Today’s first Mass reading is one I love: the description that comes at the end of Chapter 2 of Acts describing the communal life of the members of the early Church:
They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.
They held all things in common.
They gave to people in accordance with their need.
Every day they gathered together to learn and pray.
They ate meals with a sense of praise and gratitude.
They behaved toward others in ways that inspired love.
I’m not suggesting we give up all of our possessions, but I do think this passage offers us a good checklist against which to test our own behavior.
Do we give to people in accordance with their need, or with our assessment of their desert?
Do we gather together to learn and pray? The members of the early church did so daily: Do we do more than come together on a Sunday? Do we find other opportunities to nourish our faith?
Do we take our meals with praise and gratitude, or thoughtlessly (or worse, with a sense of entitlement)?
Do we behave toward others as Christ would? Or do we see the face of Christ in others.
With respect to giving to people in accordance with their need, let me remind you of something Pope Francis said around the beginning of Lent. He addressed the fear many have about giving money to the poor – the fear they will not use it well. Pope Francis had a simple response to this concern: Give money anyway. Giving money to someone in need, said the Pope, “is always right.” If one is able to help, we ought to recognize our blessing and be generous in meeting others’ needs.
More importantly, he reminded us that how we give matters. Look people in the eyes, touch their hands, show interest in them, he encourages. Essentially – remember their human dignity and perhaps remind them of it as well. This is perhaps the bigger challenge. It is so easy to avert one’s eyes while feeling good about oneself for dropping a few coins in a cup. Not really seeing the person in front of us, and certainly not making eye contact.
How we encounter a person in need makes an enormous difference. “One can look at a homeless person and see him as a person or else as if he were a dog, and they notice this different way of looking” at them, said the Pope.
We could all do a better job, I think, in emulating the early church in its dealings with God, each other, and all those in need.