Acts 4:32-35. The company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the Apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the Apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.
The Acts of the Apostles is a book which gives a brief history of the infant Christian Church, from the Ascension of our Lord until the year 63 A.D.---period of about 30 years. Its first twelve chapters deal with the beginnings of the Church in Jerusalem and its neighborhood before the Church moved out to the Gentile lands. Today's four verses of Chapter Four describe the fervor of the first Jerusalem Christians, who were so filled with the love of God and neighbor that everyone shared with his fellow-Christians all that he had. The Christian community in Jerusalem had all things in common; it was the ideal Christian family while it lasted. who believed...soul: The newly converted lived in a truly fraternal charity atmosphere. had...common: There was a complete sharing amongst them of all earthly possessions. great...testimony: The Apostles from the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit convincingly and effectively preached the truth of Christ's resurrection. Miracles confirmed their preaching
In this brief glimpse of the life of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, St. Luke (the author of Acts) emphasizes the ideal of Christian brotherhood, which animated the first Christians so much that many of them gave their possessions gladly for distribution among those of their brothers who were short of the necessities of life. As is clear from the incident of Ananias and Sapphira nobody was compelled to sell his possessions or to give all he possessed to the community (see 5: 4), but those who did so were setting a lofty and praiseworthy ideal for all time.
While the vow of poverty, taken by religious, is an imitation of this early Christian ideal---the religious gives all that he or she has or may have to the community---such an act of abdication is of necessity restricted to relatively very few. The vast majority of men and women need personal possessions to support themselves and their dependents. The life of religious is governed by two other vows, obedience and chastity, which make the observance of poverty not only feasible but desirable. The life of a religious is regulated by obedience: he can be moved not only from one occupation to another but from one place to another, even from one country to another. Personal property would be a serious impediment here. The vow of chastity means that the religious will have no spouse and/or family to provide for, and so the chief need for personal possessions is removed.
But, granted that our Christian religion does not demand of all of us that we should follow the example of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, we still have an important lesson to learn from today's reading. While we can, and the vast majority of us must, retain our personal possessions, we must still be always ready to share them with those in need. We are not the real owners of what we possess; we are only the administrators of the property God has given us. He is the real owner, and he expects us to use what he has given us justly and charitably.
We use our possessions first and foremost to provide for our own needs and the needs of those depending on us. That charity and justice begin at home is true in this sense, but they do not end at home. While we provide for the needs of the home let us not exaggerate these needs; let us not indulge in luxuries for ourselves and our family, while there are neighbors on the brink of starvation. We need, today especially, a revival of that wonderful spirit of fraternal feeling which led many of the first Christians to sell all they possessed and distribute the proceeds to the needy. However, instead of selling our possessions, we need to use them well and wisely, so that we can give a helping hand not only to our fellow-Christians but to men and women of every nation and creed who are in need of help.
Four-fifths of the world's population today are living in poverty, and some on the starvation line, through no fault of their own. One-fifth are living a life of comfort and sufficiency, many of them actually in luxury. While we may not be and most likely are not, among the latter, there are things we too could and should do without if we allow Christian charity to govern our lives.
Have a good look at your home, your way of dressing, your meals, your recreations and entertainments and you may find many occasions for saving a dollar to give to relief organizations. When you put on your heavy winter overcoat think of the poor, naked children in Africa and elsewhere who have not even a little shirt to keep out the cold. When you sit down to your four-course dinner think of the unfortunates who would be glad of one bowl of rice a day. When tempted to spend a night drinking with your friends stop and think of the thousands of children dying for want of a bottle of milk. The Christian community in Jerusalem earned the respect of all for their charitable behavior. All you can do for your needy neighbor may not earn you any headlines in the daily papers, but if you do what you can you will be printing your name where alone it matters. You will be inscribing yourself in the Book of Life which is kept in heaven.