in the U.S. to compensate for centuries of slavery and racial discrimination.
The bottom line is how we see ourselves and how we feel we should use the goods of this passing world in relation to God, our neighbor and the needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters. Let’s try to remember the words of our Lord (Mt 25:40) as we use the goods of this world: “As long as you did it to one of these the least of my sisters and brothers you did it to me.”
Photo: Flickr/Randy OHC