Common Good: Rights and Responsibilities


The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities–to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 

Prayer of Reflection

Embracing Father, You grace each of us with equal measure in your love. Let us learn to love our neighbors more deeply, so that we can create peaceful and just communities. Inspire us to use our creative energies to build the structures we need to overcome the obstacles of intolerance and indifference. May Jesus provide us the example needed and send the Spirit to warm our hearts for the journey.


Watch (Until 5:39)

Read from the Bible

Micah 6:8

  • 8 You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.

John 15:12-14

  • 12 This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.

Read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church 

  • “…The common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on” (28) (CCC, no. 1908)
  • “The Church makes a moral judgment about economic and social matters, ‘when the fundamental rights of the person or the salvation of souls require it.’ (199) In the moral order she bears a mission distinct from that of political authorities: the Church is concerned with the temporal aspects of the common good because they are ordered to the sovereign God, our ultimate end. She strives to inspire right attitudes with respect
    to earthly goods and in socio-economic relationships.” (CCC, no.2420)

Read from the Letters from the Popes

The Bishops Conference of England and Wales: Choosing the Common Good

  • “Promoting the common good cannot be pursued by treating each individual separately and looking for the highest ‘total benefit,’ in some kind of utilitarian addition. Because we are interdependent, the common good is more like a multiplication sum, where if any one number is zero then the total is always zero. If anyone is left out and deprived of what is essential, then the common good has been betrayed.” Paragraph 10, Line 6-13


  • On both the individual and communitarian levels, indifference to one’s neighbour, born of indifference to God, finds expression in disinterest and a lack of engagement, which only help to prolong situations of injustice and grave social imbalance. These in turn can lead to conflicts or, in any event, generate a climate of dissatisfaction which risks exploding sooner or later into acts of violence and insecurity.
  • Indifference and lack of commitment constitute a grave dereliction of the duty whereby each of us must work in accordance with our abilities and our role in society for the promotion of the common good, and in particular for peace, which is one of mankind’s most precious goods.

Reflections from the Poor Handmaids and Saint Katharina Kasper

Katharina Kasper sent Sister nurses to work on the front in field hospitals during the Austrian Prussian War of 1866 and the Franco German War of 1870-71.  One of the sisters nursing on the front lines wrote, “Last night prisoners came – Frenchmen, Belgians, Russians, Italians, most of them very sick with grave diarrhea and full of peste, (a virulent infection).  We could practice love of our enemies there. And I was happy from my heart that I could nurse and help these poor men.”  It did not matter which side the wounded were fighting on, the German Poor Handmaid Sisters nursed all with the same attention and care .

This posture of “everyone matters or no one matters” repeated itself when in America Poor Handmaids took on the ministry of the Isolation Hospital in Chicago (known as the Pest House). During the smallpox epidemic beginning in 1880 many healthcare personnel refused to assist smallpox patients because of the dreadful nature of the disease, its high contagion and the low economic status of many of the patients.  For 68 years Poor Handmaids continued ministering at Isolation Hospital serving patients of all nationalities, ages and economic status who suffered from contagious or infectious diseases. The last known case of smallpox in the United States was in 1949.  In 1950 the Isolation Hospital was closed when other institutions had the capacity to provide isolation and medical care for patients with other contagious diseases.

Poor Handmaid hospitals were mostly located in the inner city or in rural communities. In the last decade of the 20th these hospitals were floundering under the weight of explosive healthcare costs and delayed Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.  When a PHJC hospital was reluctantly but necessarily sold to a healthcare system the resulting monies were always invested in the local community in foundations, neighborhood centers or healthcare clinics.  This was to ensure that the needs of those living on the economic fringes in these areas still had access to physical and mental healthcare.  These faith-based organizations sponsored by the Poor Handmaid American province continue to advocate for the underserved, develop and facilitate partnerships and address systemic community health disparities.

Examples from the Foundation’s Work

The common good is the flourishing of the community on the basis of the flourishing of each of its members. To enable the most vulnerable in our community to flourish we have:

  • Facilitated learning opportunities that challenge indifference to the vulnerable by sharing the truth and stories of how God works beautifully through many diverse individuals and situations
  • Supported programs that help mentor teen mothers, assisting them in achieving their educational goals, finding safe housing, and securing more stable lifestyles so they may pursue their dreams
  • Supported legal assistance for immigrants and refugees which helps them obtain documents to live with legal status in American society.


  • When we make decisions, do we consider the consequences our actions will have for all people, or only for the people we would hear from if they are unhappy with our actions?
  • What community partner or initiative stands out to you for their intentional actions to care for people with no standard means of influence?
  • What qualities indicate that an organization prioritizes not only the most good for the most people, but the most good for all people?
  • Who in our community is invisible or voiceless?
  • Are we too comfortable and indifferent to the vulnerable?
  • What is our opportunity to act?

Additional Resources

The information above was compiled by Meg Distler, Mary Tyndall, and Mark Burkholder as a student capstone project for the Catholic Social Tradition and Philanthropy course offered by the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame, and the Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) in the Summer of 2023.