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Journey to the Kingdom of God: From Individualism & Tribalism to Neighborliness and the Common Good Sister Mary Ann Dillon Moral Choices Lecture April 8, 2014 Mount Aloysius College


ood Evening! It is a great pleasure to be with you this evening, to experience your warm welcome, to hear your stories, to walk again on this beloved campus! Thank you all for your very kind welcome and for coming out this lovely evening. You will forgive me for speculating about your motivations – whether you came out of a sense of curiosity (is she still really real), or duty (after all she WAS the president), or kindness (this is Lent) or, maybe even an interest in what I might have to say. Of course one of the fundamental assumptions of those who study moral theology and moral reasoning is that no one of us is ever moved to act as a result of a single motivation. So regardless of what combination of motives brought you here this evening, I hope that – to some modest degree – I will meet your expectations, contribute to your reflections and perhaps even stimulate your imagination about the applicability of this construct - The Common Good - to the many dilemmas in which we are each and all immersed. In brief, it is an honor for me to offer the annual Spring Moral Choices Lecture here at Mount Aloysius College.


In advance of my coming, President Foley sent me a list of impressive speakers who have visited or are soon to come to the campus this academic year to talk with faculty and students about the myriad ways in which the notion of The Common Good/The Common Weal is embraced or ignored in our world today. From what I can discern, their knowledge and expertise, far wider than my own, come primarily from reflection upon their experiences within the public arena. In contrast, I speak this evening as one who has studied and continues to study theology and ethics, albeit more frequently than not in their applied forms. In my current “day job” I am a student of the incredibly

complicated world of health care, beleaguered with both serious organizational and clinical ethical challenges, some of which can be construed in terms of the tension between the perceived rights of the individual person and the importance of a “common good.” As a practical example, let me describe two extremes: on the one hand, there is a movement to provide greater access to primary care especially for those who have been uninsured while, on the other hand, there is the emergence of what is euphemistically called “boutique medicine.” In case you have not yet encountered that concept, it is basically an arrangement between a physician and his/ her clients wherein the client, in addition to health care insurance, pays the physician a flat fee (say $15,000/year) and for that fee gets

immediate and preferred access to the physician, has his/her cell phone number, gets preferential treatment for an appointment, has the opportunity for longer “conversations” during a visit to the office, is first in line for tests, etc…. You can easily imagine why both patients and physicians might like such an arrangement. These two movements are obviously extremes but they provide a snapshot of the macroethical dilemma. In fact beneath the current multilayered, often political, public dispute about both the economics and the practice of health care delivery, one can discern the strains of a perennial debate about the very nature of the human person, of society and of the relationship between the two. I would like to suggest that the


social ethical theory embedded in the concept of the common good offers a means to begin to imagine how to resolve both the theoretical questions as well as the very practical problems which arise when those differences remain unresolved. Allow me to explain. First, I will lay the groundwork by sketching, ever so briefly, the theological roots of this concept and outlining some of the contemporary dilemmas to which it might be applied. Secondly, I’d like to reflect with you on two formative stories from the JudeaChristian world that inform the meaning of the common good from a faith-based perspective. And finally I look forward to engaging with you on what all of this might mean in your/our experience.

To begin I want to acknowledge the great body of theological and pastoral writing dubbed Catholic Social Teaching, within which the notion of the common good is situated. In fact, Catholic Social Teaching is nothing more than a dynamic, systematic reflection on the fundamental values embedded in our shared faith as these values are applied to the complex societal problems of our world. Catholic Social Teaching, or the Catholic Social Tradition as it is sometimes called, with its many intertwined values, rests upon two substantial pillars: the dignity of the human person and the common good.

In a nutshell, these are the foundation for the broad and sometimes intricate network of ethical principles and derivative rules that comprise Catholic Ethical Thinking. (I hasten to add that this body of ethical thought is not unique to Catholic [with a capital C] ethical theory but, at the same time, the development of this thought over centuries has occurred substantially within the Catholic intellectual tradition and the magisterium.) One can easily


see that it is the interplay between emphasis on the dignity of the human person and the importance of the common good which is the source of both creative solutions and serious tensions. Think for a moment about the challenge of simultaneously espousing both of these values in contemporary Western thought where claims rooted in convictions about the dignity of the person often appear to trod upon the needs of the community, particularly with respect to the distribution of resources. At what point do the needs and desires of particular persons trump the needs of a larger group? What are the variables that play into these situations? How big is the universe within which we attempt to resolve such dilemmas: is it a city, a state, a nation, the world? When we call upon the common good, whose common good are we talking about? On the other hand, when do decisions, defended through reference to the common good, in fact trample upon the dignity of persons - or upon the dignity of certain groups of persons? At face value, it would seem that these two foundational principles – respect for the dignity of each person and concern for the common good - are mutually exclusive? Within Catholic Social Teaching however, these foundational principles, the dignity of the human person and the importance of the common good, are not mutually exclusive; in fact

they are integral to one another. The basic framework for ethical reflection on social dilemmas requires an understanding of the interplay between the principles of the dignity of the human person and the importance of the common good. Neither can be canceled out by the other. For those responsible for decisionmaking for the community/the Commonwealth/ the nation/ our world, doing what is right requires a capacity to honor both principles. In the American culture and ethos, it is often assumed that respecting the dignity of each human person is assured by guaranteeing rights. Catholic Social Teaching also references “basic human rights:” to food, water, clothing and shelter; to education, employment, the right to have a family and the right to practice one’s religious faith.” In our democracy, we espouse certain civil and political rights as are memorialized in the Bill of Rights of the Constitutions. Anecdotally, ‘rights talk’ sometimes deteriorates into superficial claims such as the right to a parking space (forget the fire lane), the right to an “A” (after all, I paid for this course), the right to use this dorm room as I please (I came first) and on and on and on. (But these claims have never been made on this campus.) Even a novice knows that rights claims and counter claims have shaped case history in the courts of our land since its inception. When one’s rights arguably clash with those of another, wherein is the solution? For sure, we know

that an emphasis on “rights” without a corresponding accent upon responsibilities can in fact denigrate the dignity of persons. It is likewise obvious that rights talk outside of a context that is framed by assumptions about the common good is doomed to failure. At the heart of common good theory is the conviction that the human person is inherently social and, therefore, that all human persons have a natural right and a commensurate responsibility to participate in the life of society. Non-participation is both a violation of the dignity of the individual person and a weakening of the common good - ultimately diminishing the well-being of every member. Thus, providing for the least advantaged in society is a responsibility to the common good. Consider another set of dilemmas faced in business and industry today around the question of salary and wages. Currently there is a growing debate in this country about the minimum wage, tied to the value-based concept of a living wage. Played out on a global stage, these arguments become even more complex. What is the right relationship between profit taking and the wages of those helping to create the profit? What is the acceptable multiple by which the CEO’s salary may exceed that of his/her lowest paid workers? Under what circumstances does the common good require that the rights of a few be limited to meet the needs of the many? When does the claim of the

7 Below, at left - Sr. Mary Ann Dillon receives flowers from Board of Trustees Chairman Daniel Rullo and President Tom Foley following her Moral Choices lecture in historic Alumni Hall. Below right - Sr. Mary Ann renews acquaintances with faculty members Dr. Marilyn Roseman; Dr. Paul Farcus and Dr. Don Talbot. Dr. David Haschak is in the background.

common good become an excuse for ignoring the dignity of certain persons or groups wherever they may live or work on this globe? Should economic supply chains also become value chains? In attempting to grapple with these economic dilemmas and related societal questions, the concept of the common good is being expanded, even as it is applied. For example, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales recently offered this description of the common good to political leaders in Great Britain: Public authorities have the common good as their prime responsibility. The common good stands in opposition to the good of rulers or of a ruling

(or any other) class. It implies that every individual, no matter how high or low, has a duty to share in promoting the welfare of the community as well as a right to benefit from that welfare. “Common” implies “all-inclusive”: the common good cannot exclude or exempt any section of the population. If any section of the population is in fact excluded from participation in the life of the community, even at a minimal level, then it is a contradiction to the common good and calls for rectification. (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, The Common Good and the Catholic Church’s Social Teaching as quoted in Jim Wallis, “On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics

Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good,” p. 282.) In his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis weighs in on the importance of the common good as well: “The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies. At times however they seem to be a mere addendum imported from without in order to fill out a political discourse lacking in perspectives or plans for true and integral development.” He continues, “Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this


will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.” Sometimes discussion about the common good and the dignity of each person is placed within a political rubric where emphasis on the common good is perceived to be a “liberal” interest while an emphasis on the individual is assumed to be the concern of the “conservatives.” But, as the evangelical writer, Jim Wallis notes, “…the common good requires us to be both personally responsible and socially just.” (Wallis, p. 158) He goes on to say, “Individuals making good, moral, virtuous, noble and courageous personal choices are absolutely essential to the well-being of society and the outcome of history.” (Wallis, p. 160) At the same time, “being responsible for oneself and even one’s family isn’t enough. There is also our ‘neighbor,’ and even other neighbors we don’t think of as such…” (Wallis, p. 163) In a world sensitive to the common good, both conservative and liberal insights and commitments are necessary for us to exist. Enough on that for the moment, but shortly I will return to the centrality of “neighbor” and to the really big question which was once posed to Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” Let us turn now to the Scriptural wisdom beneath these philosophical/ethical descriptions about the common good and its corollary, the dignity of the human person, to two stories which add color and dimension to these “thick”

ethical principles. You know both of these stories well; they have been told over and over and, as in the case of all great stories, listening to them again holds the possibility of gaining yet another insight into their meaning. The thing about stories is that they engage us in a way that no explication of theory, no matter how brilliant, can do. They are the seeds for our own imaginations of how things might be in our time and place. The first story is from the Hebrew Scriptures and the second from the Gospel of Luke. They are both what we call “paradigmatic” stories, that is, each tells a tale about an historical event but, at the same time, has the power to illumine our own lives. In fact these stories are full of meaning about what is happening in our own lives and that is the reason they draw us in. I invite you to listen as I rehearse these stories and attempt to tease out some meaning from them to enlighten the notion of the common good.

»»Story I: “ from tribalism to community.” In retelling this story, I want to acknowledge the creative work of an eminent scholar and author, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who, in my judgment, has brilliantly developed this paradigm I am about to unfold. The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) is, in large part, the story of the Exodus. We know

it well: a group of foreigners residing in Egypt grumble and complain to their God and their reluctant leader about their unfortunate and unhappy fate in a land where they are virtually slaves, so that finally (you know the details – frogs and locusts, unleavened bread manna, flocks and herds) Moses leads them out on an unknown path with a pretty vague promise of a land flowing with milk and honey. They were, you recall, a collection from 12 different tribes and, in addition, “a crowd of mixed ancestry also went up with them…” (Ex. 12:38) United primarily in their misery and common enemy, this motley crowd was not yet a community nor, from what we can tell, were they committed to a common good. They were hardly on their way when, surprise, this collection of separate tribes and “others” began to grumble again, “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we set beside our flesh pots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine.” (Ex. 16:3) It got so bad that God himself had to put in a personal appearance, complete with peels of thunder and lightning, trumpet blasts and a smoking mountain. Through Moses God offered them the promise of protection IF they kept a covenant, a covenant that had significant social requirements: providing a Sabbath for every person once a week, honoring and caring for one’s elders, one’s neighbors, telling


the truth in social and economic circles, not taking what does not rightly belong to another, and so on. The tribes accepted the covenant (read a set of rules for the common good) with enthusiasm, proclaiming, “All that the Lord has said we will heed and do.” (Ex. 24:7) But within 40 days they were at it again, this time constructing an idol – something else to focus on – abandoning faith in the covenantal vision of a common people, protected by a merciful God. This time however God tells Moses to get them to build something together; this project, building together a Dwelling for God-in-their-midst, will make them a people. Listen again to this paradigmatic tale, “… everyone, as his heart suggested and his spirit prompted, brought a contribution to the Lord for the construction of the meeting tent…. Both the men and the women, all as their hearts prompted brought brooches, earrings, rings, necklaces and various other articles. Everyone who could presented an article of

gold….Everyone who happened to have violet yarn, fine linen or goat hair or rams’ skins brought them…. The princes brought onyx stones and other gems.” (Ex. 35) As the story is chronicled in Exodus, the people gave up so many of their personal treasures that there was more than was needed. The last five chapters of Exodus describe in minute detail this major construction project to which all contributed, whether craftsmen or spinners, or laborers. The culmination of the story: “Then the cloud covered the meeting tent, and the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling.” (Ex. 40:34) One might argue that it was in this common project, in building this house TOGETHER, that they became one community. In this common project, the Israelites were able, for the first time, to give and not simply receive. It allowed for an integrated diversity in which each could and did contribute to the common good. Working together on a common project, infused

by God’s inspiration, allowed the disparate wanderers to let go of their private holdings, their tribal identities, become a community and embrace the social covenant earlier outlined in the Ten Commandments, the earliest Biblical road map toward a common good. This paradigmatic story suggests that the home we build together, the society we construct, the globe we protect, God’s tent, will be wide enough for all if all exercise responsibility for constructing it. Both the action of building it together and the society formed will honor the dignity of each person and create an environment in which the common good may flourish. On the other hand, imagine society, not as a common home we build together, but as one large hotel where each guest (or group) pays his/her fee and lives separately (or conversely cannot gain entrance at all). In that, if in the hotel each does what she/he wants, coming and going, without disturbing the others or even having to notice them, we will neither be able to imagine nor construct a common Members of the Mount Aloysius College Board of Trustees enjoyed a special dinner and reception with Sr. Mary Ann prior to her delivery of the 2014 Spring Moral Choices Lecture. From left are: Judge David Klementik; Chairman Daniel Rullo, Esq.; Ann Benzel, Sr. Mary Ann; Mr. Joseph Sheetz and President Tom Foley.


good. From this paradigm, it is easy enough to tease out cues for the construction of an ethic based on the common good in arenas ranging from the environment to education, from distribution of resources to respect for diversity.

»»Story II: “Who is my neighbor?”

know the rest. The hero of the story is an unnamed Samaritan traveler who went beyond the requirements of the law, beyond the expectations of society, maybe even beyond common sense because, to use Luke’s words, “he was moved with compassion at the sight.” He did not say to himself, “My job is at the end of the road. I can’t get involved with the mess by the side of the road.”

In the first segment of this presentation I hinted that this question is pivotal to understanding the common good in the 21st Century. Again, you know the story from Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 10. Actually it is a story within a story. The inner story is about a man making a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho, a reputedly dangerous road – windy, without street lights or highway patrol. Not surprisingly the hiker “fell victim to robbers.” And you

But it is the outer story, which is of immediate interest here. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan because he was goaded by the query of a scholar of the law: “Who is my neighbor?” That incredibly simple question, first presented by someone who “wished to justify himself ” before Jesus, has been repeated in a myriad of personal, national and international ethical dilemmas even to this day. Notice that, after telling the story of the travelers,

Jesus reversed the question on the scholar: “Which of these, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” The lawyer was trapped – “The one who treated him with mercy.” Then comes the ethical command: “GO AND DO LIKEWISE.” Herein lies the substance of the common good and the way to the Kingdom of God: being a neighbor to those who are in need. In the 21st Century the neighborhood is as small as the blocks around our homes and as expansive as the seven continents. It requires crossing barriers - cultural, economic, racial, religious, regional and tribal - to find our neighbors “by the side of the road.” The ethic of care and compassion applies to interpersonal relationships, to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable, to the provision of health care, to a just economic system, to care for the environment, to right relationships among nations and across religious boundaries and more. An ethic grounded in the twin principles of respect for the dignity of each person and provision for the common good requires that persons, civic organizations, corporations, educational entities, churches, states and nations put their figurative hands into their figurative pockets and shell out “the two silver coins” to ensure that healing happens in every dimension. For of such is the Kingdom of God. Thank you. §

From left, Sr. Guiseppe DaBella, RSM, and Sr. Benedict Joseph Watters, RSM welcome Sr. Mary Ann Dillon back to The Mount.


Reflections on Sr. Mary Ann Dillon, RSM Delivered as Introductory Remarks by Mount Aloysius President Tom Foley Sister Mary Ann Dillon, RSM is an accomplished academic. Her doctorate was earned in Systematic Theology from Duquesne. Her thesis explored, “The Common Good in Catholic/Christian Tradition.” Before coming to Mount Aloysius, she was dean of general education at Saint Francis University where she also served as assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies. She was a member of the Advisory Board of their Ethics Institute, developing and teaching courses in health care ethics—required of all undergraduates in health-related majors. Sr. Mary Ann now serves as Senior Vice President of Mission and Sponsorship at Mercy Health System in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is responsible for all of that system’s clinical and organizational ethics education, programs and processes. She is clearly an intellectual leader on the very idea of the Common Good. Sister Mary Ann is also a leader on the ground regarding the idea of 21st Century Citizenship. In a profound extension of Mercy ideals, Sister Mary Ann inaugurated the position of Vice-President for Mission Integration at Mount Aloysius, and recruited Sister Helen Marie Burns to fill it. Helen Marie was an especially wise appointment—by my count, in addition to the Moral Choices series, she has organized 16 biannual ecumenical lectures, roughly 10 annual in-school retreats, eight Mercy Week lectures, seven Summer Scripture Institutes and two Thomas Merton seminars. That’s all in addition to her day job, where she teaches, mentors (colleagues and staff members alike), tutors (Mercy Scholars, honors students and whoever comes to her door), and lastly keeps me in line—some days her toughest assignment. This very Moral Choices Lecture—now in its eighth year—is just one example of initiatives implemented during their time together at the College. We can truly characterize Sister Mary Ann’s service to this institution as a best practice of “21st Citizenship: The Common Good.” She served Mount Aloysius College as President for 13 years. In that time she moved this College to an entirely new level. Enrollment increased by

47 percent, residential students quadrupled, baccalaureate programs tripled, the number of student activities doubled, and she managed the college’s transition to NCAA Division III athletics and doubled our athletic participation rate. Sister Mary Ann oversaw the introduction of the College’s first master’s degree programs, dramatically improved its financial position and brought us into the 21st century in technology. Sister Mary Ann, working closely with Sister Ginny Bertchi, engineered the formulation and execution of a transformational Campus Master Plan. During their tenure here together, and following that plan almost to the letter, these two Mercy dynamos oversaw »» the construction of two modern dormitories »» a 40% expansion of Cosgrave »» the complete remodeling of the nursing wing »» the general beautification of the grounds (including the brick-framed entrance to the college and the funding of the brick walkway) and »» so many other improvements which protect the many architectural highlights of Old Main while integrating the modern college campus that is Mount Aloysius today. These two legendary leaders—who followed a litany of other names whose very histories rhyme with Mount Aloysius—also led the way to the first remodeling of Alumni Hall in almost 100 years, completed the college’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign to help support all this work, and left a legacy of dramatically expanded academic opportunities, institutionalized Mercy values and a campus footprint 41% larger than when they arrived. I am out of breath just describing all that work. It is my honor to present to you a thought leader, a practical implementer and a walking best practice of 21st Century Citizenship: The Common Good, Sister Mary Ann Dillon.

Moral Choices Lecture 2014 - Sister Mary Ann Dillon, RSM  

"Journey to the Kingdom of God: From Individualism & Tribalism to Neighborliness and the Common Good" | April 8, 2014 | Mount Aloysius Colle...

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