The vocation of the business leader in times of economic crisis

Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:13-21)

In the past, commenting on this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 12:13-21), I might have highlighted the risk of accumulating material riches at the expenses of spiritual values, or said something about greed and the false security that material possessions offer. I would also have reminded everybody that death might come at any time, and that we cannot carry anything away with us when leaving this world.

This time I would like to underline another aspect because we are facing unprecedented challenges. The prolonged Covid emergency, coupled with a negative global economic outlook, has put a lot of pressure on the financial situation of many families and businesses. During the past couple of years, many people have managed to stay economically afloat thanks only to their savings and to government subsidies. As never before, we understand the wisdom of having some savings to use for an emergency. Besides, the war in Ukraine, a country once known as Europe’s breadbasket, is raising concerns of a global food emergency. In other words, to have “a larger barn” full of goods like the man in the parable seems to have been a very wise thing to do and the only sensible choice we (personally and as a society) could have made is to prepare for times like these. What could be wrong with that?

Let us reflect a bit about this. First of all, in times of turmoil, we become more aware of the crucial role that entrepreneurial leadership has for the stability of society. Not only governments but businesspersons also have the responsibility to make sure that financial resources are used in a sustainable way and that there are enough employment opportunities to guarantee jobs and salaries for every family.

Just a few days ago, a friend of mine told me about a document prepared in 2018 by the Holy See’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, entitled “Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection”  (聖座促進人類整體發展部: 商業領袖的核心領導力). When the livelihood of many depends on the decisions taken by those who control the sphere of business, we understand that there is a huge responsibility connected with their positions. This responsibility is not only financial, but it also has a profound spiritual significance – in fact, it is a vocation.

The document explains: “The vocation of the businessperson is a genuine human and Christian calling. Pope Francis calls it ‘a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all. The importance of the businessperson’s vocation in the life of the Church and in the world economy can hardly be overstated. Business leaders are called to conceive of and develop goods and services for customers and communities through a form of market economy. For such economies to promote the common good, they need to uphold respect for truth, fidelity to commitments, human dignity, freedom, creativity, and the universal destination of goods—meaning that God’s creation is a gift to everyone’” (N. 6). 

“And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry’” (Lk 12:18-19). The “foolishness” of the man of the parable does not consist in the fact that he enriched himself. Wealth in itself is not sinful, nor are any material possessions, if used as a tool to promote the common good. The “rich fool” instead made a very bad financial decision, based solely on his personal interest, he did not socially re-invest his wealth in order to create opportunities of development and create a more just society.

In economic matters it is easy to experience the split between the faith which we profess and the financial choices we make as if the two cannot go together: the document remarks that “compartmentalizing the demands of one’s faith from one’s work in business is a fundamental error that contributes to much of the damage done by businesses in our world today, including overwork to the detriment of family or spiritual life, an unhealthy attachment to power to the detriment of one’s own good, and the abuse of economic power in order to make even greater economic gains” (N. 10). 

Even though we are not businesspersons, this Gospel reading reminds all of us that in this time of crisis we still need to use our financial resources responsibly, taking into account the situation of less fortunate brothers and sisters. We must continue to work hard while trusting God’s Providence, remembering that “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there” (Job 1:21), as Job famously said.