Some say that the United States is becoming more socialist. Some also say that Christianity, on which our nation was founded, is essentially a socialist religion: everyone shares what they have and no one goes hungry. But Christianity is not socialism. Socialists and communists say that we have only to educate people in rational principles for them to share their wealth. Christians know that knowledge alone will not motivate a man to share his wealth; only when he confesses that God is our common Father will he see the injustice of some children starving while other children luxuriate.
Christians know that only God’s grace can overcome human selfishness, while socialism imagines that the government can convince people to share their wealth. Authentic charity stems from a deep conviction of Christian stewardship: that everything is God’s and we are entrusted with administering His wealth. Socialism imposes government regulation in place of Christian stewardship. It doesn’t work. Socialism and communism have never worked. It didn’t work in Russia. It is not working in Korea or Vietnam or Venezuela. I can understand a young person dreaming of a socialist utopia, but as we grow up we realize that something more powerful than mere good will is needed. As they say if you are not socialist when you are young, you have no heart. If you are socialist when you are old, you have no head.
God owns it all
St. James in the second reading is clearly not naïve about man’s selfishness, but he believes that we overcome this limitation by firmly believing in God: “My brothers: show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” It is faith in our glorious Lord that saves us from our selfishness. It is hard not to respect an articulate, powerful person, those with law or medical degrees from Stanford more than to a muni bus driver. But if we treat the bus driver as less human than the Stanford law professor, it is because our faith in God’s fatherhood is somehow lacking. In God’s Kingdom, the rich and the poor have the same intrinsic value. As Mother Teresa (whose feast day was yesterday—she went back to God on Sept 5, 1997) said, “every person is Christ.” We strive to see and love and reverence Jesus in every person. We will only share our wealth to the degree that we believe in God’s fatherhood, his Lordship over everything. His ownership is our stewardship.
Most of us are middle class. Some are a bit poorer, and some a bit richer, but most of us in this parish can afford a vacation, a car or two, and afford a decent place to live. We may even have some money in the bank. God has provided for us. But have we provided for others? Do we imagine that we own what He has given us, or do we recognize the truth, that we are stewards of his blessings?
Tomorrow is Labor Day, which the Federal Government established in 1894 (the same year this parish was erected on Geary Boulevard). The holiday honors the achievements of American labor, and the labor movement of the time had no illusions that these achievements were attained without God’s grace. We are stewards, not owners. God always favors the poor, and we are all poor. He opened the ears of the deaf man in today’s Gospel—a poor beggar, a man invisible to most of society. Most of Christ’s miracles were done for poor people, for manual laborers. I have found that the farther we move from honest, manual labor, the more we forget who gave us everything we have. We begin to forget where we came from, and where we are going. We want, rather, to labor in this life so as to become capable of loving God forever in the next. Labor that works only for material gain, and only for gain in this world, is mere socialism, never capable of satisfying the human spirit. We honor our workers, and we give God the glory for what we have achieved through His grace.
My friend Fr. George Schultz, a Jesuit who teaches at St. Patrick’s Seminary near San Francisco, has written a good article on labor in the context of a Christian culture. Here is a link to his article in Catholic World Report—a good read for Labor Day 2015.
Catholic Workers, Labor Unions, and Benedict XVI's "Caritas in Veritate"
Father George E. Schultze, SJ