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Issue Date:  March 7, 2008

From the Editor's Desk

Responsible citizenship

“Wealth & Responsibility” is the title of a special section we introduced a few years ago with the goal of raising questions about individual accountability and the use of resources for the common good. Our aim was to heighten awareness that, as partners in both a secular society and the Christian tradition, we are required to respond to the needs of the human family. Simply put, “How do wealth and Christianity fit together?”

I’m a religious sister, so the presumption is that I have no wealth. But actually I have tremendous wealth, as do most of us reading this newspaper. Some years ago, I had the good fortune to study with the liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez. During one of his lectures, he looked directly at the participants and said, “No one in this room will ever be poor, no matter how hard you try. Regardless of where you go or what you do, you will always have someone to call and the education you have been given.”

He’s right. I’m not poor. And though I have no bank account, I have other resources at my disposal. As do most of us. I sit on boards of directors, I have the ability to influence endowment policies, I’m the publisher of this newspaper, I know individuals with tremendous financial resources and have numerous other contacts who can effect change for the better.

The lead story in our special section (see story) on wealth and responsibility introduces our readers to Gerald Rauenhorst and the company he built, the Opus Group. It has tremendous financial wealth, for certain, but this is secondary. The story is about responsibility, giving back to the community and the Gospel values that form the foundation for ethical business practices. Regardless of one’s personal wealth, the lived experience offered us through the eyes of this one man is inspiring and cause for soul searching.

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For the 1,000 women described in our cover story (see story), women who were collectively nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, wealth and responsibility take another form. The story tells of an exhibition that pays tribute to the work of women peace activists from around the globe who are using their talents and resources to address needs in their cities, nations, and in the world. Most of the women have no significant financial assets, but it doesn’t matter. Their wealth is in their ability to harness the power of others and their willingness to employ their skills in pursuit of justice and human security. Again, like the example of Gerald Rauenhorst, responsibility and giving back to the community become more important than the actual dollars.

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Often, we speak about the spiritual dimensions of poverty and the Gospel challenge to give away everything we own. Jesus tells us, “If anyone desires to come after me, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me.” This is not about asceticism, but addresses the challenge to enter into a poverty of self on behalf of others. I often think about which is more difficult: to give everything away or to keep what one has and use it for the betterment of the world? Wealth and responsibility are a constant challenge to those with resources, talents, skills and, yes, financial assets, too. Is there ever a moment when we can say we’ve given enough? I’m reminded of a thought passed on to me by Patrick Marrin, editor of Celebration magazine and a member of the editorial leadership team for NCR: “When you get to the end of life’s journey, the goal is to go out on empty. We must give it all away.” I have yet to stop thinking about these words. As Luke tells us, “For where your treasure is, there will also be your heart” (Luke 12:34).

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-- Sr. Rita Larivee, SSA

National Catholic Reporter, March 7, 2008

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