Tag Archives: Steward

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

Confusing ownership with stewardship

The concept of a steward is a sensibility badly needed in today’s business world. For several years, business news has been rife with reports of men (yes, they have all been males) who were charged with looking after the welfare of public corporations but who behaved like robber barons, brutalizing millions of stakeholders by raiding and robbing the assets of the very corporations they were entrusted to protect and grow.

What is the problem? At the obvious level, it involves greed. These men’s lives are models of insatiable appetites gone wild. At another level, these crimes are rooted in pride, for as some of the culprits have admitted, accumulating personal riches and indulging themselves in unspeakable extravagance was how they kept score in the game of success – which they mistook for the purpose of life.

But at a deeper level, their wanton criminal self- indulgence seems to be the natural expression of a flawed understanding of reality. They handled the assets with which they were entrusted as if the assets were their own. That is, after all, the prevailing metaphor we use to describe the very top officer in a public corporation. The company is his. He has the power to make its final decisions. We regard him – and he comes to regard himself – as the sole owner of the corporation.

If that were really the case, CEOs would wallow in self-indulgence until either their assets or their hearts gave out. But because this is not the case, many end up having to hide their skewed view of reality by cooking the books or otherwise lying to investors and other stakeholders. Eventually, reality bites: they have to forfeit their power, fortunes, reputations, and in some instances, even their freedom.

The reality is that the power the top official has in a corporation has been given to him by its rightful owners, who hold the company’s stock. They are free to take away the power they have given him if they decide it is in their best interests to do so. With that in mind, perhaps we will find a newfound emphasis in business schools on the notions of steward and stewardship at all levels of the corporate ladder.

Excerpt by Owen Phelps, Ph.D., from Chapter 9, “Called to be a Steward,” of his book The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2009), pp. 107-08 – “Guys Gone Wild! Confusing Ownership with Stewardship.”

OWEN PHELPS, PH.D., a writer, college professor, master catechist, and trainer, is director of the Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute (Durand, IL). Likewise, he is author of three other books: The Believer’s Edge, The Secret of Wealth, and A Steward’s Journey: The Early Years.