Acton Commentary

Vatican Affirms 'Supernatural' Purpose to Work Life


To very little fanfare, the Vatican office responsible for social and economic issues has published a pro-business statement that will surely be anathema to the Occupy Wall Street-Michael Moore factions in the Church and in society.For the rest of us, this should be welcome news because it helps us understand the cause of that growth, which is business, in its proper moral and, indeed, religious context.

Having grown up in Flint and studied in Catholic schools there, I was used to hearing all about the Church's concern for the poor and the working classes. I eventually become Catholic myself and worked for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP) in Rome, the same office that issued The Vocation of the Business Leader on March 30. The document was the result of some extensive collaboration among businesspeople, Catholic academics and Vatican officials, and it shows in the final product. The Vocation of the Business Leader takes wealth creation as a serious endeavor, indeed one that God Himself calls many of us to in order to serve Him and our fellow human beings.

It may be easier to describe the contents of the PCJP statement by saying what it is explicitly not. It is not a policy statement on the merits of financial regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley or the Tobin Tax. It is not a call-to-action to storm the barricades and "expropriate the expropriators," the old Marxist term for an overthrow of the capitalists. And it is not a statement intended to discourage faithful Christians from engaging in the buying and selling of goods and services, as if these are grubby, disreputable but sometimes necessary ways to make a living.

It's not quite a how-to manual for busy executives and managers who are struggling to live their faith in the workplace either, yet The Vocation of the Business Leader wants to encourage and inspire us to "see, judge, and act" wisely and prudently.

We should remember that Jesus Himself warned that the "children of darkness" are shrewder than the "children of light," that is, those who have a completely worldly vision seem to be better at getting things done than the more spiritual types among us. Of course, Jesus was right; He also told his disciples to be "as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves."

By calling work a "vocation," the Church gives supernatural purpose to our daily jobs, one which all people, whether they work at the top of the corporate structure or on the assembly line, can adopt.

The Church knows full well that categories such as rich and poor are often shifting and relative, so the Church speaks to humanity as a whole. This can present some particular difficulties for Vatican officials who have to write documents such as the recent one.

The conditions of, say, Singapore will often vary considerably from those of Southfield, so there is no universal policy to fix all our economic problems.

But this is precisely why the Church's voice is so needed today. We hear so many voices tell us that work, especially hard, honest work, is for suckers, that we should take the easy way out, whether this means collecting a big unearned bonus or a welfare check instead of a job. Such temptations deny that there is any dignity to a job well-done and performed not just for a wage, but as a service.

This article first appeared in The Detroit News.