Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
For this Labor Day, I pulled out a 2014 Vatican document entitled The Vocation of the Business Leader. It asks the question, why is business important? One can answer this from a larger, macro perspective as well as on a more personal, micro perspective. On the macro level, when businesses and market economies function properly and focus on serving the common good, they contribute greatly to the material and even the spiritual well-being of society. On the micro – or personal – level, business leaders who are guided by ethical social principles, lived through virtues and illuminated for Christians by the Gospel, can succeed and contribute to the common good.
On a macro scale, experience has demonstrated both good and harm caused by the failings of businesses and markets. Globalization can bring people together – or cause economic distortion and inequality. Communication can transmit good news – or be used to bully and foment dissent. It can inform – or lead to information overload. Technology can hurt – or it can’t heal. Financialization can enhance dreams to come true – or destroy millions of lives. Cultural changes can be seen in a positive light as people grow and change for the better – or important values can be haphazardly discarded leading to the impoverishment of a society.
On the micro – or personal – scale, obstacles to serving the common good come in many forms: Corruption, greed, disregard of rule of law, poor stewardship of personal resources as well as the various “-isms” spouted by the media today.
But perhaps the most significant danger for a business leader on a personal level is leading a divided life. This split between faith and daily business practice can lead to imbalances and misplaced devotion to worldly success. The alternative path of faith-based “servant leadership” provides business leaders with a larger perspective and helps them to balance the demands of the business world with those of ethical social principles, illuminated by the Gospel. This is explored through three interconnected stages: seeing, judging and acting.
SEEING: The world around us presents a complex interplay of light and dark, of good and evil, of truth and falsehood, opportunities and threats. In the document Gaudium et Spes of Vatican II, we read that the business leader has the task “of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” Christian business leaders must first be able to see this world in a way that allows them to make judgments about it, to build up its goodness and truth, to promote the common good and to confront evil and falsehood.
The second stage, JUDGING is defined as good business decisions that are rooted in principles at the foundational level such as respect for human dignity, service to the common good and a vision of a business as a community of persons. Principles on the practical level that guide the business leader involve producing goods and services that meet genuine human needs and serve the common good, while watching for opportunities to serve the poor. It also includes recognizing the dignity of employees and their right and duty to flourish in their work. Finally, it is important to use resources wisely to create both profit and well-being but also to produce sustainable wealth and to distribute it justly (a just wage for employees, just prices for customers and suppliers, just taxes for the community, and just returns for owners).
After seeing and then judging, the third stage for the Christian business leader is ACTING: putting aspirations into practice with a motivation that is more than just financial success. Integrate the gifts of the spiritual life, the virtues, solid business practices and ethical social principles into their life and work, the Christian business leader can overcome the divided life and receive the grace to foster the integral development of all business stakeholders.
Seeing – Judging – Acting can be considered in light of today’s Scripture readings. Scripture scholar Father John Kavanaugh, S.J. writes that in today’s First Reading (Jeremiah 20:7-9),
Jeremiah couldn’t ignore the call to prophecy even though it brought him ridicule, imprisonment, bearings and threats on his life. On the macro – level, Seeing – Judging- Acting applies to all vocations and states of life. “Who today speaks out about injustice in human trafficking, police profiling and child immigration? What social or economic structure or oppression would you like so much to transform that you can’t keep quiet about it?
On the personal micro – level, we live in an age where the culture says that your faith is foolish, your rituals are weirdly transcendent and out of touch, your vows, pledges or promises are uneatable, your sacraments are quaint but useless. The practices you aspire to are held in high suspicion. It is impossible, you are told, for people to be chaste. It is idiotic not to choose what pleases or fulfills us. This cultural skepticism is so rampant that, when the truth that Christ proposes is presented, like Peter we want to say, “Not me. ‘God forbid'” or like Jeremiah, “You duped me Lord and I let myself be duped!”
His colleague, Anne Osdieck writes about another challenge to “See – Judge – Act.” “There is often that disturbing voice that asks, “How do you discern God’s will for you in these situations? Does certainty about the will of God come suddenly? Can it emerge gradually? Do you imagine you have made the decision and then check for feelings of consolation or desolation?”
So it is with discipleship according to Paul. “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will.”
Anne continues, “The lure of holiness, as Jeremiah found out to his discomfort, provides no warm blanket. Love’s love is no crutch, as some critics of religion have imagined. No, it is a harrowing experience, something like a death. When we entrust all to God, especially our disappointments and failure only radical insecurity remains.”
And that’s ok!
In daunting times, let us recall Peter, who himself endured the same. Peter blew it. He fumbled that ball. Peter follows to Jerusalem, even though he’s afraid. He follows Jesus to Gethsemane, even though he sleeps there. He follows Jesus to the Passion, even though he hides. He waits for Christ in the upper room, even though he is shamed by his betrayals.
How does Jeremiah keep going? How does Peter keep going? Because Jesus didn’t give up on him because of his failure, and Jesus won’t give up on you either.
In closing, answer these questions:
Am I a big enough sinner to belong to St. Monica parish?
Where was my most recent Garden of Gethsemane?
Where has been my most recent moment of God’s grace poured out upon me?
Audio version of the homily is here: