Tag Archives: Centesimus Annus

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

Understanding Pope Francis’ writing on economics

Legatus chaplain Fr. Chas Canoy writes on the Pope’s recent apostolic exhortation . . .

CanoyAt a recent Legatus chapter event, we had some lively dinner conversation at our table concerning the pope’s view on economics. The question came up of some ways to respond to friends and family who may ask or have asked you about it, given all the commentary out there like Rush Limbaugh’s. If you too are wondering, please continue to read on.  If not, then I wish you and your family a blessed Advent and a beautiful Christmas season!

First of all, I would first encourage you to take some time over the holy days to read Evangelii Gaudium (EG).  Until you get that chance, I think it’s important to keep in mind what the Pope is NOT saying. He did not say, for example, that capitalism is in and of itself an unacceptable economic system. We also know, from past Church teaching such as John Paul’s Centesimus Annus, that this is far from the truth.

What Pope Francis is pointing out are the abuses that exist or to which free market economies can be inclined if the agents of capitalism neglect or have little or insufficient regard for the common good and the dignity of the human person, particularly the poor. It’s important to note that he has also spoken against Marxist thought and liberation theology. Given his South American background, he has observed corruption of both types firsthand.

Pope FrancisThis leads to three essential points that outlines the necessary context to understand better Pope Francis’ comments:

1.  Protecting the dignity of the human person and fostering the common good are two fundamental principles of any just society (see Gaudium et Spes).  Consequently, every sector of society, including economics, should have as its object and aim the flourishing of its people, with these two elements particularly in mind.
2.  Thus, the pope said, “Money must serve, not rule” (EG 58). In other words, just as the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath, so the free market is for the benefit and flourishing of man, not man for the free market. The one who sees it as the latter may be culpable of what Pope Francis calls the “idolatry of money” (EG 55).
3.  The pope is not an economist. The Church is authoritative in faith and morals, not economics. Whatever the pope’s private views are on the economy, he recognizes that economics and all secular fields have their own proper autonomy. At the same time, economics is not amoral. There are ethical dimensions to economics and every sector of secular society, and in these dimensions the pope acts as pastor and guide.

As you may already be thinking, none of these are inimical to capitalism, properly understood. In fact, I would propose, as I’m sure many of you would, that capitalism, properly ordered to the good, is indeed the most conducive at achieving human flourishing and fostering the common good. While the free market has some natural or innate correctives within its system, the Pope however wants us to understand that it’s not impermeable to the exploitation of the powerful and that in fact no economic system is adequate to ensure sufficiently the protection of the dignity of every human person. Systems ultimately don’t do that; people do.

FATHER CHAS CANOY is a priest of the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. He is the chaplain of Legatus’ Ann Arbor Chapter.

Liberty and solidarity

DR. ANDREW ABELA writes that poverty can only be conquered through businesses leaders working to provide opportunities for the impoverished. Not only is this a Catholic position, but it’s the only way that will work.  We are called to practice solidarity — the love of others — in everything we do, and particularly in running our companies . . .

Andrew Abela

Andrew Abela

The market economy is falling out of favor. Politicians who favor statist solutions to all social problems appear to be only too happy to seize upon the dissatisfaction of the poor and the middle class and promote class conflict.

We can make theoretical arguments about how the market economy lifts societies out of poverty, and we can cite the ample historical evidence that this has happened time and again, but if large numbers of citizens hold the perception that here and now their incomes continue to stagnate while owners prosper, then the market economy is truly in jeopardy.

The Church’s social teaching holds the solution. We are called to practice solidarity — the love of others — in everything we do, and particularly in running our companies. Solidarity is “first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State” (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 38). This is something we must do ourselves.

Benedict warned that “when both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence…” (Caritas in Veritate, 39).

Benedict is denouncing the conventional view that it’s the job of business to make money and the job of government to tax that money and redistribute it. He says this view weakens solidarity, responsibility and charity. What he’s saying, in effect, is that we should not rely on the government to solve the problem of poverty. If government is perceived to be the solution to poverty, the poor are going to want more government! Instead, we as business leaders should be leading the charge to solve the problem of poverty — and we should do this by drawing more people into the “circle of exchange” (Centesimus Annus, 34), the market economy.

Free markets and Christian love — liberty and solidarity — can and should work together within commercial activity. An individualistic perspective denies this. It sees them as opposing one another. Solidarity, to the extent that it obliges me to “lose myself” in the service of others, seems to put a limit on my economic freedom. By contrast, the Church teaches that the more we serve others, the more free we become.

Pope Benedict affirmed this: “Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function. The principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity” (Caritas in Veritate, 35-36). We need solidarity for the market to work well.

Look, we already know this. We know that when business runs well, it runs on trust — even on generosity. Whenever we give a break to an unproven new hire, whenever we extend extra credit to a struggling customer because we believe they will make it, we are practicing solidarity. Don’t believe those who argue that what we’re doing is just “enlightened self-interest.” Yes, doing the right thing will most often lead to good results for the firm, but that’s not only why we do it. We do it because that’s how we love God and our neighbor in our daily work.

This is the only way forward. Pope Francis, in his first encyclical, wrote: “Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood” (Lumen Fidei, 54). Pope Francis affirms it: Christian brotherhood can only succeed under the Father — not under Big Brother.

This will only work if we’re determined to fight poverty through our businesses. How do we do this? Could we find ways to employ people who are considered unemployable? For example, could our employees, on a volunteer basis, run seminars on how to interview for a job? Could we come up with creative ways to serve customers in underserved areas? Could we extend opportunities to employees, customers, and community members to invest in our businesses, so that they can experience for themselves the rewards of being “capitalists”? The more we do this, the less demand there will be for government aid to poverty. And less demand for government, period.

Interested in hearing more? Attend the conference on Liberty and Solidarity at the Catholic University of America, Sept. 24-26, 2014.

ANDREW V. ABELA, PH.D. is the dean of the newly created School of Business & Economics at The Catholic University of America, and a charter member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter.