Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

The Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Jerusalem Lecture Series

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The organizers honored me with the request to deliver this year’s address, which took place Feb. 22, at the Chicago Sinai Congregation (see story on page 16). They asked me to address the topic of “Our Religious Responsibility in an Age of Affluence and Poverty,” by drawing on the insights of Pope Francis’ writings on the economy.

The main thrust of my talk was to draw attention to the rich understanding of responsibility that is anchored in the common religious imagination shared by Jews and Catholics. Our shared biblical heritage reveals that human responsibility is not something that begins with our own initiative. Rather, human responsibility is about our response to the initiative of God.

“In creation God gets the ball rolling,” I noted. “God acts in a way that calls for a response on our part. It is here that our responsibility begins and is engaged. It is a responsibility shaped by the recognition that because all is created by God, our life is gift, is unmerited.”

This prompts a sense of our responsibility to honor and protect the common dignity and equality that belongs to human beings, and for promoting human solidarity and the common good, which have been given to us as a way of more fully sharing in all that God has made.

Additionally, our common faith heritage also tells us that God’s action does not end with the creation story in Genesis. God continues to act in the world through generations. “God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the living God.” We have a responsibility to participate in God’s ongoing work of creation and redemption as part of our response. Concretely this means doing our part to promote the common good and human solidarity over generations by treating with respect what has been handed on to us and investing in it and building on it for the benefit of future generations.

This sets the stage for understanding Pope Francis’ insights about the economy. He is not interested in presenting an economic program, but instead is calling us to conversion, to rethink how we approach our human existence and our sense of responsibility on many levels.

For instance, the pope challenges us to take a view of our development as human beings that is broader than the one offered by the marketplace. According to the perspective of the market, the human person is a producer, a consumer, one who pursues the goal of an autonomous and unencumbered existence. Therefore a person is responsible when she or he works toward selfsufficiency.

Francis offers a different vision. Being a responsible human being should be about pursuing an integral development, morally, spiritually and emotionally, which is joined intrinsically to the communities that sustain us. He reminds us that we have a responsibility for the gifts that are ours as human beings, all that makes human existence liveable: the culture, scientific and technical knowledge, the material and immaterial goods and all that the human condition has produced.

Such an approach offers parents a more hopeful vision for raising their children, one that is open and dynamic. As a pastor I often see young people filled with anxiety about life because of the expectations placed on them in an overly competitive culture.

Is the drive to succeed, with success defined narrowly as autonomy and selfsufficiency, estranging young people from the sense of solidarity and the common good that we all need in order to develop into responsible human beings who know how to trust and communicate with others?

These are some of the points I raised in my presentation. My hope was that by showing how we as faith communities share a common heritage that can enrich the common good, we would find new pathways for working together on projects that would serve others and at the same time build stronger bonds between Jews and Catholics.

That was the aim of Cardinal Bernardin 21 years ago, and as we approach the 20th anniversary of his death this coming November, we would be wise to retrieve the inspiration that led him to establish this lecture series — and build on it.