by Sr. Rosemary Flanaghan, C.S.J.
And let my prayer be: Lord, mighty God, bless all who think about the homeless and strengthen their resolve to be even more sensitive to their plight.
I have only a few words to say as an old philosopher who has spent her life saying many words. As I used to tell my ethics classes, there are no answers in the back of an ethics text. When we are trying to figure out the right and good thing to do, in big decisions and small ones, we must dig into our deepest within—conscience, some have called it, or character—to lay out the arguments for and against a plan of action:
- Why am I doing this?
- What will be the results if I do it?
- What values am I bringing into existence by doing what I am doing?
- What effect on who I am will this decision have?
- What effect on who other are will this decision have?
In my years of teaching philosophy, before students could sign up for an ethics class, they had to spend a semester thinking about philosophizing: What is this activity called philosophy? Then we would make them take a semester of the philosophy of the human person because actions are right/wrong, good/bad, depending on what those actions do for people. How are others, how am I affected by my actions? Are they ennobled? Lifted up? Or debased, melted down into unthinking robots?
But especially it was important that all of us looked beyond ourselves. The ideal of higher education is to produce men- and women-for others. We are not ice cubes in an ice cube tray existing next to another’s fence or boundary, affecting nothing. Rather, we are inextricably linked with others. You and I are who we are because of the parents and grandparents we have, the neighbors who lived next door to us when we were five, because the countless interrelationships we have had with others over the years help to form who we are.
That is an amazing fact. You and I wouldn’t be who we are if we had been born in another country, another home, at another time, reared in another family. Let’s say that when you were born your mother thought, “I can’t do this!” So she put you down in the cellar, sent a pipe down with milk and things like Ensure. Then sixteen years later, after she had read lots of books on child rearing, she decided that she knew how to rear you, so she opened the cellar door. I used to say to my students, “Would you crawl up those stairs?” And, of course, the answer is “No.” We depend by nature on others. We are formed to be who we are by others.
The 1500-year old Dyerville Giant, the world’s 3rd tallest redwood in California’s Humbold Redwoods State Park, measured 17 feet in diameter and was 360 feet tall; it was the pride of the park. But in May 1991 torrential rains felled it. How could that have happened? Hadn’t there been thousands of rains in its past? But the park superintendent explained that redwoods depend on each other for support. He said: “It’s like a domino effect, with the roots intertwined. Redwoods have relatively shallow roots and they don’t have a taproot. Their roots are like a mat and they all help each other to stand up.” The trees around this glorious giant had fallen—and it was only a matter of time.
And isn’t that the way with us? Can any of us say, “We don’t need one another”? “What happens to anyone of us doesn’t affect me”? Oh! How wrong we are when we think that way.
The blight of homelessness is like a cancer in all our bodies, and we who are fortunate to be able to go home tonight cannot let ourselves forget those who have no home to go to. What are we doing? And how is our response affecting who we are?
Sr. Rosemary Flanaghan C.S.J. has taught at St. Theresa’s Academy and Avila University, and notably taught philosophy for 17 years at Rockhurst University. She also served on the board of St. Joseph Hospital (now Carondelet Health) and as a board member and consultant for the Center for Practical Bioethics. Today, she volunteers as an archivist at the St. Teresa’s Academy library.