July 14, 2006


No audio version available this week.

Making the world a better place

The two richest men in the world were in the news recently when Warren Buffett, the second richest, decided to give most of the wealth he has accumulated to Bill Gates, the richest, so it can be used for charitable purposes.

He did this after Gates announced that he will step down as chief executive officer of Microsoft in two years in order to work full time on the charitable causes that will be funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It’s hardly unusual for people who have accumulated fortunes to establish foundations in order to do good. That’s where most foundations came from—the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, for example, or here in Indianapolis the Lilly Endowment.

For the Catholic Church in this country, FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities) helps wealthy Catholics use their money to do the most good. No other foundation, though, has ever come close to approaching the size of the Gates Foundation.

Our interest now, however, is not with the size of the Gates Foundation or even with the vast amount of good it should be able to accomplish.

What we find most interesting is Gates’ decision to abandon corporate life in order to devote his talents to distributing his foundation’s money. We feel sure that we will not always agree with where some of the money might go, just as we disagree with the way the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations have distributed some of their money, but we applaud Gates’ determination to try to improve the world.

It’s something that we can all emulate. We don’t have to be multi-billionaires to do so. Each of us should be on the lookout for ways that we, too, can contribute toward improving the world.

We’re not suggesting that you should quit your job or give up your career, as Gates plans to do—although many people in midlife or earlier do exactly that.

Most of our priests and religious these days are men and women who have had other careers before recognizing their call from God. Numerous other people these days reach the point of being sufficiently well off financially that they can abandon their careers to do something they’ve always wanted to do, and which they consider more useful for society.

The Catholic Church teaches that we all have vocations—calls from God. Those vocations change as we age. What God calls us to do as a young man or woman isn’t necessarily the same thing he calls us to do in our 40s, 60s or 80s. At whatever age we happen to be, we should be praying, “What do you want me to do now, God?” We must never stop discerning our vocation.

Even while in the midst of the most productive years of our lives, there are countless opportunities to contribute to the Church and to society. Fortunately, our nation has always been known for its volunteers.

Alexis de Tocqueville, in his celebrated De la democratie en Amerique (Democracy in America), written in France after his travels in America in the 1830s, credited Americans’ willingness to volunteer as one of our greatest attributes.

Today, of course, our parishes couldn’t function without volunteers, and neither could so many of the Church’s charities and schools. It would be impossible to total up the number of volunteer hours each year in this archdiocese alone.

Naturally, retired people have more time to give to such work. There are opportunities for distributing Communion to the sick or helping in hospitals and hospices as well as at the St. Vincent de Paul facilities or food distribution. Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, once wrote, “The key to life’s success is the ambition to do as much as you can, as well as you can, for as long as you can, and not to despair over the things you cannot do.”

We can’t all use our fortunes to try to improve humankind, as Bill Gates has been doing and plans to do more. But we can all search for ways to use the talents that God has given us to try to make the world a better place.

— John F. Fink


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