Vocation to entrepreneurship: Listen to St. Mark —not Karl Marx…
(CUSA) – One should not feel embarrassed about success in this world—that is, if it is done without human exploitation. In the absence of God, human life is measured mainly in terms of economics and and whoever acquires the most property is deemed a success. But if God is allowed into our lives, human life is placed first because we are made in God’s image and likeness.
Business people can choose either, but if they choose God their profit will be eternal instead of merely of this world. Archbishop Wenski explains that the only way to win is to avoid the temptation to separate faith from life. –Ed.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski – The Archdiocese of Miami
Inauguration of Global Entrepreneurship Week
St. Thomas University (Miami). November 17, 2014.
Jesus, on the evening of his betrayal and the eve of his own death on the cross, prayed for those who would be his own. In other words, he prayed to his Father for us – that while we are “in” the world, we may not be “of” the world.
But this did not mean that we, the followers of Christ, are somehow to be “against” the world. To the contrary, as Jesus insisted to his disciples we are called to be “for the world.”
As entrepreneurs, as professionals in the business community who aspire to be successful, you are certainly “in the world.” And your careers are ways in which you can be and are “for the world.”
But Jesus also prayed that the Father consecrate us in truth. Such consecration in truth is what happens when we embrace the gospel and strive to live it coherently so that while in the world we are not “of the world” for we are not to belong to the world.
Thus, from the perspective of our Catholic teachings, success in business cannot be judged solely on the bottom line – your business performance will be judged on that to be sure; but also, it will be judged on how it has helped you to achieve integrity and personal sanctification and how it has helped others achieve this as well.
This is true whether you are Christian, Jewish or of some other faith tradition. In other words, you should see your business as a “vocation”, a calling, a way of responding to your baptismal call to holiness by being in the world without becoming of the world.
The separation of faith from life has always been a temptation from the earliest days of Christianity; but it has become a real problem today. The scandals that have hurt the Church’s creditably arise not because the Church is in the world but that too often too much of the world has been found within the Church.
The tenets of our faith often seem to have nothing to do with what is taught in MBA curricula. The secularism that is increasingly dominant in our society affects the way we think and act – and the way we do business.
Secularism, as I have been telling kids in the Confirmations that I have been celebrating in recent months, is a 50 cent word that describes what happens when we seek to organize society or to live our lives as if God did not matter.
Cardinal George – who today retires as the Archbishop of Chicago –in a fascinating book titled God in Action: How Faith in God Can Address the Challenges of the World, wrote: “as human autonomy has become the preeminent value, and progress is substituted for providence, God’s role has largely disappeared from popular consciousness.”
How often have we been tempted to dismiss an ethical concern, how often have we stifled the voice of conscience in making a difficult decision by just saying: business is business?
Understanding that as Christians we are “for the world” – and understanding our commitment to success in business as a vocation – can help us avoid the separation of faith from the ordinary affairs of life.
In this way, our work can become more than just complying with the standards and protocols of a company. Our work – what we do and how we do it – can also witness that “God does matter.”
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, work is not a curse. That would be the wrong way to interpret the book of Genesis. Work is a creative activity, and therefore an imitation of God’s own creative activity. For a believer, then, work is participating in God’s plan for the world.
Made in the image and likeness of our Creator God we acknowledge ourselves to be his creatures when we labor in line with his purpose and we establish goals to achieve what is good for ourselves and for others.
Too often, preachers often influenced less by Saint Mark than they are by Karl Marx try to make business people in the pew feel guilty for their success. There is nothing wrong in making a profit – in fact, when a firm makes a profit it shows that it has used its resources correctly and human needs have been satisfied.
St. Paul, besides being an evangelist who brought Christianity to the gentile world, was also a tent maker. And apparently he was good at it. He wrote in his Epistle to Titus: “I have never wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions.”
Nevertheless, profit is not the sole criteria for judging a firm’s condition. It is possible for the accounts to be in order, and at the same time the people who make up the community of workers could be humiliated and offended.
And so St. Paul continues, “In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Work brings people together for the service of society. God made us as social beings and work is done within a community of persons. The marketplace provides many opportunities to be creative and productive and to create wealth. This is good but there is also an order of importance: Business manuals advise that the best companies are the ones that respect and care for their employees.
We are social beings – it’s the way that God made us – if our work, and our careers, undermine rather than strengthen the network of relationships that make up our lives then something is wrong.
In other words, if we allow ourselves to live – and to do business – as if God doesn’t matter, then our neighbors won’t matter, our employees and co-workers won’t matter, our families won’t matter, and our marriages won’t matter.
In an age when people too often put themselves in the center of attention, Cardinal George reminds us in his book that as we go about our lives our most important human activity should be to watch for God’s activity. Be attentive to God’s action in our lives and in our world will show us how we can be in the world and be for the world without being of the world or against the world.
You will hear from some people whose hard work in the business world has been blessed by God. By being for the world, they have succeeded – in creating wealth that benefits them but also the people who work for them and society in general.
But, as the Miami Herald pointed out in an article last week half of the population of South Florida struggles just to make ends meet. And certainly most of our students here at St. Thomas probably are found in that demographic.
In view of that reality, I would like to share with you some thoughts of both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis on the present state of the world as it still struggles with the economic crisis that began some years ago.
Last year, Pope Francis, in addressing some new ambassadors credited to the Holy See, remarked that “today fear and desperation grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries; the joy of life is diminishing; indecency and violence are on the rise; poverty is becoming more and more evident. People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way.”
Then, he opined that “one cause of this situation is in our relationship with money and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society.” The financial crisis, he went on to add, is ultimately a moral crisis. “In the denial of the primacy of human beings, we have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly human goal.”
This is perhaps descriptive of what I meant when I spoke about being “of the world.”
Now some people who are a bit disturbed by Pope Francis’ talk about the poor and his criticism in Evangelium Gaudium of what was translated as “trickled down” economics are tempted to dismiss his words as just a bit of Jesuit hyperbole.
How what he is saying is in fact in continuity to what Pope Benedict XVI has written – and indeed his words stand in continuity with the social teachings of developed by the modern popes since Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum in 1891.
In 2008, when this most serious economic recession in 80 years began, Pope Benedict wrote his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate . In this encyclical he called for reform in economic and social systems noting that the crisis – which has not yet been fully overcome – was brought about not by the failure of the market but the failure of ethics in the business and financial communities.
This rejection of ethics, Pope Francis says, is a “rejection of God.” For those who are “of the world” and not just “in the world”, “Ethics, like solidarity,” the pope says, “is a nuisance!
It is regarded as counterproductive: as something too human, because it relativizes money and power; as a threat, because it rejects manipulation and subjection of people: because ethics leads to God, who is situated outside the categories of the market. These financiers, economists and politicians consider God to be unmanageable. God is unmanageable, even dangerous, because He calls man to his full realization and to independence from any kind of slavery.” Ethics…makes it possible”, Francis says, “to create a balanced social order that is more humane.
In this sense,” he adds, “I encourage the financial experts and the political leaders of your countries to consider the words of Saint John Chrysostom: ‘Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs.’
In this speech directed to these ambassadors for a return to person-centered ethics and for disinterested solidarity. Saying that as Pope he loved both the rich and poor, he also said that his job is to remind the rich “to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them.
“Money has to serve, not to rule!” Pope Francis insists. Those with political power should be at the service of the common good of their peoples – and those in finance and business should take account of ethics and solidarity.
In this Pope Francis is of one mind with Benedict. “The solutions to the current problems of humanity”, Pope Benedict wrote, “cannot be merely technical, but must take account of all the needs of the person, who is endowed with body and soul, and must take the Creator, God, into consideration.”
That three quarters of the world’s population lives in poverty, or that today people still die of starvation, is not because there are not enough riches or food to go around, nor is it because there are too many people. Population is not the source of poverty but rather the inequitable distribution of the world’s resources.
A Haitian proverb says Bondye konn bay; men, lezom pa konn separe: “God knows how to give; but men do not know how to share.”
It is our not knowing how to share, “this lack of brotherhood among peoples and individuals” that accounts for poverty and underdevelopment in our world. Globalization, Benedict observed, has made us all neighbors but it hasn’t made us brothers and sisters.
Both of these Popes are articulating a Christian vision of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, destined for communion with God. As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council reiterated, man is the only creature God made for himself. This vocation to transcendence, they argue, must be acknowledged if development is to proceed along paths that will truly promote human flourishing on this earth.
If as Cardinal George suggests “human autonomy has become the preeminent value, and progress is substituted for providence,” then seeming “advancements” in science, technology and other spheres of human endeavor will end up “dehumanizing” rather than humanizing us. If we view ourselves as no more than a chance development in a mindless universe then why would we or anyone else have any significance?
In such a world closed to transcendence, anyone can justify using other human beings for their own ends and purposes. If God doesn’t matter, if we were created just to die one day, then we will define as successful those who die “with the most toys.”
The vocation to entrepreneurship is also a calling to Caritas in Veritate or to “Love in truth.” Love in truth does reveal to us that, in fact, we are brothers and sisters; “Love in truth” does bind us to one another as “our brother’s keeper”.”
God’s love for all his creatures must be mirrored in the way we care for one another – through acts of love and solidarity that are grounded in the truth that every human life is sacred and that all humanity forms one family.
“Truth matters”, even in economics. Without truth, charity becomes mere sentimentality; without truth, the truth about man and his relationship to his Creator, “man neither knows the way to go, nor even understands who he is.”
Allow me to conclude by citing once again St. Paul, this time from his letter to the Corinthians.
He said, “God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.” You pursue business careers to obtain not just what you need to get by but also God willing more than you need – that is “an abundance for every good work”.
This Scripture is certainly related to another verse which says, “To whom much is given much will be asked”. Certainly this calls for great generosity from those whose hard work in the business world has been blessed by God. That this University exists is, in great measure, the result of such generosity. And today we have had the opportunity to acknowledge such generosity.
Other speakers will speak on what you need to succeed. But as I said, success in business cannot be judged solely on the bottom line – your business performance will be judged on that to be sure; but also, it will be judged on how it has helped you to achieve personal sanctification and how it has helped others achieve this as well.
Made in the image and likeness of our Creator God we acknowledge ourselves to be his creatures when we labor in line with his purpose and we establish goals to achieve what is good for ourselves and for others by being in and for the world – without becoming “of the world.”