Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A history of Catholics helping the poor?

Thomas J. Craughwell has an interesting look at Catholic history in Our Sunday Visitor, in an article headlined, “Church history is essential Catholic reading: Learning the narrative of the Church’s triumphs and shortcomings helps us gain perspective on the Faith.”

In light of our earlier post about the number of Catholics who believe that they can be good Catholics without donating time or money to help the poor, we were struck by this:
In the first centuries of the Church, one of the sharpest differences between Christians and their pagan neighbors was the Christian concept of care and compassion for the poor. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that the first seven deacons were ordained, among other things, to care for impoverished widows (Acts 6: 1-6). By the year 100, Christians routinely fasted, sometimes two or three days a week, donating the food they had not eaten to feed the destitute in their city. Such sacrificial compassion was incomprehensible to pagan Romans, who agreed with the philosopher Plautus that feeding a beggar was wasteful: “You lose what you give and prolong his life for misery,” Plautus wrote.

After 313, the year Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity throughout the empire, Christians were able to expand their charitable activity. They opened hospitals, orphanages, shelters for the elderly and the disabled — all institutions unknown in the pagan world.
This week’s statistics on Catholic giving seem to be a big step backwards.

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