The passage from Acts which we hear proclaimed at Mass today tells us that the early Christian community “was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common….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.”
The early Church acted consistently with what Catholic Social Teaching refers to as the principle of the universal destination of goods. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explains the principle in this way:
Every person must have access to the level of well-being necessary for his full development. The right to the common use of goods is the “first principles of the whole ethical and social order” and “the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine.”…It is innate in individual persons, in every person, and has priority with regard to any human intervention concerning goods, to any legal system concerning the same, to any economic or social system of method: “All other rights, whatever they are, including property rights and the right of free trade must be subordinate to this norm [of the universal destination of goods]; they must not hinder it, but must rather expedite its application.
The reading from Acts and the words from the Compendium invite us to reflect on our relationship to the goods of this world and on whether we are following the example of the early Christian community and doing all we can to help ensure that every person has “access to the level of well-being necessary for his full development.” That the method used by the early Christians – selling all their property and houses and turning over all the proceeds to the Apostles – may not be practical for us, does not relieve us of the obligation to act consistently with what the Compendium calls our “serious and urgent social obligation.”