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Sister interprets the ‘good’

Anna Boarini | Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine sister and author of 45 books, discussed the common good during the annual Fr. Bernie Clarke Lecture on Catholic Social Tradition on Monday night in the Hesburgh Library auditorium.
“Tonight I want to spend a little time sorting out … the whole concept of ‘the common good,'” she said.
Chittister said celebrating the 50th anniversary of the encyclical “Pacem en Terris” brings people to the very heart of what it means not only to be a Christian or a Catholic, but also to be a citizen of the United States.”In every single presidential election cycle, we enter as a people into the centrifuge of one of the oldest debates and at the same time one of the most pressing contemporary questions in the life of this country,” she said. “That question is what exactly as a people are we about? Is such a think as the common good even possible in a world such as ours?”
Chittister said in “Pacem in Terris”, Pope John XIII does not talk about peace in terms of war or weapons of mass destruction, but in terms of the common good.
“In 176 paragraphs of that encyclical, he talks 48 times about the common good,” she said. “Without the common good, there will never be peace and certainly no justice.”
Chittister said the issue of the common good even divided Alexis de Tocqueville and James Madison on the question of what the common good is and how to obtain it.
“[The common good] riveted the Founding Fathers 200 years ago and it clearly confuses this session of Congress,” she said. “It has plagued political philosophers and economists across centuries and it continues to do so to this very day.”
The common good is the holy grail of politics, Chittister said.
“The common good is a vision of public virtue, which engages the individual citizen, energizes the government, shapes the public system and points the public direction and all it’s policies, all it’s institutions and all it’s legislative intents,” Chittister said. “The common good is the answer to the question, what, that we all want for this country … what is it that we really want for this country and how do we go about getting it.”
Chittister said now the discourse in the U.S. is more inclined to talk about the general good instead of the common good.
“We talk about the public good, meaning natural gifts that benefit us all equally, like air, water and good order if of course we have the good fortune to find air that is pure, water that is clean and land that is toxin free, resources that are sufficient to afford anywhere,” she said.
There is no doubt the common good is an endangered species, Chittister said.
Chittister said the world is changing through globalization with more diversity present in religion, nations and neighborhoods. What once divided people – language, geography – no longer do so, she said.
“‘Pacem in Terris’ gets clearer everyday,” she said. “The fact that one is a citizen of a particular state does not detract from anyway from his of her membership in the human family as a whole or from their citizenship in the world community.”
Contact Anna Boarini at aboari01@saintmarys.edu