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God and My Work / Part 5

A series on the role of laity in the Church
by Fr Luis Garza LC | Source:


In this essay, I aim to put forward some general ideas that must afterwards be subjected to the test of implementation in the reality of the business world. Someone who lives in the world and has more knowledge of the matter could carry it out. I make these suggestions with humility, aware that it could be quite difficult to apply what I describe. In any case, I am open to any and all feedback from readers.

   Before proposing some ideas to try to evangelize the workplace, I would like to say that the foundation of any evangelizing activity is for each person to lead 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. As the basis 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's ethical commitment is the starting point for everything else. If he does not live ethically, then nothing he would do will have a solid foundation. He would live inconsistently, because he would preach the Kingdom of Christ and would not fulfill the most basic requirement of human life.

   The question of ethics is on the minds and hearts of all people, and in these days it is something people sense 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 on others". This practically ends all discussion on the topic, limiting ethics to utilitarianism (the principle that the good is defined by whatever gives the most benefits without hurting others). In reality, to fall into utilitarianism is to flee 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.

   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. In fact, before St Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa contra Gentiles in 1264 as an explanation of Christian teaching that could serve as a springboard for dialogue with Muslims. St Thomas thought that all people could at least agree that there was a human nature that was the same for all and, on that basis, it was relatively simple to know what the good is and how to achieve it.

   Although it is evident that everyone agrees that the human person has some needs 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.

   When faced with the atrocities of World War II and the concentration camps in Europe, the world began asking itself how to make sure these tragedies never happened again. As a response, the Declaration of Human Rights was drafted in the United Nations. Many of the countries that participated in the writing and approval of the document had very competent jurists, 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 foundation for that document is not the human person or the Declaration of Human Rights of the UN. Its proposals are essentially Marxist and limited, to the point that they end up oppressing man. I do not think that the application of that document will have positive results in the long term.

   It is evident that a Declaration of Rights crafted in general terms and directed towards the international community needs to be brought down to earth and adapted to the reality of businesses and organizations. We will also need to add principles not found there which are intrinsic to the world of work. For example: the definition of a just wage, the mechanisms for eliminating work positions, the creation of a suitable working environment, etc. It would require a joint effort among moralists, businessmen, workers, and more. I 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. Our ability to live ethically in society is hampered if certain levels of the social fabric do not respect ethical principles.

b. Formation

Before going into specific courses of action for businesses and organizations, I need to point out an urgent need: pastors and lay people at the heart of parishes or movements who have the apostolate of an active presence in the world of work need formation for evangelizing the workplace.

   I don't have guidelines to propose. It seems to me that in order to create useful guidelines, we would need Catholic universities to bring together pastors, businessmen, executives, and workers to reflect together. I believe that it is very important to avoid thinking that these types of documents can be created from groups of moralists, since they typically have very little 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 that those who offer their points of view in this field (businessmen, workers, priests, etc.) work as a team for the common good and avoid blaming each other. For a discussion of this kind to be fruitful, it is necessary to avoid quarrels and grudges, often fueled by negative experiences from the past. The businessmen and executives must be open to listen to the points of view of ethicists, and try to understand their language and viewpoint.

   The same could be said to the pastors who on many occasions in the past have mistrusted businessmen, seeing them as naturally greedy and self-centered. Likewise, workers need to avoid prejudices and seek the good of the business and organization, and not simply 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, which extends to the secular sphere.

c. Evangelization by witness and by word, possibilities and limits

The second step in the evangelization of the workplace, 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 a passion to be who we are. It is frequently said that a sad saint is a bad saint, and we Catholics should help to erase the negative image that some may have of Catholicism as a religion of prohibitions and denial.

   The way we live our Christian life should combine living the demanding principles of Christianity with gentle ways of expressing them to others. Christians are often accused of being inflexible and inconsiderate of people's actual circumstances. Christ showed us the virtuous path: strongly condemning sin, yet merciful in his dealings with the sinner. This gentleness in his way of dealing with people is not an artificial kind of diplomacy that is empty and meaningless. We should imitate Christ, who lived true charity to the point of giving his life for all men.

   It is also important to base our witness on deep humility. Otherwise we can easily fall into the category of those Pharisees who, as Jesus described in a parable, pray: "I give you thanks because I am not like other men: greedy, unjust, adulterous, or even like this publican" (Lk 18:11). Our witness is true and will move others to imitate us only if it is humble, coming from someone who recognizes that he is incapable of doing good if God does not act through him.

   However, it is good to go a little further. Christ not only asks us to be holy and to move others by our example, 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 his 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 we have such a great treasure in our hearts that we should share. Certainly, we need prudence - not understood as political correctness, but as the capability to discern the best course of action at every moment - but I think it is perfectly possible to do it. We might, in fact, be amazed at how many people want to receive this message and are sensitive to it.

   Now, this works for our personal dealings. But can a business itself also evangelize? Certainly, it is necessary for businesses to foster a positive climate in which people live by ethical principles. These principles should not be limited to those that are exclusive to the business world. It is perfectly licit to want to help workers and executives to be themselves better people. It is also good for the business to allow for people to express their religious convictions according to what I said in the first section. In this way, we give space to religion so that people can find a way to be enriched with that expression of the human spirit.

   I do not think that business should carry out a work of catechesis in the business or make it obligatory to attend, as if it were part of the ongoing training for the job. That is not its mission. I do think that business can provide opportunities for people to get to know their faith better, even by engaging pastors 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 many religions are present in the workplace, we can think about making a chaplain available to offer services to people from the best-represented religions, and to leave space for everyone to show their faith in a non-confrontational way. The "tolerance" of other religious convictions does not mean that we suppress 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 draw many to the faith. It would be very desirable to have introductory courses to Christian life so that they can start the path of preparation for baptism and entrance into the Catholic Church whenever they wish.

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