Principled Entrepreneurship

By Msgr. Martin Schlag

Christian businesspeople who are on fire with the love of Christ are very quick to affirm that they experience their work as a calling and a vocation to holiness. They are right! Business is a force for good and a noble profession if we conduct it ethically and with the common good in mind. Creating work for others, generating material prosperity, giving hope and opportunity to the young generations is generally considered as humanly good and virtuous. Nevertheless, from these foundations of human goodness there is still a supernatural step of faith to make if we wish to sanctify work in business. Sanctifying work means offering it up to God as a pleasing sacrifice. The only pleasing sacrifice to God is that of his Son. Thus, our work must be united to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, made present on the altars of the Church.

Have you ever considered how much sacrifice it cost Christ to redeem us, and what that implies for your work? On the Cross, Jesus Christ destroyed all idols. An idol is a false god, represented in a statue or some other artifact. We humans create our idols out of the most precious substances we can find. We use gold, silver, ivory, marble, jewels that we craft with utmost care and skill, making them as impressive and beautiful as we can imagine. The Athena Parthenos or the Olympic Zeus were among the wonders of the world, and the highlights of ancient art. Our God, the true God, is nailed to a Cross, disfigured, broken, and despised. Jesus on the Cross is the only true image of God. He has smashed all other idols into smithereens; and he did so with the tools of his own profession–with hammer, nails, and wood. He could have died strangled in a fisher’s net, or beaten to death with a farmer’s shovel, but he chose his own woodworker’s tools. Each one of us, in his or her profession, by the very circumstances that characterize our professional existence, can spread the healing influence of the Cross. Especially in an economic system based on scarcity and competition, the spirit of sacrifice modeled on the Cross mitigates extremes. In businesspeople, it creates an attitude that unites, where envy, greed, ambition and other disordered passions would divide. The Cross in our mind and will forms the plus sign that adds and combines.

What does that mean for principled entrepreneurship as calling to holiness? Where are your idols? All idols are false. Nevertheless, we continue to construct our own gods, by elevating what is only a means to the dignity of the last aim. Gregory the Great, thanks to whom the English-speaking world received the message of Christ, systematized the root sins, among which he counted avarice or greed. Greed is a despicable sin, but widespread in our culture, which has replaced the notion of spiritual perfection with that of the accumulation of material wealth. As Mary L. Hirschfeld has shown masterfully in her book Aquinas and the Market, in a world without God as final aim, and thus without an ordered hierarchy of goods, the concept of qualitative perfection is lost and replaced by quantitative accumulation: aimlessly, we accumulate more and more wealth. We sometimes resemble people who think that the way to have better paintings is to possess more paint, instead of fostering the excellence in the art of painting. As a result, we confuse means and aims. Material goods, money, possessions are means, or instrumental aims, but not last aims. When we confuse the order of goods, our hearts are filled with restlessness, dissatisfaction, and hardness, and this sklerocardia (hardheartedness) affects our relationships. Then, our inner bitterness and loss of joy spills over into our surroundings as divisiveness. Principled entrepreneurship requires a constant purification of our hearts, and a continuous rectification of intention. We also need to overcome stenocardia or narrowness of heart. The coefficient of expansion of our hearts is infinite, St. Josemaria used to say, because God pours out his grace into our hearts as love. In Jesus Christ, God has created a human heart that loves with the infinitude of divine love. As Catholics, all we need to do is to “plug into” the Eucharistic heart of Jesus present in our tabernacles, and he will expand it, so that all people and the whole of creation fit in.

Principled Entrepreneurship for a Christian means uniting our work in business to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. For us Catholics, it means staying united to the loving heart of Jesus in the Eucharist, as the source of all lasting transformation of the world.


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