Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Friday, October 6, 2017, 8:30 a.m.
for the CONFERENCE ON GOOD PROFIT
Cardinal Donald Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington
The Gospel today (Luke 10:13-16) begins with the reproaches to the unrepentant towns, Chorazin and Bethsaida, as well as Capernaum. But the thrust of the Gospel is not condemnation as much as it is an invitation to conversion. Jesus speaking to his disciples, the 72 who were just sent on mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God, tells them: “Whoever listens to you listens to me.”
The challenge that every age faces is the recognition of the changing circumstances of the day, the need to read the signs of the time, and, in that context and effort, to hear and to apply the unchanging Gospel of salvation. It is precisely this message, this challenge to read the signs of the times, and the call to continuous conversion that bring us to this Conference on Good Profit which concludes with this Mass.
As this conference recognizes, the call to conversion is directed to all of us, individually and collectively. It must therefore also be manifest in our institutions. The metanoia or change must, however, first take place in the heart of each individual. When hearts are changed, peoples’ actions are changed and when peoples’ actions are changed, our institutions likewise alter their direction and course. We need conversion because there is a deep-rooted tendency, a facet of the human condition, an aspect of the Fall, that inclines us to see through our own particular personal lens or perspective. Economic practices, public policy, cultural convention, all are subject to the conversion called for in the Gospel today, just as is each individual.
But that brings us to the second part of this Gospel call which is not just to conversion but to the recognition that there is a norm against which that conversion is measured – God’s Word. True conversion requires a sure norm against which to measure our personal preferences, conclusions and commitments.
The idea of having a School of Business and Economics and a Conference on Good Profit begins with the understanding that there is an accessible truth against which we measure our activities personally, collectively and institutionally. The existence of verifiable truth is the font of guidance for the CUA efforts in the area of business, social justice, and economics.
Our CUA School of Business and Economics turns to authentic and authoritative Magisterial teaching as the context, beginning and authentication of its conclusions as it attempts to apply the Gospel message to the circumstances of our day.
In the lifetime of all of us in this Basilica, we have seen the development of a recognized and revered body of Catholic social teaching. However, we must also admit that what we now accept as the social doctrine of the Church faced elements of challenge along the entire pathway of its formulation.
I recall that during my student days here at CUA, the encyclical letters of Pope, now Saint, John XXIII Mater et Magistra (1961) and Pacem in Terris (1963) were rejected in part by those who had a very different view of economics and financial responsibility. In fact, the now often cited reproach, “Mater si, Magistra no,” (Mother Yes, Teacher No), was directed to these examples of Papal Magisterium.
Blessed Paul VI experienced critique and dissent from a number of his encyclicals including Populorum Progressio (1967), Humane Vitae (1968), Octogesima Adveniens (1971) on the 80th anniversary of Rerum Novarum (1891).
Saint John Paul II witnessed considerable challenge to some of his social justice encyclicals. Even Pope Benedict XVI faced critique from those who were not willing to accept all of Caritas in Veritate (2009).
Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, (The Joy of the Gospel) (2013), Amoris Laetitia, (The Joy of Love) (2016), not to mention Laudato Si’, (On Care of our Common Home) (2015) has not been exempt either from what I think is probably best described as selective Magisterial allegiance.
Today as we reflect on Catholic social teaching, based on accepting all of the above-mentioned papal teaching documents, three principles stand out as deserving special attention if we are to examine the Church’s voice in economic, scientific, cultural and public policy areas.
The first principle is the dignity of the human person, whose inherent worth and immortal destiny is the very rationale for Christian social justice. Economic development has to have as its primary point of reference the human person not just in theory but in his or her actual circumstances.
The second principle is the moral imperative to protect the natural order. Pope Benedict XVI said that we must recognize our grave duty to hand on the earth to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it (Caritas in veritate, n. 50). There is an increasingly clear harmony between efforts on behalf of the environment and those that promote integral – including economic – human development. This is the “human ecology” to which our efforts must contribute.
The third principle is, in a sense, the immediate conclusion of the previous two, that focusing on the dignity of each person and protecting the environment need not compromise legitimate economic progress. As your conference has highlighted, there is such a thing as good profit and it takes into consideration all of the effects of business decisions. We are not bystanders in these decisions that will determine the quality of life for generations to come.
Your efforts point out that sustainable development solutions are both a moral imperative and an economic incentive as a business issue. Somehow in conferences like this, we need to unite the wisdom that our faith brings to the marketplace, and the creativity of the enterprising spirit needed at the service of the common good. What this conference points to is the marriage between human creativity and the Gospel teaching.
As the Gospel tells us today, at the heart of discipleship is conversion. The teaching of Jesus, proclaimed and elucidated in the Magisterial voice of His Church, enables us to listen with our hearts and our minds. This we can do if we are always open to the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
We are a Church and a people of conversion because it is to that noble experience that Jesus calls us.
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