Everything is a gift from God and should be shared with others, Archbishop says during annual Catholic-Jewish lecture

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, March 6, 2016

The traditional Judeo-Christian idea of “responsibility” is that humans must respond to God’s initiative of creation by caring for all of his creatures and making sure everyone shares in God’s gifts, Archbishop Cupich argued during a talk titled “Religious Responsibility in an Age of Affluence and Poverty: In the Key of Pope Francis,” delivered Feb. 23 at the Chicago Sinai Congregation.

His talk was the 21st annual Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Lecture. The yearly lecture series features alternating Catholic and Jewish speakers.

That competes with the idea that responsibility means that each person should be dependent on no one else and be responsible for no one else, except perhaps when they have a mutual self-interest to protect, the archbishop told the gathering. This idea of responsibility, he said, is gaining a foothold in modern society and is on display in the current political debate.

“It is precisely this struggle between those two competing approaches that serves as a backdrop for understanding what Pope Francis is saying about our responsibility when it comes to the economy and when it comes to dealing with the gap between affluence and poverty,” Archbishop Cupich said. 

When people recognize that everything – from their very lives to the resources in the world around them – is a gift from God, it becomes clear that the gift should be shared, he said.

“Because all is given by God, our life is unmerited, undeserved. And since each of our lives is a gift, each of us has an equal claim on what is given in creation,” Archbishop Cupich said. “This awareness of our common and equal giftedness by God’s initiative prompts a response on our part, prompts a sense of responsibility - a responsibility first to honor and protect the common dignity and the equality that belongs to human beings, but also responsibility for promoting human solidarity, for promoting the common good, which has been given to us as a way of more fully sharing in all that God has made.”

That sense of solidarity extends not only to everyone alive now, but across generations, he said. This means people must invest in and build upon the resources they have for the benefit of the generations that follow them.

People who refer to themselves as “neo-libertarians,” on the other hand, see responsibility as beginning with their own actions, with a goal of self-reliance, he said.

“There really is little appreciation for equal claims we all have on the goods of creation, and there is little sense of responsibility to protect the common good, common dignity, our heritage, and equality – an equality that belongs to all human beings, an equality that belongs to us because we are all gifted,” Archbishop Cupich said. “People who approach life this way genuinely consider themselves to be responsible people. They are taking responsibility for themselves and expect others to do so themselves, but on their own. Life is not something that is given to us, but something to take a hold of on our own terms.”

The first way of looking at responsibility is open and aspirational, he said, while the second is closed in, “limited because it is self-referential.”

How people understand responsibility has broad implications across areas such as human development, economic development, politics and globalization. While Pope Francis is not proposing any particular political or economic system, he does insist that any system in place take into account people as well as profits.

“All is a gift from God,” he said. “Since God’s gift is for all, all have a place at the table.”

In a question-and-answer session following the talk, the archbishop told his audience that they have a responsibility not only to be involved politically, but to bring their religious convictions into the debate.

“While there is a division between church and state, there is not between religion and politics,” he said. “Religion and politics can talk to each other.”

That doesn’t mean that there has ever been a “perfect candidate,” with whom the archbishop has agreed on all the issues, or that Catholics vote as a bloc in any election, he said.

“This myth of the Catholic vote?” he said. “There isn’t any such thing.”


  • cardinal cupich
  • pope francis
  • solidarity
  • interfaith
  • judaism
  • cardinal joseph bernardin lectures
  • chicago sinai congregation

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