Magazine article The Catholic World

Sunday into Monday: A Catholic Perspective on Business Activity

Magazine article The Catholic World

Sunday into Monday: A Catholic Perspective on Business Activity

Article excerpt

Ed Willock, editor of the long - defunct Catholic monthly Integrity, tried to bother his readers (or, more accurately, encourage his readers to bother others) with this verse: "Mr. Business went to Mass,/He never missed a Sunday;/But Mr. Business went to hell / For what he did on Monday." That dart may have been amusing four or five decades ago, but it misses the mark altogether now as the sense of a vocation to business is, for many Catholic men and women, on the rise. It may be true that week after week, for most of the weeks of their working lives, millions of Catholics who worship on Sunday move back into the Monday world of business without giving much thought to the relevance of their religious faith to business practice. But it is also true that theological reflection and practical pastoral advice are encouraging Catholics not to shuttle between church and business, but to integrate their religious commitments with their business responsibilities for a unified grace-filled life.

Regrettably, the relevance of religious faith to daily business practice remains a largely unexamined question for most believers in all denominations. By raising the question here, I want to try to address the issue and clarify the meaning of Catholic identity in the American business environment.

The identity question is usually asked in the context of the purpose of Catholic institutions - schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, social service organizations. Catholic sponsorship brought the institution into being for a purpose. What's become of that original purpose? Where is the institution's Catholic identity now? Those questions are heard often in Catholic circles today. But aside from a relatively few identifiably Catholic business organizations, the identity question for Catholics in commerce focuses on persons, not corporations. Hence Catholics in business have themselves to ask - and only they can answer - the question of their own Catholic identity in the secular business world.

I begin by asking, What is the purpose of business?" "To maximize profits," is no answer; to optimize' profits is not helpful either. Neither explains the deeper purpose of business activity.

Business is doing for others on condition of receipt of something of fair value in return. It deals essentially with exchanges. Persons in business relate to other persons whose needs, preferences, and desires are met, to some degree of satisfaction, by the product or service the business is organized to provide - at a price. To meet that need, preference, or desire is the purpose of business. To do so at a price (and thus differentiate the activity from voluntarism or altruism) means receiving in exchange sufficient remuneration to cover the costs of providing the service or product. This enables the provider to receive the income necessary to meet his or her own legitimate needs, preferences, and desires. Otherwise, the business system, the network of relationships where need and satisfaction meet as question and answer, could not attract and hold the providers. They would have to find some other way to "make a living." Why they choose business to occupy their reimbursable time, instead of earning income in other ways, is a good question. It points to business as vocation; it suggests that business has a special place in the divine plan.

The business organization is there to meet, on the buyer's side, a human need for product or service. For the seller, business generates necessary income. The business context, with all its market intermediaries, enables the needs of both buyer and seller to be met in a reliable, predictable, organized fashion. This makes it possible for society to get on with the daily dynamic of life. Business organizes the material basis for human existence and well-being. Business is thus seen as foundational to the construction of a community's material relationships. Persons in business should, accordingly, take proper credit for the fact that they are fostering a human good that would not be achieved without them. …

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