After reviewing some of the current situations of society and human groups that have an impact on the possibility of evangelizing the working world and of examining the theological bases of such an effort of evangelization, I would now like to propose some suggestions for carrying it out. As I said in the beginning, I am not attempting to give the final word on this topic, which is very complex. My goal is to offer some suggestions that can help us to start a discussion. I hope this text will help the lay faithful who read it to reach their own apostolic goals.
In the exposition, I aim to give just some general ideas that will afterwards need to be subjected to the test of application in the reality of the business world. Perhaps this can be carried out by someone who lives in that world and who has more knowledge of the matter. I make these suggestions with a lot of humility, very aware that it could be very difficult to apply what I suggest. In any case, I am open to any suggestion that the readers would like to give.
Before proposing some ideas to try to evangelize the world of work, I would like to say that the foundation of any evangelization activity is for each person to live a holy life. That is, each of us needs to encounter Christ in our own lives, fulfill God’s will in our own lives, and grow and preserve our life of grace through the sacraments of the Church.
a. At the base of all work, natural ethics
Although in the text, I mentioned that work in the world cannot be limited to just living by ethical principles, it is evident that this is the first thing that the lay faithful must do. Man has an ethical commitment, and that is the point of departure for all of the rest. If he does not live ethically, then everything else he wants to do will not have a solid foundation. He would live inconsistently, because he would preach the Kingdom of Christ and would not fulfill the most basic and elemental human requirement.
The question of ethics is in the mind and heart of all people, and in these days it is something people feel and search for more and more, because we realize how many abuses and injustices can be committed, and what a risk these are for the future. What people do not always agree about is the definition of ethics, as well as its foundational principles. Sometimes we hear people say “you cannot impose a religious principle” and that practically closes all discussion on the topic, limiting ethics to utilitarianism (whatever gives the most benefits without hurting others). In reality, falling into utilitarianism is fleeing from the question that ethics poses, because then we would not be looking for the principles that undergird correct behavior, but for an application that satisfies more or less everybody.
In fact, utilitarianism just changes the question, because instead of asking, “What is ethics?” we ask, “What is the greatest benefit?” A group of hardcore game hunters would say that the greatest benefit for their association would be to have an unlimited number of animals killed, while hardcore environmentalists would say that stopping all animal hunting is the greatest good. The “democratic” solution that tries to solve everything with a majority vote will not resolve anything because a majority vote is not what gives things their value.
So then, where is the value? How can we hammer out an agreement between people of different beliefs and cultural backgrounds? This question has been in the air for centuries, and St Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa Contra Gentiles as an explanatory summary of Christian teaching that could serve as a springboard for dialogue with Muslim Turks. St Thomas thought that all people could at least agree that there was a consistent human nature, and that on that basis, it was relatively simple to know what the good is and how to achieve it.
I already mentioned this briefly earlier, so I will not dwell on it at length here. Although it is evident that everyone agrees that the human person has some requirements and that there are things that help and things that do not, it is not always so simple to agree about the primacy of some values over others. In any case, as I already said, the ethics that should be lived in businesses cannot be a utilitarian ethics, but an ethics based on the human person. Christians should know what the inalienable principles of the human person are, and should try to live them in their working life.
In the past, when faced with the atrocities of World War II and the experiences of the concentration camps in Europe, the world began asking how to avoid these tragedies again. In response, the Declaration of Human Rights was drafted in the heart of the United Nations. Many of the countries that participated in the writing and approval of the document had jurists with a good formation, and they were able to agree that the human person should be at the base of civil coexistence. The result was a document of great value that can offer guidelines for ethical behavior not only in nations, but also in businesses and organizations.
This Declaration was widely accepted and I think it could re-emerge as a map for ethical action. I would, however, not use the current “Business Compact” used by the United Nations, because the basis for that document is not the human person or the Declaration of Human Rights of the UN. In addition, its proposals are essentially Marxist and horizontal, to the point that they end up oppressing man. I do not think that the application of that document will result in positive results in the long term.
It is evident that a Declaration of Rights with such high standards, and that is aimed at the international perspective will need to be “brought down” and adapted to the reality of businesses and organizations. We will also need to write principles that are not found there, but that are necessary for daily operations. I think, for example, in the definition of a just wage, in the mechanisms to suppress work positions, in the creation of a suitable working environment, etc. It would require a joint effort among moralists, businessmen, workers, etc. I would suggest that the reflection not be limited to the action of people in the business, but to the business itself as an entity and in its relationship to the state. It is well known that our ethical living is notably conditioned if the various levels of the social fabric do not respect ethical principles.
Before addressing the specific actions that could be suggested for businesses and organizations, it seems necessary to point out something that has become an urgent matter. It is about formation for the evangelization of the world of work by pastoral agents and lay people in the heart of parishes or movements who have the apostolate of an active presence in the world.
I would like to be able to offer some guidelines for this formation, but I do not have them. It seems to me that in order to create some guidelines that would be useful, it would be good for Catholic universities to gather pastors, businessmen, directors, and workers to reflect on this pending task of today’s Church. I believe that it is very important to avoid thinking that these types of documents can be created from groups of moralists, because I have seen that they normally do not have much real experience of the world of work, and their proposals are often formulated on the level of principles, without being adapted to reality.
I also allow myself to suggest that we take particular care so that those who offer their points of view in this field (businessmen, workers, priests, etc.) work as a team for the common good, avoiding blaming each other. For a discussion of this kind to be fruitful, it will be necessary to avoid quarrels and grudges, which could possibly be the result of negative experiences from the past. The businessmen and directors should have the openness to listen to the points of view of the moralists, and try to understand what they say and understand their language.
The same could be said to the pastors who, in the past on many occasions, have seen businessmen with a lot of mistrust, as people who are naturally greedy and who only seek their own interests. Lastly, the workers will also need to avoid prejudices and seek the good of the business and organization, and not only their own good or the union’s good. As I mentioned above, the lay faithful and the clergy are united in the common mission of the Church that also extends to the secular sphere.
c. Evangelization by witness and by word, possibilities and limits
The second level in the evangelization of the world of work, after living ethical principles, is personal witness. All Christians are called to holiness and we should live our union with Christ in our life in a convinced and enthusiastic way. Holiness should be accompanied by joy and passion for being what one is. It is frequently said that a sad saint is a sorry saint, and we Catholics should help to erase the negative image that some may have of Catholicism as a religion of negations and privations.
On the other hand, the way we live our Christian life should combine high standards in the principles with gentleness in the way we express ourselves. Christians are also accused sometimes of being inflexible and inconsiderate of people’s reality. In Christ we find the best example: implacable against sin, full of mercy in his dealings with the sinner. This gentleness in his way of treating people is not an artificial kind of diplomacy that is empty and meaningless. Rather, it should be based on a true charity as Christ lived it, to the point of giving his life for all men.
It is also important for our witness to be based on deep humility to avoid falling into the category of the Pharisee in the parable Jesus gave us: “I give you thanks because I am not like other men: greedy, unjust, adulterous, or even like this publican…” (Lk. 18:11). Our witness will be true and will move others to imitate us only if it is a humble witness that comes from people who know that they are limited, sinful, and incapable of doing good if God does not act through them.
However, it is good to go a little further. Christ not only asks us to be holy and for our witness to move others, but he wants us to make disciples and proclaim his word. It seems to me that the Christian in the world of work should use the possibilities of social life to give a word of consolation, encouragement, explanation, and even motivation to start the path of a new life. I do not see why in today’s world, Christians have to be constrained to talking about sports or the weather to avoid wounding people’s sensibilities… when in reality we have a great treasure in our heart that we should share. Certainly, there must be a certain prudence – not understood as political correctness, but as a habit that helps us to discern what we should do at every moment – but I think it is perfectly possible to do it, and that we will be amazed at how many people want to receive these messages and are sensitive to them.
Now, this is work on the personal level, but can a business also evangelize as a business? Certainly, it is good and necessary for the business to foster a positive atmosphere in which people live out the ethical principles that will be the business’ principles, lived by everyone who works there and for which they will receive specific training. They should not be limited to principles that are exclusive to the business world, because it is perfectly licit to want to help workers and directors to be better people. It is also good for the business to allow for manifestations of religious convictions, according to what I said in the first section. In this way, we give space to religion so that people can find the way to be enriched with that manifestation of the human spirit.
I do not think that the business should carry out a work of catechesis as a business or make it obligatory to attend, as if it were part of the training for the job. That is not its mission. I do think that businesses can provide opportunities for people to get to know their faith better, even by contributing pastoral agents and chaplains for those who want their services, as a business would do with a psychological counselor. It is not a matter of imposing convictions on people or of requiring directors and employees to be taught the faith. Rather, it is about helping those who work there to harmoniously integrate their faith and their convictions with their work.
In a world in which there are many religions represented in work teams, we can think about making a chaplain available to offer services to people from the most represented religions, and to leave space for everyone to manifest their faith in a peaceful way. The “tolerance” of other religious convictions does not mean the suppression of all of them; rather, it means teaching people to live and express their faith peacefully in society.
We cannot forget that our testimony and word will help some to find the faith and want to convert. It would be very desirable to have introductions to Christian life so that people can start the path of preparation for baptism and entrance into the Catholic Church, if they so desire.
d. Spaces to experience the faith in businesses and organizations
I think that the absence of God from public life is something that does not bring about positive results. I already mentioned that we are living out a kind of schizophrenia, since a great majority of the population is religious, believes in God, and refers to God in life’s important moments. However, they get to the world of work and they find that God disappears totally from their life and action.
Another level of evangelization would be for those who work in a business or organization to be able to experience and live out their faith. I do not see that the presence of God could offend anyone. To me, it seems normal and good for a business to be able to give public expression to the most important religious celebrations of the most represented religions. On some particularly important occasion, the business could even organize a religious service such as a Mass or some other type of celebration.
e. Creation of communities of evangelization of the world of work: associations, groups, etc.
The last level of evangelization would be to help Catholic organizations and groups so that their leavening action is not limited just to the concrete business where they work, but so that it reaches all of society. Creating associations is something proper to the lay faithful and is an exceptional way to form communities that are more made to the measure of human beings. These communities help Christians to grow in their faith, find material and spiritual support, and have a place for formation, and also influence society in a positive way.
Here I also want to refer to the imperative need to promote and extend the movements and new groups of lay faithful who are dedicated specifically to evangelizing the world of work. The prejudices of the past, which has created a certain tension between parishes and movements, must stop. The mission of the Church cannot wait. Now more than ever, the world requires and needs all our resources and energies to launch the new evangelization.
Anti-Gospel actions are multiplying strongly and quickly, and we cannot present a disunited front. Christ prayed for all of us to be one (Jn. 17:21) and not living in communion is unchristian. It would show that we have not grasped the principle of charity, the only instrument with which we carry out the task of evangelization. Our testimony is not credible if we do not live fraternal charity among ourselves. We are facing a great task that is all the more necessary in a world that hears less and less of Christ.
f. Giving meaning to work
Carrying out these actions will not be sufficient if the people who spend their lives working lose sight of what they are working for, what meaning their work has, and what they are achieving. If they see that work is just a kind of punishment imposed on them, something necessary for their daily sustenance, they will not be able to evangelize, since they will have divided their will from their action. Work should be understood as part of life, as the place where God calls us to relate to men and to reach him; it is also the place where we can make the Kingdom of Christ a reality through our effort to evangelize and foster true progress, full of supernatural charity.
The peak of evangelization is therefore in the deep humanization of work. The departments of Human Resources strive to integrate people with the ideals of the business but they often forget to integrate people with the fact that work is a path of self-fulfillment and personal enrichment, because it is the sphere where man realizes the vocation God has given him of dominating the earth and of preaching the Gospel (Gen 1:28 and Mk 16:15).
Work that is done well, with the right foundations and with an evangelizing purpose, is able to integrate the body with the soul, matter with the spirit, and man with his eternal destiny. In addition to being the ideal of every Christian, it should be the ideal of every business if it wants to be truly competitive and effective.
By his faith in Christ and his commitment to charity, justice, and truth, a Catholic should carry out his work with a spirit of excellence and should stand out for his professionalism and strive honorably to achieve his goals and fulfill his commitments. There is nothing further from the Catholic ideal than mismanagement and irresponsibility. When we look at work that way, the boss-employee relationships that have caused so much tension in the past can be renewed and put in their proper place. There would no longer be a dialectical opposition, but both sides would work together for the good of the business and the common good, since the business seeks to offer products and services that meet the needs of people and help them on their way to eternity.
Pope John Paul II encouraged us in his encyclical Laborem Exercens, citing Gaudium et Spes: “Especially in the modern age, the spirituality of work should show the maturity called for by the tensions and restlessness of mind and heart. ‘Far from thinking that works produced by man's own talent and energy are in opposition to God's power, and that the rational creature exists as a kind of rival to the Creator, Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God's greatness and the flowering of his own mysterious design. For the greater man's power becomes, the farther his individual and community responsibility extends. ... People are not deterred by the Christian message from building up the world, or impelled to neglect the welfare of their fellows. They are, rather, more stringently bound to do these very things.’”5
From the start of this article, I wanted to emphasize the importance of bringing the Gospel to the world of work to be able to answer the question that my father asked me so many years ago: What can lay people do in the Church?
However, besides giving an answer to a question that could have been purely academic and speculative, I cannot refrain from pointing out various reasons why this task is more urgent now than ever. A large percentage of humanity works in the world. They cannot continue thinking that work is the result of the curse of original sin, and they cannot continue with the idea that their action as a Christian is limited to the parish. Christians dedicate the majority of their time to work, and work has a very important influence on their lives, habits, and behaviors. The progress that the Church makes in souls can be lost in the factory, and pastors cannot solidify their people’s virtues and appreciation for religion when the daily influences and stimuli of life in the world have nothing to do with the life of the spirit. If we are not able to evangelize the world of work, we will see how the urban world will continue distancing itself from the faith, growing ever more pagan.
Although the task seems impossible, that dehumanization of work for lack of a transcendent sense is leaving societies empty and thirsty for the absolute. Souls’ search for meaning can be perceived more and more, and the challenges are true opportunities. The harvest is there, and we need workers. In the past, it was thought that the workers of the Gospel were the pastors or consecrated people; today, in this harvest, we need lay faithful guided by the Holy Spirit who will carry out the Church’s desires, which are the same as Christ’s desires.
1 See Chapter 3 of the book Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures – The Europe of Benedict by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
2 Encyclical letter Laborem Exercens, n. 25.
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