Direct your goods to the common good
In a recent Wednesday audience, Pope Francis addressed a subject he has not broached often: entrepreneurship. He offered negatives and positives, admonition as well as inspiration.
“What is lacking,” said the Holy Father, “is free and forward looking entrepreneurship.” He urged the flock to understand that “ownership is a responsibility” and that “the ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence.”
Think about that one. It’s a line not only from Pope Francis but from the Catechism. Entrepreneurs and business people: Have you thought of yourself as a steward of Providence?
It’s a poignant thought. It’s also a powerful reminder of how we should view our gifts and our goods.
Quoting St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, Francis reflected on the statement that the love of money is the root of all evil. It isn’t money that’s evil, or making money. What matters is how we perceive money and what we do with it. As only Francis could say, “the devil enters through the pockets.” The love of money leads to selfishness, arrogance, and pride. The goal for the person with money is not to love your goods but to “love with your goods.” Then, says Francis, your life becomes good and your property truly becomes a gift.
This is a message where we, as Catholics, must apply our faith and reason. We need not empty our bank accounts tomorrow morning, dumping every dollar into the lap of the first homeless guy we see. We need not give every dime to the Salvation Army while not leaving a penny to our kids. We should, however, carefully consider our money’s ultimate destination. We must be stewards of our gifts, and of the gift of entrepreneurship some of us have been blessed with.
Francis urges entrepreneurs to use their entrepreneurial spirit as an “opportunity to multiply them creatively and to use them generously, and thereby to grow in charity and freedom.”
Here, Francis quoted the Catechism (section 2404): “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.”
It’s important that Francis anchors this in the Catechism. Let’s be honest: Many Catholics fear that these wealth exhortations by Francis are calls for government collectivism and income redistribution or clubs to beat rich people and make them feel guilty. But Francis said no such thing. This is a call for private initiative, for individuals to give of themselves, without state coercion.
It’s also in keeping with Pope John Paul II’s classic Centesimus Annus, which states that a person’s work is “naturally interrelated with the work of others” and should be seen as “work for others.” John Paul II said that work “becomes ever more fruitful and productive to the extent that people become more … profoundly cognizant of the needs of those for whom their work is done.”
If I may conclude on a personal note, I’ve spoken to many Legatus groups. Just in the last year, I spoke to Legatus chapters in Cleveland, Lexington, Jersey Shore, and Bucks County, Pennsylvania, among others. The wonderful men and women I meet at these gatherings are Catholic businesspeople and entrepreneurs in the best sense. I’ve witnessed no selfishness or arrogance or pride among them.
And yet, it’s incumbent upon all of us, myself included, to take these words from Francis and John Paul II and the Catechism to heart. We should indeed love with our goods so that they become a good, and above all for the common good.
PAUL KENGOR is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century