If each one sweeps before this door, the whole street is clean.

Yiddish Saying

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In his book Harvard Diary Robert Coles, M.D., tells of his encounter with a 25-year-old mother of four children residing in favela, the impoverished housing that overlooks Rio de Janeiro.  He tells of a woman with no husband, no money, and no work.  And he tells of her faith and the place it had in her daily life.

He tells also of her bitterness and her asking: “Why do the rich ignore us, and still they go to church?”  Further, he tells of her claim that the Church “belongs” to her but not to the rich.

This got me thinking about responsibility and its claim on us.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read that each person as a social being is called to be prudent, to respect the life of others and their own gift of life, to live in a manner that advances the common good.  It reminds us that our choices must honor the God who made us and advance the common good of the human community.  It is not the case that we are to be cared for by others alone, but that we are to care for ourselves and for those in our charge as well as those around us.  We are each individually responsible.

The woman Coles writes about seems not to care for herself or those to whom she has in her life.  Four children.  No means of financial support. No husband.

The Catechism also talks of our participation in society to require that we take personal responsibility for the education of our family, our conscientious work and, presumably, the care of those we bring into the world.

Our individual choices matter just as our individual lives matter.  As the Catechism says: “One is entitled to think that the future of humanity is in the hands of those who are capable of providing the generations to come with reasons for life and optimism.”  The future of humanity is in the hands of each person, the woman in the favela every bit as much as the “rich” who she thinks ignore her.

Choice matters.  The individual responsibility of each acknowledges the dignity of each, and glorifies God.