God always works – through us or despite us

It still amazes and impresses many of us that the first followers of Christ were communists! No, not the communists most of us experienced in the 20th-century – atheists, often cruel dictators. The Christians tried to live as true followers of Jesus – sharing all they had with each other.

The Acts of the Apostles captures this so well in chapter four: “The community of believers were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the Apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sale, and put them at the feet of the Apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.”

The first Christians were impressed with the “self-emptying” of Christ, of God who emptied himself of divinity to become human, and then emptied his own humanity on the cross to die for us. The God who revealed himself in Jesus modeled that Christians do not live for themselves but for God and for each other.

I refer to these beginnings of Christianity because recently I bought a book about Andrew Carnegie written by David Nasaw. The jacket cover price of the book was $35. I bought it at the Dollar Tree for one dollar. The book is nearly 900 pages long. One paragraph, however, caught my attention. It read as follows:

“Carnegie survived and triumphed in an environment rife with cronyism and corruption. Much of the capital invested in his iron and steel companies was derived from business activities that might be today, but were not at the time, regarded as immoral or illegal. He differed from his contemporary Gilded Age industrial barons not in the means with which he accumulated his fortune, but in the success he achieved and the ends to which he put it. Long before his reputation as a friend of the workingman was destroyed by events at Homestead, he had determined to give away his fortune. He did so not out of shame or guilt or religious motives nor to atone for any sins he might have committed as an employer of men. He was simply, he explained, returning his fortune to the larger community where it rightfully belonged. He urged his fellow millionaires to do the same”.

An amazing paragraph, isn’t it? Where does the impulse come from to return our money to the larger community? Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are surely modern day ‘sons’ of Carnegie. Locally we see the Knott Foundation and the Weinberg Foundation doing similar things.

What is the impulse that drives us to give ourselves away? Surely what we mostly see is profound greed. The recent collapse of the economy is more and more apparent as the work of greed on the part of many people.

What is it that motivates some to turn to philanthropy and others to surrender to our societal gods of consumption and greed? I think it’s the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said so profoundly in John’s Gospel: “The Spirit blows where it will!” Christians influence people who reject Christianity! As someone said: “One of the best Christians of the 20th century was a Hindu – Mahatma Gandhi!”

Gandhi was once quoted as saying: “I love your Christ. I do not always love your Christians!”

The best argument for being a Christian will always be the lives of Christians. Unfortunately, some of the best arguments for not being a Christian are the lives of Christians. But God will always work – through us or despite us!

And the Easter Season reminds all of us that, at any moment, each of us can choose to leave a former, darker way of life behind and emerge from the darkness to a new life with the Risen Christ. We transform our personal life and our world’s life one thought at a time, one deed at a time, one prayer at a time, one choice at a time. Jesus assured us that “Greater things than I have done, you will do.” That’s a promise waiting to be lived.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.