Catholic doctrine, especially as expressed in the Catechism and the social encyclicals, has much to say to business leaders. Nevertheless, we don’t read or hear much about it in Catholic periodicals or homilies. One reason for that could be because the relevant teachings are spread out across different documents and subject matters.
The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in partnership with the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, has addressed that problem by publishing a document called Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection
. The document offers principles to help Christian business leaders engage in the economic and financial world in light of the principles of human dignity and the common good.
Regarding human dignity, the reflection states:
At the very foundation of the Church’s social tradition stands the conviction that each person, regardless of age, condition, or ability, is an image of God and so endowed with an irreducible dignity or value. Each person is an end in him or herself, never merely an instrument valued only for its utility—a who, not a what; a someone, not a something. This dignity is possessed simply by virtue of being human. It is never an achievement, nor a gift from any human authority; nor can it be lost, forfeited, or justly taken away. All human beings, regardless of individual properties and circumstances, enjoy this God-given dignity.
This means not only that each person has “the right—indeed the obligation—to pursue his or her vocation” but also that “each of us has a duty to avoid actions that impede the flourishing of others and, as far as possible, a duty to promote that flourishing.” A business environment that creates “dog eat dog world,” in other words, belongs to the dogs, not human persons.
The Second Vatican Council defined the common good as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily”. Businesses are essential to the common good of every society. At the same time, the common good, expressed for example through laws, is essential for businesses to flourish.
From these two foundational principles, the reflection offers six practical principles that address three broad business objectives. They are:
Meeting the needs of the world through the creation and development of goods and services
Organizing good and productive work
- Businesses contribute to the common good by producing goods that are truly good and services that truly serve.
- Businesses maintain solidarity with the poor by being alert for opportunities to serve deprived and underserved populations and people in need.
Creating sustainable wealth and distributing it justly
- Businesses make a contribution to the community by fostering the special dignity of human work.
- Businesses that embrace subsidiarity provide opportunities for employees to exercise appropriate authority as they contribute to the mission of the organization.
- Businesses model stewardship of the resources – whether capital, human, or environmental – they have received.
- Businesses are just in the allocation of resources to all stakeholders: employees, customers, investors, suppliers, and the community.
The greatest obstacle to living the vocation of the businessperson as a Christian is what the document calls a “divided life.”
“Dividing the demands of one’s faith from one’s work in business is a fundamental error that contributes to much of the damage done by businesses in our world today, including overwork to the detriment of family or spiritual life, an unhealthy attachment to power to the detriment of one’s own good, and the abuse of economic power in order to make even greater economic gains.”
The divided life problem is not unique to businesspersons. Politicians and voters fall into its snares whenever they attempt to separate their faith life from politics. Considering that economic activity is more pervasive than politics, perhaps the problem of a divided life in business deserves more attention.
Dodson is executive director of the ND Catholic Conference