“Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.”
The Roman Emperor Julian hated and feared Catholics. Though raised Catholic, from his earliest days, he had been a political hostage, held captive by Catholic emperors. These men murdered his father and executed his half-brother. Catholics pretended to love people, but he knew the truth. His father’s spilled blood witnessed to it.So, when he became emperor in 361 AD, Julian rejected Christianity and turned to paganism. He worked to destroy the Church. To this end, he directed his government to care for the poor, so the crowds would swear allegiance to him and the pagan gods. He would use the Christians’ tricks against them.
The Earth Cries Out For Justice
People deserve just treatment. Thus, Christians have always counted justice among the four cardinal, or hinge, virtues: “[Wisdom] teaches moderation and prudence, justice and fortitude; nothing in life is more useful for men than these.” (Wisdom 8:7).
Christianity is simply this: fully recognizing and correctly responding to reality. Reality - that is, Christianity - forced his paganism to do what paganism had never done before. To conquer the Christians, Julian had to imitate them. He had to at least pretend to care about the poor.
Ever since Julian, those who have wanted to destroy Christianity have been first forced to imitate it. Unfortunately for the imitators, this is not as easy as it looks. From Emperor Julian’s loaves of bread to Adolf Hitler’s soup kitchens, from Vladimir Lenin’s war on on the kulaks to Saul Alinsky’s war on the corporations, everyone who has tried to provide a non-Christian charity has failed. The reason is simple. Even at its best, the most a Christian imitator can provide is social justice. And justice is not enough.
What We Need
Justice is the virtue by which we recognize the rights of our fellow man and give him his due. But, as Pope Benedict pointed out in his 2006 encyclical God is Love, while justice is the defining concern of the state and the central concern of politics, it is not the central concern of Christians. The Church has a higher standard:
“Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting... Charity always manifests God’s love in human relationships... it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world.” (Deus Caritas Est #6).
Since its conception in Mary’s womb, Christianity has recognized that persons need relationships. Indeed, The Church invented the word “person” precisely to describe the relations between the three Persons of the Trinity. Humans and angels are persons because our wills and intellects are oriented towards relationships both with one another and with the original Three Persons in Whose image and likeness we are made. It is precisely because our society is meant to mirror the society of Persons within the Godhead that Christianity has always emphasized the importance of the works of mercy.
Be Ye Merciful
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us these works will bring us to heaven. We must visit the sick and those in prison, give food, and drink to the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and bury the dead, as Tobit did. In this lies salvation.
But Christianity has also always recognized even greater works of mercy: teaching the ignorant about Christ, counseling the needy, chastising sinners, comforting the sorrowful, forgiving enemies, suffering wrongs patiently and praying fervently for all.
As the Fathers and Doctors of the Church point out, the neediest among us are not those who simply suffer from physical poverty. The poorest of the poor are those who do not know the Gospel, those who do not understand how much God loves them, those who do not model His love. Hunger, thirst, nakedness: these are all hard to bear, but these burdens are as nothing compared to spiritual poverty. The heaviest emptiness a man can bear is being ignorant of being loved by the One Who Is Love, the God for Whom we are made.
God gives us all good things, and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church constantly pointed this out. Because all things belong to God, we are merely stewards of the goods things God gives us. Thus, saints like John Chrysostom knew that keeping more than we need is actually a kind of theft. If I have six pairs of shoes, but need only two, then the other four pair in my closet are stolen from the poor.
God gives us things for a reason. He gives us things so that we can live in His image. When we give of our wealth to the poor, we do for others what God has done for us. We learn how to love others by freely giving our own things to them
We Need the Practice
But if someone takes my things, even if he gives them to the poor, he has stolen from me my ability to image God. He has taken away the material I need to practice the presence of God. In a very real sense, in order to be Christian, I must be able to own property, property that cannot be seized by anyone else. If I can’t own my own things, I can’t give them away. If I can’t give anything away, I can’t image God. God took on His own human body precisely so He could give it away to us. Similarly, I need to really have things in order to truly practice charity. As I practice this physical charity, I become aware of the need for spiritual charity, the need to tell others what God gave to all of us: eternal life via Himself
This is why the Church has taught charity for two millennia, but only began to teach “social justice” since the Industrial Revolution. When farmers were thrown off their land in order to force them onto factory floors, they lost their property. The Church’s insistence on labor’s right to organize is precisely an insistence that every man must have access to his own things, if only so he can learn how to give his own things away of his own free will. For, unless he learn to give, how can a man learn to love?
Indeed, as Pope Benedict points out in his apostolic exhortation, Sacrament of Love (Sacramentum Caritatis), only the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, truly empower us to love. In every sacrament God models for us how we are to give ourselves away to others. Through every sacrament, He empowers us with the divinizing grace which enables us to actually follow His example.
The government cannot do this. Community organizers cannot do this. It is only via the sacraments that we receive all that we need to live as Christ lives.
The Real Terrorists
In 2010, 7300 Muslim doctors in Morocco declared “Christian charity ought to be considered religious terrorism.” Note carefully their concern. Non-Christians are not frightened by Catholic social justice. Indeed, Lenin, an atheist, and Alinsky, his student, encouraged Christians to participate in their social justice programs. Both intended to use these programs to convert Christians to atheism, in much the same way Julian meant to convert Christians to paganism.They knew what many Christians have not yet realized: if we can be tricked into focusing on the limited power of human social justice, we will never discover the infinite power of the sacraments, the divine power of Christian charity, wherein each man personally gives of his own to the stranger at his door. It is this divine love that terrifies the world, and makes the demons tremble.