Today is the Feast of Pope St. Leo the Great, and as with last year I thought I would share some words from the late Holy Father’s sermons. He was known for his love of the poor and for his sometimes stern statements regarding our obligation to aid the poor.
The following is one of the best explanations of a central principle of the social doctrine I’ve ever read. The principle is the Universal Destination of Goods. It is one of the harder of the social doctrine principles to grasp and accept because in it is the teaching about the distribution of wealth. By this the Church doesn’t mean socialism, but rather the mostly voluntary distribution of wealth by individuals. And the Church teaches this because while She upholds the natural right to private property, She also teaches that ultimately our stuff is not really ours at all, but God’s all along.
Let Pope St. Leo explain it from his Sermon number 16:
The transcendent power of God’s grace, dearly beloved, is indeed daily effecting in Christian hearts the transference of our every desire from earthly to heavenly things. But this present life also is passed through the Creator’s aid and sustained by His providence, because He who promises things eternal is also the Supplier of things temporal. As therefore we ought to give God thanks for the hope of future happiness towards which we run by faith, because He raises us up to a perception of the happiness in store for us, so for those things also which we receive in the course of every year, God should be honoured and praised, who having from the beginning given fertility to the earth and laid down laws of bearing fruit for every germ and seed, will never forsake his own decrees but will as Creator ever continue His kind administration of the things that He has made.
It is God’s grace that allows us to appreciate the things of heaven, but we should remember that just as God provides what is necessary for the next life, He also provides what is necessary for this life here on earth. We should be forever grateful and happy for God’s “kind administration” of the world He has made, an administration that provides me with enough to eat.
Whatever therefore the cornfields, the vineyards and the olive groves have borne for man’s purposes, all this God in His bounteous goodness has produced: for under the varying condition of the elements He has mercifully aided the uncertain toils of the husbandmen so that wind, and rain, cold and heat, day and night might serve our needs. For men’s methods would not have sufficed to give effect to their works, had not God given the increase to their wonted plantings and waterings.
For those of us tempted to want to take credit for the stuff we have, to want to say to ourselves and the world that my stuff is mine thanks to my hard work, Pope Leo reminds us that it is God who provided the conditions for our labor in the first place. Our work “would not have sufficed” to produce anything if we had not first had God’s helping hand to sustain the conditions outside and inside of us for good and fruitful efforts.
And hence it is but godly and just that we too should help others with that which the Heavenly Father has mercifully bestowed on us. For there are full many, who have no fields, no vineyards, no olive-groves, whose wants we must provide out of the store which God has given, that they too with us may bless God for the richness of the earth and rejoice at its possessors having received things which they have shared also with the poor and the stranger.
Just as we receive so many gifts from God to allow us to live and thrive, so too we ought to give many gifts to others who have less than us.
That garner is blessed and most worthy that all fruits should increase manifold in it, from which the hunger of the needy and the weak is satisfied from which the wants of the stranger are relieved, from which the desire of the sick is gratified. For these men God has in His justice permitted to be afflicted with various troubles, that He might both crown the wretched for their patience and the merciful for their loving-kindness.
Indeed, this sharing of our goods gifted to us by God is part of God’s plan, part of “His justice.” Through the generosity of the wealthy God crowns “the wretched” poor for their patience in waiting for His providence and at the same time the wealthy who give are crowned “for their loving-kindness.”
Kind of makes you want to have money so that you can give it away doesn’t it. Happy Feast of Pope St. Leo the Great everyone, and remember as the Thanksgiving and Christmas Seasons approach: give ‘till it hurts.