Faith and Justice in the Marketplace

Faith in Marketplace
Editor’s Note: The following entry is the first in a new series from Michael Castrilli, OSFS, entitled “Faith and Justice in the Marketplace.” Michael is a graduate student at Washington Theological Union and a campus minister at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington, DC. Michael has extensive experience in the corporate world, having worked for Corporate Executive Board and Booz Allen Hamilton Consulting. He utilizes this experience and his love of Salesian spirituality and Catholic social teaching in his writing.

When one reads the words faith, justice and market, it would seem that the terms do not go together, especially, when we consider the variety of places we all work. Many people tell me that talking about faith in the workplace is either uncomfortable or inappropriate. However, Catholic social teaching and Salesian spirituality have much to say on this important topic and can really help guide us in our day-to-day lives.Whether you work in corporate, non-profit, educational, or government entities, or something in between, the Catholic Church and Salesian spirituality speak to us in practical and accessible ways. We all work: whether we are the chief executive officer of a multinational company, a line worker on the factory floor, a stay-at-home mom, or a student, meeting daily responsibilities touches all of us. There is a place for faith and justice in the variety of places we call “work.” It is important to note that the Catholic Church has a long tradition of advocating for the dignity of workers and social responsibility. Most scholars agree that modern Catholic social teaching began with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical letter Rerum Novarum (The Condition of Labor, 1891). This encyclical was monumental because it advocated for workers’ rights, employee and employer relationships, and an individual’s right to private property. Throughout the 20th century, the Church has been outspoken on economic issues through numerous papal encyclicals (e.g., Populorum Progressio, Paul VI, 1967; Laborem Exercens, John Paul II, 1981 and others) and documents from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (e.g., Economic Justice for All, 1986). When one complements these teachings with the practical advice of the Salesian tradition, we find wisdom that can transform all aspects of our lives.
Contained below is Part I of the new series on this blog discussing Catholic social teaching, Salesian spirituality and the marketplace today. Through this series, we will discuss how we can take the rich Catholic tradition along with Salesian spirituality to help us make sense of our day-to-day economic lives. We will use the Gospel as our guide and the heart of Salesian spirituality to lead us on our journey. Please feel free to comment based on your own experience of trying to live the Gospel in the marketplace.
Gospel Integration – Defining a Personal Business Ethic
This past summer, Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth, 2009), addresses issues of the economy and the importance of business ethics in daily life. Caritas in Veritate carries a multi-faceted message to the world on issues of labor, economic justice, globalization, environmental stewardship, and technological development. This encyclical, similar to the other Catholic social teaching documents, is an example of how the Church connects our faith through Jesus Christ to our daily lives and articulates living Gospel values for the world. This first post in this series on Faith and Justice in the Marketplace will consider the ways in which we bring Gospel values to the marketplace and to help us consider our personal business ethic.
Caritas in Veritate contains clear direction on a variety of related subjects and numerous examples of how our business ethic plays out in the market. Although the issues are diverse, the core message is what I term “Gospel integration.” Gospel integration is the intersection between all aspects of our daily life with the message of Jesus Christ. The encyclical discusses the promotion of business ethics that focus not only on stakeholders but also on the community at large (No. 36), governing globalization with the principle of subsidiarity (No. 57), using technology responsibly (No. 70), and an appeal throughout the document for individual responsibility and a focus on the common good (No. 7). Pope Benedict writes, “The Church has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society. In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak” (No 36).
The question then becomes how do we take the Church’s teaching, apply it to our daily life, and implement Gospel integration? First, like any time we want to make a change or improve an area of life, we must admit that at times, we all can be vulnerable to putting Gospel values aside. It is easy to live Gospel integration when the choice between right and wrong is simple. For example, most people would never consider stealing from their employer. But what about the ordinary moments, when the situation is a bit more grey? Francis de Sales writes in the Introduction to the Devout Life, “While we must resist great temptations with unconquerable courage and while the victory we gain over them is in the highest degree helpful to us, it may be that we will profit more by resisting small temptations…It is easy enough not to steal our neighbor’s property, but it is difficult not to desire and covet it” (IV:8). Francis’ point is clear: the “small” temptations of life can be the most difficult to confront. Related to the topic of business ethics, Francis might caution us to be careful not to rationalize and justify our actions in what we consider small business matters because they all have an effect on our relationship with God, neighbor, and self.
Let me give a personal example of how I see a relatively minor business transaction that could lead someone to believe that it is okay to take advantage of neighbor. As a teenager, I remember my mom taking me to see a movie in the theater. When we approached the box office, I quietly said, “Mom, let’s try to get a child rate instead of the adult ticket that costs more, I look young enough!” I clearly remember my mom’s response. She said, “Michael, we do not lie in order to get a break. If we lie in small things, what stops us from lying in big things?” My mom’s point was well taken and I never forgot what she said. When I think of my personal business ethic, I sure try to live this principle. It can be too easy to say, “Oh, this is no big deal, it is just a few dollars.” But, when we devalue the small matters our deception can grow like weeds in fertile ground.
When one thinks of the major corporate scandals of the last few years, no doubt people engaged in very selfish and greedy tactics. However, I often wonder if some individuals believed, “It is no big deal, I am just moving some money from one account to another, what is the harm, we will make it up and put it back next week/month/year?” The Ponzi- scheme engineered by Bernie Madoff resulted in $13 billion being stolen from people since 1995. The corruption all began at some moment, and some place, when an individual made the decision, and maybe even a minor decision, to pull away from Gospel truth. As Benedict writes, “Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends… it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility” (CV, No. 36).
Therefore, what are the core values, formed from our faith that will lead us to honesty, love, and Gospel integration, not only in large or small matters, but in ALL matters? It would serve us all well to consider our personal business ethic, whether it is our activity in the grocery store, the bank, or with our employer. When in doubt, we can recall the words of Jesus to always be women and men of integrity. As written in the Gospel of Matthew, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one” (5:37).
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