I was driving home when I heard on my car radio a minister say that “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was a Looney-tune idea. I don’t make a habit of speaking back to the radio, but I couldn’t help but scream, “It’s in the Bible!” Acts 2: 44-45 reads: “And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” The dying gasp of the McCain-Palin campaign tried to make ‘sharing the wealth’ into Obama socialism, apparently without any more awareness than the radio preacher that socialized wealth is in the bible.
Marx and Engels repeatedly refer to Early Christianity as a touchstone for the socialist ideal – although they complain that a non-religious “scientific” socialism (i.e. Communism) is needed. (That historical footnote explains why persons unfamiliar with scripture get confused about socialism and Christian discipleship.) Wisely, Catholicism has always held up the example of the communalism of Early Christianity as a choice, rather than a requirement for living the Gospel. We call the holding of all things in common and the practice of giving according to one’s ability an evangelical counsel. It is a charism in Catholicism, exemplified in religious life and committed ministry. But even if it is to be practiced by a few, it is considered to be a more intense form of Christianity that mirrors the values preached by Christ.