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Success in business means caring about more than profits

Archbishop Wenski's homily at dedication of Gus Machado School of Business at St. Thomas University

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily Oct. 16, 2020, at a Mass that preceded the dedication of the Gus Machado School of Business at St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens.

Today, we dedicate the Gus Machado School of Business. This is a significant achievement for St. Thomas University – and, given that St. Thomas University has its roots in Cuba, it is also significant that this school of business is named for a businessman from Cuba who has made his mark in the community as a successful entrepreneur. Thanks to his generosity and that of many others, the university will educate future entrepreneurs who will be leaders for life in their communities – hopefully with as much success as Gus Machado has had with his business ventures.

Oftentimes, the success of a businessman (or businesswoman) is measured just by how much they are “worth.” Jesus in the Gospel today relativizes such calculations of worth. The worth of a person in God’s eyes is incalculable. Even the most insignificant person, Jesus tells us, is worth more “than many sparrows,” for no one escapes the notice of God.

And, from the perspective of our Catholic teachings, success in business cannot be judged solely on the bottom line – your business performance will be judged on that to be sure; but also, it will be judged on how it has helped you to achieve integrity and personal sanctification and how it has helped others achieve this as well. This is true whether you are Christian, Jewish or of some other faith tradition.

In other words, your business should be a “vocation,” a calling, a way of responding to your baptismal call to holiness by being in the world and being for the world without just being “out for oneself.” Work – and running a business is work, hard work – is a way of being for the world and leaving the world a better place for you having been here.

Thus, Jesus warns against the “leaven” of the Pharisees which he denounces as hypocrisy, which happens when we compartmentalize our lives – pretending to be what we are not, or by pretending that what we do in business is somehow not related to morality, ethics; or to put it simply, an entrepreneur should do good and just do well.

The separation of faith from life has always been a temptation from the earliest days of Christianity; but it has become a real problem today when people think that one’s faith is purely subjective – a private affair with little public or social consequence.

The secularism that is increasingly dominant in our society affects the way we think and act – and too often the way we do business.

Secularism, as I sometimes tell kids at confirmation ceremonies, is a 50-cent word that describes what happens when we seek to organize society or to live our lives as if God did not matter. How often have we been tempted to dismiss an ethical concern; how often have we stifled the voice of conscience in making a difficult decision by just saying: business is business? Running a business should be about more than just complying with the standards and protocols of a company. Our work – what we do and how we do it – can also witness that “God does matter.”

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, work is not a curse. That would be the wrong way to interpret the book of Genesis. Work is a creative activity, and therefore an imitation of God’s own creative activity. For a believer, then, work is participating in God’s plan for the world. Made in the image and likeness of our Creator God, we acknowledge ourselves to be his creatures when we labor in line with his purpose and we establish goals to achieve what is good for ourselves and for others.

Too often, preachers, often influenced less by St. Mark than they are by Karl Marx, try to make businesspeople in the pew feel guilty for their success. There is nothing wrong in making a profit – in fact, when a firm makes a profit it shows that it has used its resources correctly and human needs have been satisfied. St. Paul, besides being an evangelist who brought Christianity to the Gentile world, was also a tent maker. And apparently, he was good at it. Nevertheless, profit is not the sole criteria for judging a firm’s condition. It is possible for the accounts to be in order, and at the same time the people who make up the community of workers could be humiliated and offended.

Work brings people together for the service of society. God made us as social beings and work is done within a community of persons. The marketplace provides many opportunities to be creative and productive and to create wealth. This is good but there is also an order of importance: Business manuals advise that the best companies are the ones that respect and care for their employees.

We are social beings – it’s the way that God made us. If our work, and our careers, undermine rather than strengthen the network of relationships that make up our lives, then something is wrong. In other words, if we allow ourselves to live – and to do business – as if God doesn’t matter, then our neighbors won’t matter, our employees and co-workers won’t matter, our families won’t matter, and our marriages won’t matter.

The tenets of our faith should inform what is taught in MBA curricula. And hopefully this is what will distinguish this School of Business at this Catholic institution of higher learning. Understanding that as Christians we are “for the world” and not just out for ourselves – and understanding our commitment to success in business as a vocation – can help us avoid the separation of faith from the ordinary affairs of life. As St. Paul says in today’s first reading: "In Christ we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory."

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